Vivek Agnihotri's ‘Urban Naxals’ is not just about making of the film, but goes far beyond the making to search for the roots of the Naxal problem and the role of Urban Naxals in nurturing it
I have seen ‘Buddha in a Traffic Jam’ and now I read ‘The Making of Buddha in a Traffic Jam’ – the book aptly titled ‘Urban Naxals’. Nothing prepared me for this thoroughly researched, racy, irreverent and brilliantly written book.
The book is not just about making of the film, but goes far beyond the making to search for the roots of the Naxal problem and the role of Urban Naxals in nurturing it. I can confidently say that the book will have a much deeper long-term impact on social studies than this first boldly anti-Left movie that became a mini-cult film for the youth. Here, Vivek Agnihotri is not constrained by the 120 min time frame so he goes far beyond what he could tell in the film.
The book runs on three parallel strands – Rediscovery of Vivek Agnihotri of his true self in his struggle to make this micro-budgeted movie on a topic never dared before, struggle to make the movie and then the struggle to release the movie. Second strand is his deeply researched presentation of about the Naxal movement that pock-marks our nation with its allies in various other fields and explaining its modus operandi. The third strand is about chance merging of his efforts at releasing the film that nobody wished to touch or to be seen within Hindi film industry and rise of Modi phenomenon of 2014, open battle of ideologies across the entire social and political spectrum, vicious form of intolerance of Maoist/Urban Naxal/Left brigade mixed with toxic cocktail of sham secularism.
Most disturbing parts of the book that leave you dumbfounded are his research on Naxalite movement and the unnamed, unseen or not-understood Urban Naxals. The most exhilarating parts are the post-production struggle, his ostracisation by the Hindi film industry even by the people who are truly capitalists and his use of Social media and idea of reaching out to the young audience directly to see that his precious child sees the light of the day. His struggle that results in his discovering himself, or find his ‘sur’ as Shri Anupam Kher put it to him is a wonderful reading and inspiring. It can inspire many young people struggling with failure or striving to find a new meaning to life.
The most amusing, however, is the way Vivek irreverently describes his meetings with high and mighty with feet of clay or I could say ‘feet covered in polka dot socks’. Vivek is already left with hardly any friends in the mainstream entertainment industry. I think this list will shrink further with this book. This section would also be of great interest to many readers to understand the art and science of making films.
Here is an example of Vivek’s keen light-hearted eye for detail. Describing his meeting with Karan Thapar, he writes, “He was dressed like a typical 'bada saheb' from colonial era with a twist in the colours. He wore a greyish suit and a bow with pink stars. His socks were fluorescent pink and yellow with parrot green polka dots…. Talking about the heroine of the film, Karan says, ‘but she is dark, I want someone fair’. I couldn’t believe that this discriminatory statement came from a leading journalist. I stared at his fluorescent yellow socks with parrot green poka dots for a few seconds and thought to myself that despite being the watchdogs of dark, dirty and discriminatory democracy our top journalists like to remain in Fair & Lovely world. ‘Good bye, Mr. Thapar, I said.” I don’t want to kill the reader’s fun by quoting more of his encounters with larger than life personalities who we look upto. I can only assure you that you will be left chuckling. Book makes it clear that ‘Buddha in a Traffic Jam’ couldn’t have been what it became but for solid support of Shri Anupam Kher. He did something that was totally against the populist filmy ‘politically correct’ views. He too suffered later on for being a black nationalist sheep in a secular world of white sheep.
Vivek discloses his own crush with Naxal philosophy, his disillusionment and then his deep study of this terrorist philosophy. This is the section of the book that is a must-read for its deep insight into the mind of a Naxal. It explains the semi-organised, cover and overt structure that is spread much wider and deeper than we can visualise. In one place he says, “I remember in 1985, a Leftist friend of mine had tried explaining the Naxal organisational structure to me and finally exasperated, he’d say, ‘Trying to understand the Naxal movement is like peeling nan onion. In the end, you will have only tears in your eyes and many disconnected and scattered layers of the onion.” He goes on to uncover the nexus between Naxals, Indian Mujahideen, LTTE, North East terror groups and their undercover Urban Naxal supporters working out of comfort of academic jobs, media and so on. He quotes official intelligence reports about J&K separatists having links with these groups too.
He goes on to note that the Naxalite movement is engaged in Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW). This war is waged by blurring the lines between war and politics, combatants and civilians. He has no doubt that Naxalism is the biggest threat to India, bigger than Pakistan and China. He points a finger at UPA and Sonia Gandhi who, he asserts, nurtured the ecosystem that consisted of intellectual Naxal sympathisers, eminent journalists, historians and above all, NGO heads.
While describing his meeting with a few Urban Naxals, he writes,” Nazis wore a stiff uniform and as stiff face. They never smiled. Similarly, I have observed that Leftists don’t smile. They have only one expression on their frowning faces – anger. Together, as a group, they give a sense of an army marching forward, in order to stop the ‘motor of the world’.” His writing is full of such insightful observations. At another place he writes, “Gangsters use guns for extortion, Naxals use ‘anti-development’ protests.”
As he travels across India to understands the dark side of Naxalism, to meet people for his research he leaves the Bollywood bubble world and encounters real people, real Indians. While on one side he has got disillusioned with high and mighty ‘white people’, he is inspired by simple folks who are honest because they have to be honest not because somebody forces them to be honest.
His becoming a media celebrity during his fight with his erstwhile colleagues and media friends over the anti-Modi plank and his refusal to be part of this campaign too has interesting insights. He visits many universities and campuses where he meets illiberal liberals and supposedly illiberal people who are actually liberals. Incidentally, my first meeting with Vivek was during a debate about FTII and appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the Director of the institute. He and Anupam ji like most accomplished film people were on the opposite side while I defended the government action. After the debate he disclosed that I was the first ‘Sanghi’ he met in real life, though he had been labelled a Sanghi by then!
While you read the book, you can almost visualise this journey of Vivek Agnihotri as he finds his ‘Buddha’; so vivid is his writing style. He is a brilliant storyteller, a wonderful dialogue writer and an honest human being. You can feel the pain, the agony, the struggle of this man and through him the pain of Indians who suffer at the hands of sham socialists and communists.