This is a paper I wrote in the beginning of 2010 for my Cinema and Ideology class. Thought I’d share it.
A Comparison of Bollywood movie ‘Delhi 6′ with William Golding’s classic, ‘Lord of the Flies’
- Delhi 6 and Indian society today
- The concept of a ‘kaala bandar’
- Lord of the Flies and Delhi 6
Delhi 6 and Indian society today
There are many phrases which come to my mind when I think of India. We have ‘Incredible India’, ‘Unity in Diversity’, ‘Confusion, yet Harmony’, ‘exotic’, and ‘enchanting’ on one hand, and on the other we have ‘India’s a mess’, ‘so much corruption’, ‘no family planning’, and ‘suffocating levels of pollution’. I suppose all countries have their good points and their bad points, but India is a strange mix. Here, almost every story has multiple perspectives, and it becomes difficult to label something simply as good or bad, or right or wrong. After all, they’re just two sides of the same coin, aren’t they?
Termed as a developing nation, many believe that in 20 years time, India and China will be the biggest economies of the world. In this unfamiliar ‘growing’ stage, there are many things to be learnt, and many to be forgotten. The process, however, isn’t so simple. Indian society is deeply rooted in culture, religion, and tradition. It is unlikely that western concepts of modernization and scientific thinking could be introduced without any, let’s say, confusion.
‘Delhi 6’, a Hindi film made in 2009, paints an incredible yet realistic picture of Indian society today. Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (who also made the very popular ‘Rang De Basanti’ in 2006), it stars Abhishek Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor, Om Puri, Waheeda Rahman, Rishi Kapoor, Atul Kulkarni, Deepak Dobriyal and Divya Dutta. The protagonist of the film, played by Abhishek Bachchan, is an NRI called Roshan who has accompanied his grandmother to Delhi so as to fulfil her ‘antim ichha’ (last wish) of dying in her native land. The audience is in for a visual treat as Roshan explores the inner lanes of Delhi 6, overflowing with diversity, culture, and character. We also see a very harmonious Delhi, where the lives of Hindus and Muslims cross paths every day, their places of worship nestled side by side. Through the course of the film, the belief in a ‘kaala bandar’ (black monkey) grows stronger and seeps into the minds of the people and fueled by unnecessary media attention. The ‘kaala bandar’ seems to be the cause of everybody’s problems; it is responsible for robbing people’s houses, attacking their women, even committing murder. The peaceful coexistence of Roshan’s diverse neighborhood comes to a tragic halt when the rumour of the ‘kaala bandar’ is taken to another level by fanatics. It results in a violent riot with the two communities up in arms against each other. Roshan, while the riot continues, disguises himself as the ‘kaala bandar’ to rescue Bittu(Sonam Kapoor). Once the people see him in the costume, although they recognize Roshan, they target all their fury and anger towards him, nearly taking his life. The film ends on a positive note, however, with the people of the community realizing that they have the ability to take control of their own lives, without relying on others, and they are capable of so much more than what they limit themselves to.
Although there is a love story in the movie, it is not the main focus of the film. It is the functioning of the people of Delhi 6 that Mehra tries to capture, both as individuals and as a society. And he does this in such a way that people all over India will be able to understand and relate to the film.
Mehra opens our eyes to a society which is, essentially, full of conflict, contradiction and hypocrisy, and yet has the ability to grow and evolve. This, to me, isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. Indian society continues to prosper no matter what problems arise. We see the film through Roshan’s perspective. This holds to be very important because unlike the others of Delhi 6, he is an outsider; an American. His values and ideals are different from theirs but because of his mixed Hindu-Muslim background, he tries genuinely hard to make sense of what he perceives around him.
The conflict that arises in this community of Delhi 6, just like so many other societies around India, is that between traditional ‘old fashioned’ ideals and ways of living and modern ‘progressive’ beliefs. Both these belief systems have as many positive elements to them as they have negative. A traditional, religious person is likely to easily imbibe positive qualities like respect to elders, strong family bonds, and unity of the community. We can see these clearly in the way Roshan’s grandmother and neighbors live; more like a family than just neighbors. They make pickle together and take care of Roshan’s grandmother as well. Roshan himself comments once, ‘I came to Inida to accompany my family member, but now I don’t even know how to distinguish between a stranger and a family member.’ There are also numerous religious festivals where the whole community comes together, strengthening their bond and unifying them.
