Jhund vs jhundtantra: Two contrasting messages from ground zero of two thoughts | OPINION

Jhund's simultaneous appearance with The Kashmir Files should be seen as a contrasting choice that has the potential to sober down the hotheads poisoned by the narrative of revenge.

The Kashmir Files
A certain Vivek Agnihotri took up the pundits' issue to make his film that he chooses to call The Kashmir Files, writes Vivek Deshpande.

Mobs are often vehicles of change, sometimes desirable but many times repugnant. They construct or destruct. Or simply de-construct. But when mobs destruct, like those that displaced Kashmiri Pandits, they create ripples that retain enough hate material even after decades for someone to make a film that hardly helps mitigate the Pandits' suffering. In fact, it lethally delivers a provocation that only inspires new mobs to take over, even as the filmmaker laughs his way to the bank. And, unlike the Kashmiri mobs that unleashed their violent attack on pundits, these new mobs also comprise educated masses blinded by a reactionary ideology that unabashedly advocates revenge.

More than a thousand kilometres away, more or less around the same time as the Kashmir displacement saga was happening, a man was on a mission to convert gangs of uneducated, criminal youths into a bunch of disciplined lot learning and loving to play the ball, the football. As years pass by, game after game, boys and girls alike, shift their goal-posts from the sky-is-the-limit choice of criminal activities to the football's 24x8 ft one.

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While a certain Vivek Agnihotri took up the pundits' issue to make his film that he chooses to call The Kashmir Files, a certain Nagraj Manjule finds it important to bring out the story of Vijay Barse, a physical training instructor by profession, who continues his transformative mission with the poise of a true missionary.

Ironical as it may sound, the two contrasting films find their inspirations coming from the same ground zero, Nagpur, India's Zero Mile centre. But while Nagpur has stood at the heart of India since the last leg of the Continental Shift, it has occupied the centre stage of the tectonic shift in India's socio-political life only for the past about 100 years. It started with the foundation of a Hindu-centric movement called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925 and was punctuated about three decades later by thousands of outcast Hindus converting to Buddhism under the leadership of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Since then, Nagpur has peacefully lived with its twin identity of Sanghbhoomi and Deekshabhoomi, which stand wide apart with their contrasting ideals.

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But while RSS was founded by a Brahmin called K B Hedgewar with the aim to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra, Barse, a Christian by faith, had nothing religious about his mission. As it were, the mission itself was his religion. His target audience was, as the script of the mission demanded, the have-nots living in squalid slums. That it happened to comprise mainly Dalits, Muslims and Adivasis was a reality firmly rooted in the demography of slums and wasn't a deliberate choice.

Manjule's Jhund succinctly depicts Barse's stupendous effort in an unusually long film. It starts from a slum and ends in a swanky international airport from where the jhund-turned-team flies off to a world they had not even heard of to play Homeless Soccer, an international tournament of slum soccer. In the journey between these two ends, he masterfully shows how Barse's cool and seemingly emotionless demeanour turns the bunch of young slum hooligans into a submissive, orderly lot that discovers the constructive human being with a lot of "sadhbhavna" (good sentiments) within themselves. Nowhere does he deliberately use provocative, accusatory symbols. The only symbol that he relevantly employs is that of "apne Babasaheb (Ambedkar)", whose birth anniversary is celebrated by the on-the-reform-path youths with gusto, dancing wildly before an Ambedkar portrait to the accompaniment of ear-shattering drumbeats. It doesn't matter to them what's meant by Bharat, but they do know and play the song "Saare jahaan se achcha" on a "baja".

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Barse's world is not handicapped by ideological boundaries. Its only ideology is football played with full team and sportsman spirit within the 105x68 metres boundary. Its citizens are motivated to change from an abusive, violent lot of uneducated youths to a sober community that aims to do something good in life. Manjule ends the film with an evocative sequence where slum don Ankush Masram drops the knife that he habitually carries in the lower part of his trouser to clear the security check at the airport before flying out to participate in an international soccer tournament.

That's a far cry from the message that is sought to be spread through The Kashmir Files. Else, how differently could the threatening reactions from its audiences from cinema halls be seen? How differently could one see the attack by the hooligans led by BJP MP Tejaswi Surya on Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's house be seen if not this way?

Unfortunately, no less a person than the Prime Minister of the country is seen promoting the film that his government has also made tax-free for the self-styled educated and enlightened masses. Jhund, despite its powerful social message, however, neither finds a mention from the PM nor any tax benefit. On the contrary, it does get barbed attacks from popular Right-wing social media handlers. "Why did you cast Amitabh Bachchan in the lead role (Vijay Barse) if you are so angry with the prasthapit," asked one.

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Prasthapit is normally used for the established upper class or caste. The writer of this tweet probably doesn't know that Barse is a Christian and himself didn't belong to any slum.

But so blind is the hate behind anything that advertently or even inadvertently punctures their narrative, the Right-wing troll army goes up in arms.

As against it, Barse's Ankush Masram comes a long way from being a deadly blade runner to representing India in the Homeless Soccer tournament.

Jhund's simultaneous appearance with The Kashmir Files should be seen as a contrasting choice that has the potential to sober down the hotheads poisoned by the narrative of revenge. Manjule deserves kudos for having shown the world that Nagpur also has Barse's Sadbhavna message to offer.

(This article is written by Vivek Deshpande, a veteran journalist and writer. All views are personal.)