April 2, 2001


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Varsha Bhosle

Jholiwalas, chaddiwalas, raddiwalas and babus

Last week was another laugh riot, courtesy: the pinko jholiwalas and khaki chaddiwalas. A gang of jholiwalas resigned from the jury of the National Film Awards to protest against the "premeditated and prejudged" winning entries; another bunch refused their awards; and one other didn't resign but went crying to the Prez. Then, a clutch of chaddiwalas, with righteousness oozing from every governmental pore, denied it all. And to top that, the gamut of raddiwalas, with infinite objectivity radiating from their broadsheets, pretended to be shocked by the mechanisms of the country's "highest" film awards, and patted all the jholiwalas for their "integrity."

None of the resigning stars and their supporting cast paused to ask: Why have we been aiding and abetting this horrendous waste of the tax-payer's money by endorsing an institution that has NO business to dabble in, what passes as, the Arts? None of our artisteeque liberals (including the heroine in the Rajya Sabha who promptly blasts bans on various books and movies), has ever questioned the legitimacy of the government's sitting in judgement over artists. While basking in the glory provided by the raddiwalas alone (about 98 per cent of the winners are those rejected by or unknown to the janata), all that spiel on less-government-is-good-government is speedily jettisoned. You see, a purchase of the screening rights of a Lotus-winner by Doordarshan, and tax-payer-sponsored trips to Cannes and Berlin festivals, are things well within Marxists constructs.

Actually, they approve of governmental influence (provided it's their kinda government). For, the foundation of Animal Farm rests on the principle that the state alone knows what's best for the people. And so we have a plethora of Nehruvian akademis and "directorates" (how much more Stalinist can one get!) doing nothing but lining the pockets of netas and babus with our money and rewarding ministerial gofers with choice posts. All under the guise of advancing Odissi nritya or unfathomable cinema.

Well, you can't have it both ways. As long as the government has the power to pass favour upon certain classes of citizens, those citizen-groups will use lobbyists to advance and defend their interests. And, as long as citizen-groups sanction the government to pass favour upon them, the government will manipulate the operation to serve its own ideological or functional ends. Thus, if Pradeep Krishen, Shashi Anand and Madhumita Raut really want zero influence peddling in cinema, they should reject the Directorate of Film Festivals itself; all this jury drama is simply plain old peevishness at not getting their way. What "parity" and "fairplay"? They just didn't get what they'd been used to getting under, shall we say, "more socialist" dispensations. (They should have waited it out: If the BJP is still there next time, it'll anyway have become more socialist than the socialists themselves.)

Frankly, even the viciousness of the Krishen character (husband of, who else, Arundhati foot-in-the-mouth Roy) left me in splits: "What they have done is given political ladoos to people they wanted to reward." "Appear in an election campaign, wear sindoor and a sari and get the award." "This cabal ganged up and seems to have pre-decided every single award." Hahahaha... this is *exactly* what Bollywood kept saying when the Nehruvian elite swept the corridors of power. Knock, knock: this is NOT the first time that a certain non-ideology/mentality has alienated large chunks of people. This is NOT the first time that the jury's been a political rubber stamp. All that's new is, instead of the jury bleating on about a) communal integration, b) pain of the exploited classes, c) venality of the capitalist elite, it said nice-nice things about the Indian Army. Why should only the jholiwalas' worldview prevail? What's the big deal about a "Saffron cabal" when all these years they enforced their Red covens??

The fury of the dissenters is so phony that it has entire Bollywood (ie, those who draw in both, bijnesswala and beediwala, as opposed to those who play only on Sunday mornings for aspiring jholiwalas) laughing its rocks off. Bollywood has always known that national awards are manipulated through the babus -- with the dominance of a region in the winners' list directly reflecting the dominance of the group wielding bureaucratic power. Thus, the Tam-Brams, Angaapalays and Mallus took care of the South and the bhadraloks looked after the North-East. If that weren't enough, there was the question of "national integration" (which accounts for a certain Assamese presence year after year). Sadly, the Kayasths lost out since UP-MP mainly produced criminals, even of the neta variety. And Bombay suffered because it's multi-ethnic; besides which, Ghatis aspire to no more than clerkship, and Gujus and Maadus are into generating money via tangible products. Such don't have numerical clout in babudom.

