Nita’s post on the question of the Kashmir valley started a furious debate on the legitimacy and practicality of the Indian nation. A variety of positions were taken, indeed the comments that the post generated have been a learning experience in themselves. However missing were the voices of the marginalized themselves. I have rarely seen Kashmiris engage with (other ?) Indians on India’s blogosphere. Apart from the Mizo community, there has not been much interaction with people from the North East either. I felt that this would be the right time to talk about a paper I had read a while back. The paper examines the Mani Ratnam movie Dil Se, in the context of the relationship between the dominant and marginalized groups of India.
It is interesting to note, first off, that Dil Se was not a commercial success, which was perhaps a bit surprising given the high profile director, actors and music composer. Why did the movie fail commercially ? Perhaps the movie raised uncomfortable questions. In her paper, ‘Allegories of Alienation and Politics of Bargaining: Minority Subjectivities in Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se‘, University of Leeds professor Ananya Kabir points out,
Dil Se exposes the libidinal economy of the federal democratic framework, urging groups currently alienated within that framework to work towards a successful politics of bargaining in order to claim their rightful place within the nation, and initiates processes of mourning for cultural losses sustained through homogenizing majoritarian discourses
The three characters of the movie, Amar Verma (SRK) the ‘typical’ North Indian Hindu male, Meghna (Manisha Koirala) the mysterious ‘terrorist’ whose humanity is snatched away from her by the state and Preeti (Preity Zinta) who represents a previously marginalized but now assertive people from the margins.
Who are the marginalized ? In India this is a very complex question. In a vast and ancient land, masked as a new republic dominant groups can become marginalized when locations change. Marginalized groups can become dominant due to the actions of the state. Kabir defines the minority subject of Dil Se (Koirala) as being in,
a state of self-awareness when the subject finds her private allegiances at odds with the discourses of public culture. This moment is also one of solidarity, as she/he finds her/himself part of a group that does not share ‘the symbols of authority, the values that are propagated from the centre, and the culture that emanates from the centre’.
I think Kabir misses out on the point that one may also not share the values that propogate from the centre if the centre itself does not adhere to those values.
The protagonist Meghna rebuffs the advances of the ‘hero’ Amar, who sees her as beautiful, exotic and simultaneously dangerous. He pursues her, ostensibly trying to ‘rescue her’ (but really to satisfy his desires), not understanding her powerful motivations and lost innocence. His rather mindless pursuit brings both him and her to their ends with his love being requited only in his death with Meghna. He learns nothing from his conversation with a militant leader early in the movie,
Militant leader: ‘Fifty years ago promises were made to us but they havent been kept. Instaed we have been oppressed …’
Amar: ‘But India is your country, isnt it ?’
Militant Leader: ‘No. It only seems like that to you. Delhi is India. Do you know why ? Because small states like us, languishing in a corner, have no meaning for you;’
Wounds inflicted by a group cannot be simply forgotten for an individual’s naive curiosity.
For ‘mainstream’ India, the national space is
homogenised through the erasure of crucial differences such as the linguistic, on the one hand, even while fetishising, on the other, less crucial points of divergence, such as the physiognomic.
So. in addition to the attitude and actions of the centre, the movie, through the character of Amar Verma also exposes the crude and self-centred nationalism of the North Indian elite. A prominent example: the urban middle class of North India often displays an attitude to the Kashmir issue centred totally on territorial claims and consumerist fantasy rather than the aspirations of Kashmiris themselves.
But perhaps the most important and practical message is given by the character of Preeti. Her identity as a woman and a Malayali is forcefully asserted by her throughout the movie,
She uses her mother tongue, Malayalam, to assert her status as bride-to-be among the younger generation of Amar’s extended family, and she teaches Amar phrases from Malayalam, thereby encouraging him to speak her tongue.
Her power as an ascendant member of a minority is fully crystallised in the song Jiya Jale, where she transports herself and her husband to be from the pre-wedding henna ceremony of North Indians to her state in Kerala where,
she transforms herself from virginal and demure North Indian bride, with covered head and hennaed palms, to erotically empowered ‘Kerala woman’, dressed in the tight half-sari and blouse typical of Kerala fisherwomen.
If Preeti represents a previously marginalized group that has bargained effectively with the centre, then Meghna and Amar’s tragic reality at the end represents that if the marginalized groups are,
not allowed self-expression on their own terms, other groups who have ostensibly succeeded in their negotiations with the centre, and indeed the centre itself, will suffer.