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A minority man as Thackeray; a Modi admirer as Manmohan: The strengths of Indian democracy

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Bengaluru, Dec 28: The year 2019 will be a big one for Indian democracy. This is a year which will see how much India has learnt to live with times when we see politics turning more about technology and software than boots on the ground. If 2014 saw an unprecedented election which was one-sidedly won by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 2019 will see whether he succeeds in renewing the mandate the same way he won it five years ago.

Films on Thackeray & Manmohan are odes to Indian democracy

However, before the real political battle breaks out, Indians will have a virtual stint with politics in the month of January when two films - one on late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray and another on former prime minister Manmohan Singh - will be released. The trailers of 'Thackeray' and 'The Accidental Prime Minister' are already out and the films feature Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Anupam Kher in the main roles, respectively.

'Accidental Prime Minister': 'More they protest, more publicity they will give', says Anupam Kher

In these times of polarisation when India is trying hard to get rid of the 'secular' identity and tilt towards a majoritarian form of socio-political system, the twin films mark a uniqueness and that gives a sense of hope about Indian democracy - which is about tales of ironies, contrasts and paradoxes.

Siddiqui faced protest from the same Sena over Ramleela a few years ago

In 'Thackeray', the late Sena founder has been portrayed by Siddiqui who clearly belongs to a community which is not seen as a favourite by the practitioners of the Sena brand of politics. In October 2016, in the wakes of the dastardly attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir, Siddiqui had supported the voice that spoke against the presence of Pakistani artistes in India saying nothing actually came over the country.

Actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui

However, the same actor, faced protest over his presence in Ramleela in his native Budhana in Uttar Pradesh and was stopped from participating since he had a "din" in his name which the protesters felt was not suitable for a Hindu festival. And guess what? The protesters were from the same Shiv Sena which refused to see the actor as an Indian even though he spoke like them to bar Pakistani artistes in India. We were left wondering then what is the country for which Siddiqui even refused to show a professional solidarity with fellow artistes from across the border?

Row over 'Accidental Prime Minister': Manmohan Singh refrains from commenting on film

In case of Kher too, the contrasts are blinding. Here is a man who has not hidden his admiration for the current prime minister and taunted and mocked the previous ruling party whenever he got an opportunity. And then, the veteran actor comes up with a perfect image of former prime minister from the Congress Manmohan Singh in 'The Accidental Prime Minister'. We have seen just the trailer and it gave an impression that the Sikh leader was made to look weak before the high command, something which suits the perception that people have about him. The phenomenon of Singh as a political leader is yet to be unearthed and rides more on popular perception of a man who is "silent, meek and surrendering" and hence brought down the stature of the prime minister's position. But Singh certainly had his moments of pride and did not let go opportunities to hit back to the current rulers when they did something suspicious in the domain that he specialises - economics.

Did Siddiqui and Kher take an intellectual revenge?

Whether the Siddiquis and Khers found the opportunities to portray leaders who did not exactly fit their social positions or personal preferences as professional highs or as ones to take some form of intellectual revenge we don't know but these developments certainly confirm one point and it is about the incredible possibilities that the democracy in India opens up at times. While seeing a minority portraying a majoritarian leader or a man playing the role of a man whose party didn't suit his own preferences, there is a conviction that Bollywood has reiterated the real success of Indian democracy in tough times and it is about co-existence - of identity, beliefs, conviction and above all, diversity.

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