"Woh jhootha hai, vote na usska dena, note bhi de toh, vote na ussko dena," sang Asrani in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's 'Namak Haraam', a 1974 film about the clash between the bourgeois and the peasant class pitched against the shrill rhetorics of the elections.
The ballot and the common man have always been favourite punching bags in our films. Think back to Gulzar's 'Aandhi', where Suchitra…Gandhi….errrr… Sen meets Feroze 'Sanjeev Kumar' Gandhi while the elections are full on. The film was clearly inspired by a certain Mrs G and her estranged husband.
There was even a qawali about electoral rigging which went, "Salaam kijiye," which got obfuscated by the haunting stream of Lata Mangshkar-Kishore Kumar duets. But we got the drift when Aarti Devi gets hit in the head during an election campaign.
Elections can be mighty injurious to the health. And you don't have to one of the Gandhis to know this. Way back in 1984, the late Dasari Narayana Rao made 'Aaj Ka MLA Ram Avtar', starring Rajesh Khanna, about a barber's rise to parliamentarianism. The film was pitched against T Rama Rao's 'Inquilaab', featuring Amitabh Bachchan, which was again about an ordinary man's rise to absolute political corruption.
In both the films, the degenerate politicians' muscle power is challenged by his wife - Shabana Azmi in 'Aaj Ka MLA' and Sridevi in 'Inquilaab'.
Interestingly, both Khanna and Bachchan went on to dabble in politics in real life. But nothing like the excitement they exuded on screen while negotiating the elections.
Somehow, the elections in Bollywood films have never captured the feverish pitch of their Hollywood counterparts like Jay Roach's 'The Campaign' and Mike Nichols's 'Primary Colors'. The reason for this lack of truly astute political cinema in Bollywood is fear of political honesty that filmmakers must face when making films about elections.
There are so many sensitivities to be negotiated. The filmmaker ends up walking on glass while addressing the electoral process. In Prakash Jha's 'Rajneeti', the entire political scenario was based on the Mahabharat, but the portions where Katrina Kaif stands elections after her politician-husband's death were clearly ripped off from the Rajiv Gandhi-Sonia Gandhi saga.
Of course, Jha outright denied the Gandhi connection… I am sure he remembered what happened to Gulzar Saab's 'Aandhi'. Who wants to kick up a storm on the screen when the voters are on the prowl?
The newest and perhaps the most well-received film on the electoral process is Amit V Masurkar's 'Newton', a parable on the sanctity of the electoral process told with a fervour and sincerity that films about the elections do not possess in India.
As elections in Gujarat are around the corner, we should all pay heed to what Kishore Kumar sang for Asrani in 'Namak Haraam': "Woh jhootha hai, vote na ussko dena". Hear, hear!
(Subhash K Jha is a film critic and movie expert)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)