HIGH CAMPS AND LOW LIVES: THE CASE FOR GUNDA
Just the other day I was compiling a list, on Facebook, of the top five films that I knew by heart. One of them happens to be the revered Mithun classic, Gunda. (To the pitiable ignorami, I recommend a look at TLV Prasad and Kanti Shah’s combined filmographies, a subsequent Sunday evening in and the metabolism of a bunny on crack). A friend commented on this choice, sputtering with disbelief, “But...but...I thought you had taste!” “Taste? Excusez moi? Hold on there, buddy boy. Hold on, just a *yahaan gaali daaliye* minute! Where’s your sense of irony?”
If Gunda were to be a parody, it would have accessed a talent beyond itself: satire, and become eligible for membership in a posher club as opposed to the seedy back alley tavern it is in right now. Gunda is quite unembarrassed by itself, reveling in dialogues dirty enough to make your ears shrivel up and disappear into their holes and good-natured about subjecting everyone’s retinas to imagery that makes the sensory neurons detonate. It’s all just so darn sincere that you can’t help but be mesmerised. The hypnotic effect of this film comes from its unapologetic self-love, dunked in every kind of political incorrectness and burdened by absolutely no pretensions to being at all ‘good’ or ‘artistically valuable’ in any sense. Bottomline: Gunda has no idea that it’s bad, so why should you? In its honest horrendousness, lies its heart.
The second part of its appeal lies in something outside itself. Gunda is an internally sustained system of excreta but when faced with the real world, it’s an interesting foil to the prevailing socioculture. The more something is really bad, the more attention and perverse regard it attracts. By juxtaposing itself with what is considered the high point of high culture, it provides a ludicrous, absurd alternative to the gold standard. It is usually at least as solemn in its efforts to exist as the outstandingly good. Gunda, as anyone who saw movies in the mid-90s knows, represents the worst of life and films back then. We have a country barely heaving itself out of the economic nightmare of pre-NEP (New Economic Policy) era humiliation, successive unstable governments fostering chaos across the nation and the first wave of major reactions to the products of the NEP and its cries of Globalisation-Liberalisation-Privatisation (like cable TV and foreign shoe brands). The movies were confections of blinding/deafening music videos and costumes nobody would be caught dead wearing; the high point was something like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, a completely unoriginal two-hours worth of film reel devoted to much the same things as Gunda: female lead(s) popping off and being nothing more than the motive for the male lead to do anything; a lot of singing and dancing; a sexually confused ‘comedian’ and a happily ever after. OK, maybe not exactly the same things...but you get my drift. The point is that the most popular film of the same year wasn’t that much different from Gunda when you really sit down to think about it.
Gunda is a stellar example of mid-90s social realist aesthetic – it tackles heavyweight issues like small town India's growing socio-economic alienation from a newly liberalised metropolitan economy, the emasculation and “infantilisation” of the Indian male (as evinced by Chutia's condition) in the face of increasing female empowerment and of course, the reason Mithun Da will always be THE MAN. Also see Loha (reviewed next time), the prequel to this work of art and indeed, copiously referenced in it, in yet another stunning example of director Kanti Shah's attempts at syncretism - making him a true post-modernist maverick.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, in the inimitable style of Mithun Da (His Awesomeness):
“Main hoon garibon ke liye jyoti aur gundon ke liye jwala”
Move over, Robin Hood.
I'm sure most of you need not be converted and know exactly what I defend. As for the others, beg, steal or borrow your copy of this staple college fare or regret not getting the jokes. It is advisable, nay, imperative that you sit through...I mean...savour this masterpiece, for the sake of your own education and for that of those after you. Watch Gunda, so that you can say to your grandkids that you were part of the generation that saw it first.