On the other hand, a traditional, orthodox person may find the caste system and discrimination of women justified. Roshan’s grandmother, though she is a very kind hearted lady, is terribly angry when Roshan touches a lower caste woman’s hand while helping her. She then performs various rituals to ‘purify’ him. Bittu’s father believes that if Bittu does not get married, it will put the whole family, and especially him, to shame. Towards the end of the movie, he even goes to the extent of bribing someone to marry his daughter. He scorns at Bittu’s dreams of becoming the next Indian Idol, simply because he has never been exposed to the fact that women can be more than just housewives. Along with that, there may also be feelings of religious superiority, blind faith and heavy superstition present. In the second half of the movie, we see the Hindu and Muslim communities against each other, making crude remarks about each others’ religion. There is also a scene where Roshan’s grandmother faints, and on their way to the hospital, they are held up in traffic because a cow is giving birth in the middle of the road. Instead of trying to move the cow to a better, safer place, people rush to get closer to it, believing it to be a good omen. Even Roshan’s grandmother, weak as she is, is taken near the cow to get its blessings. Luckily, she doesn’t die, but one can’t help thinking that if she were in a more serious state she might have lost her life because of this superstition.
A ‘modern’ way of living could promote values of independence, equality, democracy and freedom. However, it may also lead to materialism, alienation and a hunger for power, which in turn paves the way for corruption.
Many members of Indian society are conflicted between the tradionalism and modernity, because of both the contradictions that arise in them as well as the changing times that we live in today. Perhaps, because of this unique situation, a concept like the ‘kaala bandar’ can not only evolve, but develop into something stronger and more powerful, and more dangerous as well.
The concept of a ‘kaala bandar’
The news of the existence of a ‘kaala bandar’ is spread by the media with entertaining presentations by reporters and interviews and comments by its supposed victims. Pretty soon, the entire capital is swarming with incidents involving the ‘kaala bandar’. Mehra has shown, quite hilariously, how, the ‘kaala bandar’ develops as time goes by. At first, it is a large gorilla-like animal, with black fur and long nails like daggers. Then, it is able to perform various feats like running at lightning speed and always escaping before the police arrive. At Delhi 6 itself, when an entire Ram Leela gathering is broken up because of the ‘kaala bandar’, they start believing that it has springs to its feet, it can drive a car, and it is also invisible. This attribute to its character is given by Roshan himself, who is amazed by the ridiculousness of what is happening around him.
So the idea of a ‘kaala bandar’ is formed, and spreads through Delhi. But why is such an idea formed in the first place? What allows it to form, and causes it to persist and grow?
The ‘kaala bandar’ is formed, initially, because of the fear of the unknown, and the desire to give it a name, so as to justify the fear, and comfort oneself at the same time. Obviously, if you see something in the wee hours of the morning, all sleepy and still in a dream-like state, your imagination is allowed to run loose and hook on to the first thing that comes to your mind. In this case, a ‘kaala bandar’ was formed. Then, however, as the news spread, people began to blame the ‘kaala bandar’ for numerous other misdeeds. If one takes a look at the nature of these crimes, some petty and some grave, one can easily see that a human being is also capable of committing them. If that be the case, then why blame the ‘kaala bandar’?
The answer, I find, is that it is much easier to blame something on someone who can never be found and yet be guilty without any proof of evidence. For a person whose house has been robbed, he could easily say, ‘Oh the ‘kaala bandar’ was here, I saw it!’ This way, he wouldn’t have to make an effort of trying to find the person who might have actually robbed his house, nor would he have to worry about the fact that maybe he could have stopped it from happening, and at the same time he would also get the sympathy of the whole community. Or, there may just be the fact that he is very superstitious and truly believes that a ‘kaala bandar’ roams the streets at night. For the policeman who would have been in charge of the area where the robbery had taken place, he could easily say that the ‘kaala bandar’ has vanished, or has some supernatural powers, or, what actually happens in the film, blame it on the forestry department, saying that animals on the loose are none of their concern. These are all excuses, excuses which rid one of any responsibility and also allow one to keep his conscience clear. When this opportunity, of freeing oneself from blame, comes by, it hardly matters whether one truly believes in the concept of the ‘kaala bandar’ or not. What matters is whether it can be used for one’s benefit or not. While superstitious people may truly believe in its existence, those who might be more ‘scientific minded’ than the rest, could also benefit from perpetuating the existence of the ‘kaala bandar’. They could use it as a fearful tool to gain power over the superstitious.