But why pick on the surreptitious machinations of just the film awards? The same holds true for the Republic Day honours, too. According to clause 17.2 of the home ministry's charter, "the Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri are given for exceptional and distinguished service, distinguished service of high order, and distinguished service, respectively, in any field. Recommendations for Padma Awards received from State Governments/Union territory Administrations, Central Ministries/Departments, Institutions of Excellence, etc, are considered by an Awards Committee. On the basis of the recommendations of the Awards Committee as approved by the President, Padma Awards are announced on the eve of the Republic Day."

Now, have you heard of something called Padmaja Phenany Joglekar? She's a "distinguished service" in music since January. If Sachin Tendulkar got a Padma Shri ("upgraded" later), and the late Mohammed Rafi is also just a Padma Shri, how can Padmaja be eligible for that platform??? Simple. In 1998, she recorded an album of then shadow-PM Vajpayee's poems, following which, she moved the courts to restrain the Election Commission from including the cassette costs in Hajpayee's poll expenditure -- even before the cassettes hit the stands. Then, "the day after Atalji's album was released," Padmaja presented VP Singh a copy, who gave her his book of poems, and then "I set it to music, sang it for him over the phone and he said, 'Aapne meri kavita ko dulhan jaise sajaya hai'." Result: another year, another turkey. Next: the parliamentary bulletin of March 13, 2000, announced a function to honour retiring Rajya Sabha members -- with a "Performance by Ms Swarachandrika Padmaja Phenany Joglekar." "Swarachandrika." Oh help. Next thing: Padma Shri Padmaja.

Last year, S Kalidas wrote: "Every once in a while an artist turns his back on the state. It happens but rarely, but it does happen... Tagore did it by returning his knighthood. More recently, veteran journalist Nikhil Chakravartty turned down the Padma Bhushan. And now the slap on the face of the Government of India comes from that grand old maestro of the sitar, Ustad Vilayat Husain Khan, who has refused to accept the belated Padma Vibhushan doled out to him." Everybody who knows him, agrees: Khansaab doesn't have the temperament to suffer governmental fools. Nor does the woman who's successfully defended her territory against her truly formidable elder sister for over half a century. (LOL, nobody else was, is, or will be, a threat to either.)

But let's quit the area where, of course, I'm prejudiced, and let's talk "distinguished service of high order": The 81-year-old orthopaedic surgeon, Dr K T Dholakia, pioneered joint replacement surgery in India way back in 1976. Known in medical circles as "the gentle giant," "Lord of Orthopaedics" and "KTD the Great," this doyen of Indian orthopaedics has devoted half a century of service to patients suffering from skeletal disorders. He has handled more than 2,000 cases and still conducts about 200 replacement surgeries each year; surgeons from all over the world come to Bombay every year to learn the technique from him. Past president of Indian Arthroscopy Society, La Societe Internationale de Chirurgie Orthopedique et de Traumatologie, World Orthopaedic Concern... naah, the list's too long. Let's just say, he prefers to serve in India.

Then there is the US-based Dr Chittaranjan Ranawat, who performed the knee surgery which, apparently, was of such import that it got an India Today cover. When Dr Dholakia was asked about Dr Ranawat, he replied, "There is no necessity to get anyone, but since it is an Indian who is coming to operate upon the Prime Minister, we should not feel ashamed." Oh, we're not ashamed of Dr Ranawat at all! We're just wondering about the Padma Awards' terms of reference, in terms of the "nationalists." For, Dr KT Dholakia received a Padma Shri "long ago"; my prodding drew irritation: "It was some time in the early '70s, I don't remember. How can I remember who was in government?!" Unlike Sachin's and Bachchan's, Dr Dholakia's Padma Shri was never "upgraded." However, this year, a Padma Bhushan was given to his one-time junior, who had performed the knee replacement surgery on the PM -- at the very centre set up by Dr K T Dholakia.

That, in essence, is the story of the whole system of state patronage and civilian honours in this "democracy." As S Kalidas wrote: "Those in the know have long learnt the art of connecting serving politicians-bureaucrats with their artist protégés and almost predicting the Padma list of any year, based on their current peccadilloes." Krishen says, "In the '70s and '80s many new wave film directors from Kerala and Bengal were genuinely rewarded." Yaaaa... tell me more. Tell me more about the country where an MGR and a Rajiv Gandhi get Bharat Ratnas before does a Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Ha!

Varsha Bhosle

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