Film stirs politics ahead of Indian general polls


MUMBAI – A dark, angry film exploring the labyrinthine underbelly of Indian politics is winning handsome reviews from critics just as the country gears up for general elections beginning in April.

"Gulaal", directed by Anurag Kashyap, is an acerbic comment on caste- and region-based politics that promote competitive parochial interests, often undermining India's secular democratic structure.

The film uses student politics entangled with a covert rebellion against the government by an erstwhile princely community to highlight the pulls and pressures on democracy from growing regional aspirations and discontent.

"The film is a result of my anger at the deterioration of the democratic process in the country," Kashyap told Reuters.

"Gulaal" opens with a fiery speech from a leader of a formerly princely community who wants to win back the days of the maharajas from the government, which he accuses of duping the princely classes into giving up their royal claims, and then ignoring them.

The princely rebellion is a metaphor for the growing voice of regional parties and their aspirations.

Smaller Indian parties with regional or caste-based agendas are proving to be the key to building coalitions. Their increasing influence undermines the two main national parties.

The film also refers to corruption and coercion in politics and the disenchantment of youth with the democratic electoral process.

"We are proud of our democratic process, but we need to ask ourselves whether democracy is really alive in our country," said Raj Singh Chaudhary, who plays the protagonist in "Gulaal."

"Can you cast your vote without fear when there will be booth capturing," he said, referring to a practice in which party supporters crowd around a polling station preventing backers of other parties from reaching the voting booths.

"Gulaal" is not pop-corn entertainment, so unsurprisingly is not a box-office hit. Political films in Bollywood are few and far between.

Kashyap, who even found it difficult to obtain a producer, said the hope for political change rested with the youth and the educated class.

More than 700 million Indians are slated to vote in a five-phase general election between Apr.16 and May 13.

(Source: Reuters, Writing by Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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