18 March 2016| 6:30 PM: The upcoming Bollywood film Buddha in a Traffic Jam, directed by Vivek Agnihotri and starring Anupam Kher, was pre-screened at Freedom Square at 6:30 PM. More than 500 students attended the event, and though some students tried to oppose the screening by sloganeering, most attended the event in a patient, peaceful manner. Anupam Kher, the veteran actor who was recently awarded the Padma Bhushan, had earlier questioned JNU’s claims of being an inclusive society with equal rights to freedom of expression and had asked the administration to screen his movie.
Vivek Agnihotri, an ex-student of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), remarked that JNU is still the same except for the fact that for the first time he has heard slogans of “vande mantram” being chanted in JNU. Anupam Kher kept his calm in spite of the sloganeering and demonstration that started the moment he arrived. He commented on the recent incident in which an AIMIM MLA had been asked to resign for not saying “Bharat mata ki jai” at the Maharashtra Assembly, and said that although nowadays people have begun debating over all topics, there should be no debate whether one should or should not say “Bharat mata ki jai”; one must. He also talked about his own life struggles, and discussed the migration of Kashmiri Pundits from Kashmir and the miserable conditions in which they were forced to live and sustain themselves.
In his speech, he said, “deshbhakti se nasha ata hai nidarta ka, fearlessness ka” (patriotism brings the exhilaration of courage, of fearlessness) and later, “main basically yahan aya hoon, ki logon ka JNU mein… jo shift hua tha, wapas kranti pe aa jaye, deshbhakti pe aa jaye…. Umar bhar mere girebaan pe panapne wale, tu mujhe mere saye se darata kya hai?” (I basically came here so that I could shift people’s sentiments at JNU… which had been affected and can be brought back to revolution, patriotism…. You who have grown in my lap, how dare you try to scare me of my own shadows?).
He said, “A new fashion has started: let’s criticize this country, let us say something nasty about our country, let’s talk about what is not working out in the country…. My dear friends, if it be told what all things are happening in the country [if we count the number of developments], the list will cover the length from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.” He suggested that students should ignore all the talks about “azadi” and do their work – study, get a job, and support their family, which is the only way that they can truly serve their country. On the release of Umar, Anirban, and JNUSU President Kanhaiya, he said, “How can students consider someone a hero who has been released on bail?”
The movie, which ran for approximately one and a half hours, failed to impress the entire audience although it did receive some applause during certain scenes. The film is about a young enterprising business school graduate who tries to help the tribals at Bastar by proposing a business model to sell their potteries online. This enterprise would thereby eliminate the middle men and the government who pocketed the money meant for the welfare of the tribals, but the graduate is fooled by his professor who is actually a naxalite leader in disguise. The professor, played by Kher, is a vicious mastermind who brainwashes his students to join naxalism and is in cohorts with the police, the corporate people, the government officials, and the NGOs who are all working to siphon off the money meant for the tribals.
Some parts of the movie generated laughter and sarcastic comments from the audience. During the Question and Answer session that followed the screening, Kher was asked why the movie did not say anything about right-wing extremism, to which many believed he could not provide a satisfactory answer. He was also heard saying that there is nothing problematic about Manuvad (the discourse contained in the Manusmriti) and that Brahminism has actually helped the country in many ways. He also defended the PM in his speech, applauding him for his attempts to reduce corruption and bureaucracy. On being asked about “Bharat mata”, he said that “Bharat mata” is the ideal woman to which no woman can be compared, and therefore the cow is used as a symbolic ideal figure of the “Bharat mata”.
A number of media channels were present at the venue, who kept flocking to Kher for comments.
“He could not answer a single question properly”, said one girl from the audience, referring to Kher. Another student laughed at the depiction of the “maoists” and questioned the “sexist” undertones of the movie. An MA student from the School of Language mentioned that there was a lot of sloganeering and noise at the venue, and that this is “the usual JNU affair” but that is alright as long as nobody says “Bharat ki barbadi hogi”, which he thinks is very scary.
The programme ended at 9pm in the evening.
The Informer Correspondent.