Thus, the ‘kaala bandar’ essentially serves as a disguise. It masks the world of lies, corruption, deceit, excuse and irresponsibility, brainwashing the people and making them believe that nothing is in their control; they are but pitiful creatures that must be empathized with.
Religion plays an important role in many aspects of Indian society. The country was divided on religious grounds, and even today, religion is used as a political tool. 12% of the Indian population is made up of Muslims, while around 82% are Hindus. The Muslims, though a minority, are not insignificant, and the country is prone to communalist outbreaks from time to time. Although India is portrayed as a land of ‘unity in diversity’, the reality is far from it. Differences in religion are used as a base for solving (or even creating) political, social, administrative, and economic issues. Many people also believe that the answers to everything lie in their religion. Thus, when Mamdu’s sweet shop in Delhi 6 has been broken into, allegedly by the ‘kaala bandar’, the Hindus of the area call a holy man to solve their problem. This holy man is quite obviously faking everybody, and the gullible Hindus readily believe everything he says. He tells them that the mosque in the heart of Delhi 6 was built after demolishing a temple that stood in its very place, much like the Babri Masjid case. This gets the Hindus all fired up against the Muslims, and in turn the Muslims too turn vicious. The Hindus begin claiming that the ‘kaala bandar’ is a Muslim, and this makes everything much worse. We see right wing Hindu party leaders making fiery speeches about sacrifice, war, and victory, all in the attempt to get more power, and ‘jihad’ written on the walls of local houses. The ‘kaala bandar’ is used as a tool for increasing animosity between the Hindus and Muslims, resulting in an outbreak of violent communalism.
The last scene of the film shows mankind in its most vicious and ugly form. Roshan disguises himself as the ‘kaala bandar’ (why, Mehra? why?) to stop Bittu from escaping to Bombay, and an angry mob of Hindus and Muslims rush at him, ready to kill him with their bare hands. Even though Roshan isn’t wearing a mask, the mob’s fury is uncontrollable. We see them turn into savages; their emotions of anger, fear and frustration let loose because they have found someone to pounce on. When Mamdu, not even thinking to look at the ‘kaala bandar’, shoots Roshan, it serves as a wake-up call for everyone. They just stand there, staring at Roshan’s bleeding body, unable to swallow the fact that they are responsible for this, and that each one, in his own way, is a ‘kaala bandar’.
The scene of the mob beating Roshan up is incredibly powerful. It shows the audience that these terrible deeds are committed by us humans, not by a beast. The irony of it all is that people have the ability to create this monster, give it a name, and fear it, when in fact it is a part of their own nature. Mehra brings this out beautifully in the form of a loopy fakir holding a mirror in his hand and telling people, ‘jhaank le!’ (Glance at yourself). He’s trying to tell everybody that their destiny is in their own hands, and they can do whatever they please with it. No one is entirely good or bad. What matters is what we choose to be.
Evil as it may be, I feel the ‘kaala bandar’ is but a reflection of human nature. And this is where Delhi 6 and Lord of the Flies cross paths.
Lord of the Flies and Delhi 6
Lord of the Flies is a novel written by William Golding, published in 1954. It is an allegorical novel, which means that it makes use of symbolic actions, objects and figures to suggest something other than the literal. The novel is set during the Second World War. A group of British school boys are left stranded on an unknown island after their plane crashes in the sea. The novel follows the boys as they try to behave like adults and establish order amongst themselves, but some break away, wanting to fulfill their instinctual needs rather than work towards the common good. Ralph, the elected leader of the group, is seen to be rational and decisive. He realizes that their main goal must be to escape, and therefore insists on building a signal fire and keeping it alight right till the very end. Jack is made in charge of hunting. He represents instinctual needs and desires. From the very beginning, he doesn’t seem to care about anybody else but himself. He gets a mad and quite frightening rush out of hunting pigs, and as other members of the group are drawn to his side, he begins to feel powerful, and gradually loses sense of right and wrong. There is also a fear that is present from the very beginning, of something unnatural that inhabits the island; a beast. At first the younger boys, the littluns as they are called, are the most vocal about their fears, but very soon, almost all the boys begin believing in the existence of the beast. Jack uses the fear that the beast creates to gain control over the group. Not only do they try to hunt the beast down and kill it, but at the same time they also begin worshipping it. The group slowly transforms from one of young British boys, part of ‘the greatest civilization on earth’ to mere savages, controlled by their instincts and fears. Three of them are killed, by actions of the boys themselves. Though the children are rescued at the end, by a British naval ship, it is a bittersweet ending. They can now get off the island and go back home to England, but they have lost their innocence and their faith in humanity.
