The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Caste cloud on Gangaajal

Patna, Sept. 5: A week after its release elsewhere, a film based on the Bhagalpur blindings that ran into political trouble here, is sparking a different sort of controversy.

Prakash Jha’s Gangaajal ran into trouble here after Sadhu Yadav, brother of chief minister Rabri Devi, complained that the director had tarnished his image by giving the main villain of the film the same name as himself. Last week, Sadhu Yadav’s supporters vandalised cinema halls showing the film and a number of petitions were filed seeking a ban on Gangaajal’s screening.

The controversy died down only after Jha arranged a special screening of the film for Rabri and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav to assure them that his villain had nothing in common with Sadhu Yadav other than the name. The film was officially released here today after Laloo Prasad gave it the nod.

But Gangaajal has now sparked debate of a different kind: the clear caste divide between the undertrials and police officers. Viewers streaming out of cinema halls today said the movie depicted the villains as belonging to backward castes and the officers as upper castes. But they all dismissed the Sadhu Yadav controversy as “a politician’s publicity gimmick”.

“The film failed to live up to its controversy involving Sadhu Yadav,” said Dhiraj Sharma, a 45-year-old government servant. He added that Jha was trying to portray the 1980s milieu in Bihar when the caste divide was apparent.

The movie has made politicians sit up, for, as RJD general secretary Ramkirpal Yadav said: “The party leadership has avoided an open controversy by allowing the release of the film but we are discussing these issues (the caste divide) in party circles.”

A social worker who runs a research institute here said the film had sparked debate by exhibiting the social divide between the accused and the officers. “How come not a single villain in the movie hails from the upper castes'” he asked.

Devraj Khatri, one of the 31 undertrials to have acid poured into his eyes by policemen in 1979-80, has an interesting take on the event. Devraj, one of the few victims still alive, told an NGO in Bhagalpur that the deputy inspector who picked him up off the street before blinding him was a Brahmin. Khatri, a backward caste member, insists he was a victim of mistaken identity.

But R.K. Mishra, a Bhagalpur advocate, says: “The officer-accused social divide might have been a coincidence.” The advocate, who is still fighting for the victims, says cases against the officers are continuing but the government has failed to act against them because of political pressure.

But there are people in Bhagalpur who defend the policemen’s action, pointing out that the undertrials had made local residents suffer and had many cases registered against them, ranging from rape to robbery and murder.

To Jha’s relief, viewers agree that his villain has little resemblance with the MLA from Gopalganj. “Sadhu Yadav in the film is nothing but an ordinary anti-hero whose characterisation has lost its edge now due to overuse”, said Monotosh Bagchi, former principal of a Bhagalpur college. He dismissed the controversy as a political gimmick.

Laloo Prasad’s remark on seeing the movie — that Sadhu Yadav could be “anybody’s name” — is echoed by most who have seen Gangaajal.

Even so, Sadhu Yadav had managed to prey on Rabri and the RJD chief’s insecurity last week by telling them that the film might be another attack on the backward-caste rulers of Bihar.

He reminded them of the teleserial, Ramkhilawan CM and Family, which depicted the state’s first family in a poor light.

Sadhu Yadav’s supporters forcibly stopped the screening of the film while he was abroad. While doing so, they would bring caste into the equation, telling people that “upper caste intellectuals” were trying to humiliate the chief minister.

But Sadhu Yadav today said he had seen the movie and found nothing objectionable in it.

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