With the tagline “A Generation Awakens,” Bollywood blockbuster ‘Rang De Basanti’ RDB (2006) invited a lot of debate by raising intertwined themes of youth, disenchantment, and rebellion.
For majority of audience, especially youth, it did touch a nerve. The sense of heightened activism clubbed with a concern for the deteriorating system around, created audible waves. Nonetheless, a few critics questioned the very purpose of making such type of political movie for a “generation of urban youth which had no campus radicalization, is largely disconnected from the public sphere by private aspirations, and derives its ideas about politics from television.” They lambasted RDB for triggering Flash Activism into the fore. One critic curtly remarked, “To be awakened from a slumber of indifference is one thing, but to be awakened and almost hypnotized in the darkness of a theatre, where your senses are under complete control of the maker, and preached ‘what you cannot tolerate, do away with’, is Hitler-ish”. Amidst a range of reviews, RDB eventually ended up as an expression of numerous contradictions—social and political.
Stephen Duncombe in his book Dream outlines a theory of “dreampolitik,” that calls for progressive political and activist groups to embrace the appeal of fantasy. He argues, “instead of asking for sacrifice, we could try appealing to people’s hopes and dreams, weaving them into a tale that ends with their lives being better than they are now.” This is exactly how and why fantasies/stories motivate people, especially youth, using different forms of media as a medium. Stuff like RDB are its cinematic manifestation. Powers or players, that may be, reach the youth through various media and make them the living laboratories of ideas/ideologies, and play politics more like a video-game. And if the target group lacks moors—historical, political or religious—then the job of roping them up is not so strenuous.
In Kashmir, it has been generally observed that in the fantasy of ‘battling’ against the system, the youth are usually drawn into a fight that is politically personal, eventually. Under the garb of many slogans and tags, youth are allured towards concepts that are not just manipulative but are exploitative as well. That’s why, they are ridiculously pigeonholed into certain ‘genres’ as and when required.
The term ‘student politics’ here is as baffling as the shrinking of native Dal Lake. So far, no one could precisely explain the slow death of the lake and no measures have proven successful in salvaging it. Reeling under the stench and stink, it however continues to attract people by its superficial look. Similarly, student politics here is a phenomenon that met a toxic killing some decades ago, and it could not be resuscitated to its original form ever again. Of course, it is flogged up whenever it meant to do more with ‘politics’ than with the students who are usually swayed by ‘flash activism’ because of insufficient understanding of their history and society.
Rightly said, there is a potential inferno in the backdrop of every classroom. However, that inferno is well defined and well justified for those who visit the classroom. For a non-serious pack who know everything but their classroom, playing ‘politics’ is the right short-cut to an easy life that slaps bitter lessons in the long run.
Bottomline: Classroom will retain its power, come what may. Torrents of time can turn up the different chapters, throwing up contradictions within and without. Campuses may or may not be permitted to be the breeding grounds for future politicians, but for coming generations, the “selective campus politics” can steer nothing beyond a sense of disgruntlement. And with media in the setting, pushing its agendas, this all will be all the more dreadful as, to quote Duncombe, ‘fantasy and spectacle are becoming the property of fascism’.