The earliest successful political satire would be Chaplin’s first sound film The Great Dictator. He got the look spot on and created a mirror universe so identical that names were not required to be taken. People remember Adenoid Hynkel, the Phooey. Remember that this was in 1940 when Hitler and his Nazi party were at the peak of their atrocities. So, when twitter warriors declare war on their laptop /mobile screens equipped with Calibri or Times New Roman, over an upcoming movie that looks like a satire on their favourite star-turned-politician it brings out wild amusement and mild irritation.
While America has a long list of movies based on political satire, alternate reality, biopics, and reality based fictional drama, in India we are still stuck at the crossroads of ‘offense’ and ‘censorship’. Our biopics are hagiographies (if made about the person in power) or unintentionally comical hit jobs (when made about the opposition). The truth along with the satire is always missing in action. Kissa Kursee Ka is probably the only classic political satire in the truest sense of the genre. Our film industries which imitate, free make and take inspiration from Hollywood have stayed away from this genre, and probably for good reason. Death threats and FIRs are hardly on a filmmaker’s wish-list right after critical acclaim and box office success.
Political satire makes for some interesting viewing. Humour is a better tool to drill a serious comment. If you watch The Great Dictator, you laugh but you also realize the flimsiness of the philosophy that triggered the whole world into a war and sent an ethnicity through unspeakable horrors. More recent attempts like The Interview and The Dictator gave us a sneak peek into the personality cult practised in parts of the world that are shielded behind information barricades. Mainstream Hindi cinema has maintained its social distancing from this genre. There have been some good attempts in the past from regional cinema Amaidhi Padai in Tamil starring Sathyaraj and MLA Yedukondlu in Telugu (which was remade into Aaj Ka MLA RamAvataar). These have been few and far in between and in recent past I can think of Joker and LKG that have come out of Tamil industry.
Joker had smart screenplay and witty lines while LKG was at best watchable. 2 good political satires in recent times have come from the Kannada industry, Humble Politician Nagaraj and Topiwala. The former is about the farce of political campaigning featuring a hilarious politician at the centre. Amidst the wit, topical and slapstick humour, it also driver home the point that the people deserve the leader/party they elect. Topiwala talks about the rampant corruption from the mines and political board rooms, the vulnerability of the existing Lokayuktha system and India Against Corruption. At the end, it also leaves us with the message that all comes down to the poor Indian common man and his illusion of choice when it comes to vote.
Bengali cinema came out with Bhobishyoter Bhoot (Ghosts of the future) which was egalitarian in casting its satire across the political spectrum. Unfortunately, it was forced to ‘dissapparate’ from the theatres faster than a Death-eater sensing an Auror.
Political satire in Indian cinema has its limitations: you cannot take names, the Film Certification board is called the Censor board (considering its action, Censor board is probably more apt). While in America movies and TV shows take the names and mickey out of anyone and everyone in the public domain. Heck they made a movie on the assassination of Bush while he was still planning the invasion on Afghanistan from the White House. The genre has been so successful there, they put one right inside the White House.
Ram Gopal Verma has lately tried his hand at this genre, because why leave any genre unmolested. His first attempt at it , Amma Rajyam Lo Kadappa Biddalu was funny for all the wrong reasons and at all unintended places. Hiring look alike of known political figures is one thing, making a coherent movie around it is a different ball game. For his next release ‘Power Star’ starring a certain ‘actor’ called Prawan Kalyan (no points for guessing the inspiration), he has got the look alike(s). He has picked a topic that is controversial, pissed the fan base that is quick to react to anything and has got the eyeballs.
Whether the film turns out to be a political satire or a publicity stunt is to be seen? Going by the past, it is likely to be the latter. A political satire works well when the central character has political weight (punching up as opposed to punching down). In the meanwhile, the wait for a hard-hitting political satire in cinema might take longer than expected. Political satire is a zeitgeist of its times and the current mood seems to be one of diplomatic reticence.