When a sixty four year old actor decides to help the poor farmers in this country where they would even travel miles to commit suicide in full view of the live media (cameras) I should not look at that helping hand with doubt or cynicism. Like many in the media as well as in the public domain I too appreciate the act of the Bollywood start, Nana Patekar who has just declared financial help to the widows whose husbands have committed suicide due to crop failure and debt. Patekar has also said that if anybody feels like committing suicide, before doing that act of self annihilation, he or she just remember him and approach him so that he could extend his helping hand. Social media is abuzz with the news and the news has gone almost viral. Once again I tell myself, behave. Don’t be cynical. But I have to take this news with a pinch of salt.
First of all Nana Patekar, though he is a methodical actor and has been successful in reaping good at box office, has never been a social worker in the true sense. In his younger days he had acted in films like Gaman and Salaam Bombay where he acted more like a Tapori (an urchin) and his matured films include Parinda, Prahaar, Krantiveer, Agnisaakshi and so on. While Amitabh Bacchan played the roles of a brooding angry young man, Nana Patekar presented his alter ego. His characters were highly vocal and in more than one ways incited people for executing street side justice. His characters expressed thorough cynicism for law and order and he waited till the evil displayed all its colors and the weapons in store. His characters waited and watched like mad men who were not affected by the presence of evil. He exhorted other people take up cudgels for themselves and only when they failed he came up to vanquish the evil.
(Nana Patekar in the film Krantiveer)
Nana Patekar became very close to the people in Maharashtra than the film goers in the North Indian Hindi speaking Bollywood lovers for he expressed the Marathi-Manus character. If Amol Palekar was acting out the timidity of a typical Marathi or Mumabikar who would do some tricks to survive in the big bad city and would show all skills to flow with the stream, Patekar was the aspiring side of the Marathi, who would take all the dirt on him till he is provoked and become a tiger. That’s why his filmi dialogues were the staple items in the Shiv Sena processions and the Marathi youth in those days liked the cassettes of Patekar’s recorded dialogues. They cherished his dialogues more than the mainstream Hindi movie songs. Patekar could complete Palekar or the other way round. Though they did not act together in films, they complemented each other tremendously and became integral part of the Marathi pride.
From the anguished but cynical lonely man, Patekar moved to characters that showed patriotism. They could kill anybody for clearing this society of all kinds of human vices. Patekar showed tremendous skill in acting patriotic characters and at the same time his performance was unparalleled when it came to the presentation of psychotic characters. As he moved from cynical characters to the villainous ones, his ranting and peculiar dialogue delivery became more poetic, shrill and intense but by the time he started acting the roles of cops, his dialogue delivery became much more controlled and grave. While Amitabh Bacchan moved from his monosyllables to long dialogues in his later movies, Patekar took the reverse routes. His guns spoke while his tongue rested in the holster of his mouth. Patekar’s acting abilities found full fruition in Marathi movies like Baba Amte and his tested his comic bone in the mainstream Bollywood multi starrer like Welcome. We could say, as an actor, Patekar has done all kinds of roles that an actor would cherish to do. Now what is left for him?
(Nana in Ab thak Chappan)
I remember Patekar in an interview with the television journalist Rajat Kapoor in his program ‘Aap Ki Adalat’ (Your Court/People’s Court) reciting a poem on water. He could eke out thunderous applause including standing ovation from the studio audience as he could impress them with his oratorical skills. In fact that was an enactment of the younger Patekar who had enthralled the audience with his dialogue deliveries. When people see a matured and old Patekar doing the same but with lot of environmental concerns, he once again becomes the darling of the audience. But at the same time, in one of the commercials we see a rough, reticent but no nonsense Patekar acting as a middle class shopper in a shopping mall where he is offered a chocolate in the place of change. He reacts by giving his shoes as the total amount for the grocery. To the surprised salesperson he says that as they would not take his shoes for money why should he take their chocolate for change? Once again Patekar was playing to the gallery.
The new move of Patekar is a populist move because all the film actors in the country cannot come forward and give away money to the people who have committed suicide and who are intending to do so. It is not the job of the film actors and actresses or anybody in this country to distribute their hard earned riches to the poor people. You may be surprised to hear this. Nana Patekar or anybody else in that case could do so. But it is not their job. Philanthropy and charity are good but they do not fundamentally change poverty in a country. Changing the socio-economic imbalance through political programs and will is the duty of the elected governments. The governments that take tax from people cannot expect the film actors to do the public charity. Even if Patekar does it, is he going to help all those who have lost their kith and kin in this debt related- crop failure related deaths? What would he do if a whole lot of people in this country come before him and tell him that they are about to commit suicide? When there is an elected government, we should not expect a society or country could be run on charity.
(Nana's latest film Welcome Back poster)
The second reason I would cite for not accepting this move of Nana Patekar is this that it is not a political act. It does not have any ideology other than human compassion (which too comes under cloud and I would explain it soon). Any act devoid of an ideological aim or theoretical strength cannot run a long innings as it is bound to crumble under the weight of practical problems. Patekar claims that he knows Phadnavis, the chief minister of Maharashtra and it is time that the government should do something towards this calamity called farmer suicide. In fact, by giving away money to the affected, we come to know that Patekar was not intending to shame the government. Had it been so we could have appreciated the move. But here the actor is just performing his role as a Marathi elder who ‘knows’ Phadnavis even before he became the chief minister of the state. If it was a really a political move which could create a long term result, Patekar could have gone on record implicating the successive governments. Instead taking an appeasing route, he could have boldly spoken against the government/s. But his intention is not that.
The fact that chokes me with indignation is the timing of Patekar’s move to help the farmers. On 4th September, his new movie ‘Welcome Back’, a sequel to the rom-com, Welcome is going to be released where he share screen space with Anil Kapoor, John Abraham and Paresh Raval. Just before the release of their new movies, most of the Bollywood stars either do something good to the society or they get into some kind of controversy. Amir Khan is the best example of a do gooder before the release of his movies. Some stars paint or exhibit their works and give away all the money to some charity organization (Salman Khan), some stars take their families to some European trip (Akshay Kumar), some stars fall in or fall out of love with their co-stars (the younger ones like Ranbeer Kapoor et al) or someone like Shah Rukh Khan appear on a stage show talking about Hindu-Muslim unity. They are all stunts that are meant to promote their movies. Nana Patekar knows who is going to get the media space by announcing relief to the farmers. Who else knows the Indian psyche better than the people who move them with their histrionics? Hence, I have all the reasons to doubt Nana Patekar though I like him as an actor.