Take the emergency exit
Indu Sarkar is the name of the lead character in this film; Sarkar, being her Bengali husband’s last name. That play of words is by far the only thing clever about this blatantly political propaganda picture. Which is rare for Bollywood, because for the longest, cinema in Bombay has mainly concerned itself with unifying, universal emotions, aimed at vast masses; rather than divisive, partisan politics that inevitably polarises audiences and opinions.
This film is set in 1975, when the Congress—apparently choc-a-bloc with capitalist cronies in a socialist economy—had imposed Emergency, or dissolved democracy, for 19 months flat. While the whole nation would have suffered under this oppression, some of its sins being forced sterilisation (‘nasbandi’), and black-marketing of essential supplies, the filmmaker trains his camera chiefly on the plight of Muslims under Congress rule, as tenements get cleared in Delhi’s Turkman Gate to make way for a shopping mall.
India’s politically charged young had united under the call of Jayaprakash Narayan’s Total Revolution at the time. But the key people leading the movement, according to this filmmaker, was the Rashtriya Sevak Sangh (RSS). Their offices get raided. An oxymoronic Gandhian Sanghi (Anupam Kher) devices non-violent strategies to shame the Congress government, in what he calls India’s second fight for independence.
Honestly, I'm quite fond of Madhur Bhandarkar. How can you not be? There's a child-like enthusiasm with which he's been surveying the world and finding simplicities in it for so long through movies with self-explanatory titles—Jail, Fashion, Satta, Traffic, Corporate, Page 3—that you can’t help but wonder what juvenility he’s up to next. Bhandarkar calls himself a realistic filmmaker (he even showed up in his own film once to say that about himself!). Be that as it may, what I actually enjoy most about his movies is spotting who’s who.
While Kher's character is probably the Sanghi Nanabhai Deshmukh, minister Om Nath is perhaps Kamal Nath, the fellow in the crooked goatee is Jagdish Tytler, the grand-villain Mogambo, enjoying qawaali in his den, in white kurta-pyjama and long side-burns, referred to only as the 'Chief', is decidedly Sanjay Gandhi (Neil Nitin Mukesh): "Sarkar challenge se nahin, chabuk as chalti hain," he growls!
What about Indu Sarkar? Oh forgot. She's a woman with a speech defect, and a terrible jallad of a mansplainer husband, who wouldn’t let her give shelter to orphans at home. The husband is also a low-level bureaucrat benefitting most from Emergency. Indu Sarkar simultaneously decides to conquer the stammer, the husband, and the state. No kidding.
While high on obvious propaganda, low on aesthetics, where Bhandarkar does well is to show the deep disdain the Indian state has for activists, its excessive censorship, the complete lack of an opposition in politics, and a relentless public campaign through events to suggest all's well, when it’s really not. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? We've clearly been through this before. Could we go through it again? Who knows? Ha, going through this movie is but another matter, my friend.