Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Wednesday - the movie

Warning: This post contains spoilers

The shortest description of this movie would be a movie made by imbeciles for imbeciles. It carries on the theme popularised by the other movie Rang De Basanti of vigilante justice. Let's begin with the story which is easily told:

The Police Commissioner of Mumbai gets an anonymous phone call warning of 5 bombs planted in crowded places in Mumbai which are set to go off if 4 dreaded terrorists are not released by Mumbai police by the prescribed deadline. To prove that it's not a crank call, the caller identifies the location of one of these bombs (planted just under the nose of the police, in the police station opposite the Commissioner's office) which is then found and defused. Despite their best efforts, the police are unable to either trace the other bombs or the caller and are forced to release the terrorists. The police are subsequently instructed to bring them to an abandoned air strip in Juhu and leave them near a bench (conveniently placed there) and depart, after which the terrorists would presumably be picked up by their friends. And here comes the surprise. The moment the police leave, a bomb planted under the bench goes off killing the terrorists standing there waiting hopefully for their saviour(s). (Actually one of them is killed later but that is a matter of detail).

The caller then calls and, helpfully, explains his motive - that of 'stamping out a cockroach that visits your house". In a long rambling lecture he goes on about how he is fed up of living a life of fear - fear of a bomb going off in a bus shelter, or a train station, or a mall or a crowded market or any one of the numerous places he might visit. How his wife has no peace at home, wondering everyday whether he will return safely from work or become a victim of another terrorist attack. This is his way of doing the job that the inefficient, incompetent and impotent Government is unable to do. In other words, summary justice meted out by the common man, without benefit of judge or jury, as a last resort.

This issue of summary justice is also the theme of Rang De Basanti where a presumably corrupt politician is shot dead by a bunch of youngsters in retaliation for the death of a friend who dies in a plane crash as a consequence of poor quality spare part replacement (the result of the Minister taking a kickback), and is something that is becoming more and more popular with the movie-going public. Both movies received rave reviews and continue to do so (regrettably some of my colleagues also think along similar lines). I would like to take up a couple of the premises of these movies.

Summary justice: The notion of taking the law into your own hands without the benefit of a legal procedure, no matter how slow or ineffective, is a simple case of vigilante justice. It places the perpetrator of this act at the same level as that of the terrorist who is also presumably meting out rough and ready justice as a reaction to perceived wrongs. It suggests that we are all justified, to use a cliche, in taking the law unto our own hands. If ever there was a prescription for chaos and anarchy, this is it.

Ineffective, impotent Government that allows such attacks to continue: This theme is a favourite not only of movie makers but also of the Opposition BJP which has now started to talk of a "muscular" foreign policy (I have visions of L. K. Advani visiting a gym regularly to develop six-pack abs along the lines of Amir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and others). It is trivial to see that it is impossible to prevent terrorist attacks in public places. No Government can make every single public place secure. It's possible perhaps to put in a few scanners in the entrance to malls and so on (the Delhi Metro scans baggage and people now but it has given rise to humongous lines at rush hour) but with 14-15 million passengers travelling by train everyday, not even the most advanced technology in the world can scan every one of those 15 million (and their baggage) at all railway stations. Israel has one of the most invasive security set ups in the world and perhaps the most ruthlessly efficient. And yet, they have not been able to prevent suicide bombers blowing themselves up at bus stations, cafes and other public places.

The other imbecilic argument propagated by the likes of India Today magazine is to point to the absence of any terrorist attack on mainland USA after 9/11 . Tightening the borders is much easier in the USA which is essentially an island with the only ingress being through ports and airports where security has become extremely invasive. Land routes through Mexico or Canada are infinitely more difficult to infiltrate through than in India which shares a long and mountainous border with a hostile neighbour and even more hostile terror camps. It's impossible to patrol every inch of this territory.

In other words, while I might be willing to accept that the Government of the day could do more (that includes the BJP too when they were in power - just introducing POTA does not reduce terrorism) the present day fashionable theme of the chattering classes, of India being a soft and impotent state and therefore it's time for all of us to take direct action by going on a shooting spree, is one that can only be propagated by brainless twits.


AmOK said...

OLO -- I do not wish to pre-empt any sage commentators of your blog but would this, perchance, be another case of a missed metaphor? Why should we be willing to interpret the extremism of Boyle's bathroom scenes and not allow the extremism of vigilante justice as a metaphor for a call to action? It is every citizen's duty to oppose and speak out against the anti-social forces ( and masterminds ). It is all Maya, OLO -- a metaphor. Do not Boyle your head over it. We must rise up in praise as we did for Danny.

Sourendu said...

Interestingly, this call to vigilante justice came before the Mumbai terrorist attacks. The first wave of public anger and the calls for action against those "responsible" for the attacks seemed to spring from the same irrational source as this movie. The lack of will on the part of the NSG to capture terrorists alive, calls by lumpen parties to hang Kasab without trial, and attempts to force the issue by attacking lawyers who said they were willing to defend him: these too are symptoms of a complete lack of faith in the rule of law.

This is the softening of the Indian state: a massive breakdown of the rule of law, and a consequent loss of faith in the system of civil and criminal justice.

Rahul Basu said...

Sourendu: While I agree with most of your comment, would you really say there is a 'massive' breakdown of the rule of law? Yes, there have been serious infractions, there have been terror attacks (that per se is not a breakdown of the rule of law). I would say riots like those in 1993 in Mumbai, 2002 in Gujarat are indeed a massive breakdown, but they are, still, mercifully few and far between. I would probably class something that is happening in Zimbabwe or Pakistan a massive breakdown, but perhaps not in India (yet). The kind of 'million mutinies' that we see are probably a safety valve to insulate us from a more serious (and complete) breakdown taking place.