The recurring theme of Golding’s novel is that of the existence of innate human evil. He explores the broad spectrum of ways in which human beings respond to stress, tension, and most importantly, change. Under these negative factors, it is but natural that one would react negatively as well. According to Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst, a human being is controlled by three different impulses – the id, which represents raw instinct, the ego, which represents rationality and consciousness, and the superego- a sense of morality and consciousness. These impulses are bound to clash from time to time. Finally, although Golding’s novel centers itself around a group of boys stranded on an unknown island, it really explores the nature of human society as a whole, and questions the western notions of right and wrong, and good and evil.
This theme of the existence of innate human evil can be compared with the theme of Delhi 6, which essentially boils down to the same. In Delhi 6, Mehra explores how society can be neither good, nor bad, and how each human being is capable of committing a sin, just as much as doing a good deed. Evil exists in all of us, and what makes a difference is whether we are able to control it, or whether we allow it to take over us and become an exterior force.
The most striking similarity between Lord of the Flies and Delhi 6 is that of the creation of the beast in Lord of the Flies, and the ‘kaala bandar’ in Delhi 6. In Lord of the Flies, the littluns are the most vocal about their fear of there being a beast on the island, while the older boys rubbish it off. However, the older ones too begin to question their rationality soon, because of the lonely and helpless situation that they are in. During a meeting, the littluns voice their concerns, and while Ralph and Piggy (a plump, clever boy with glasses, who is always ridiculed, but is actually the most rational and the most useful boy on the island) try to convince them of there being no such thing as a beast, Jack on the other hand announces that if there is a beast, he will find it and finish it off. Jack’s proposition seems much more effective than Ralph’s and Piggy’s scientific approach to the situation, and from then on, Jack becomes increasingly popular. Unfortunately, what Jack really does through his proposition is that he ratifies the existence of the beast. The fact that most of the boys are willing to cede power to Jack shows that they believe in the beast. Once that happens, it doesn’t really matter whether the beast really exists or not. Its fear already controls the boys, and that is more than enough to make it real. Several incidents take place which further ground the boys’ belief in the beast, and much like the ‘kaala bandar’ in Delhi 6, out of sheer fear their instincts make them believe that the beast is in the form of a huge deformed ape. What they actually see in the darkness is a dead parachutist, his parachute blowing up whenever the wind brushes against it. Although this is a terrifying image, it is harmless, and if only the boys had seen it in daylight, perhaps the beast would have ceased to exist. Only two boys, Simon and Ralph, see the real harmless beast, a mere dead body, but they cannot communicate it to the group. The story gets darker as the fear of the beast grows stronger; leading to the formation of a new ‘tribe’ under Jack where they hunt pigs, chant, and dance. They forget about the need for a signal fire, and by the end, even Ralph, the rational sensible one, needs to keep reminding himself of why a signal fire is necessary. This is an important point in the novel as it questions the need for a ‘civilized’ sense of order and structure. One evening, when the tribe is in its mad frenzy of chanting and dancing, and enacting a hunting scene, they mistake a boy, Simon, for the beast, and attack him like savages. Even though they realize, individually, that the beast cannot be so small and helpless, their instincts take over them, and they kill Simon with their bare hands and teeth. Soon, Piggy is also killed, and then Ralph is hounded. Jack’s tribe hopes to offer his head as an offering to the beast. Luckily for him, the naval ship that comes to rescue them reaches just in time, and Ralph is saved from the others.
There are many other justified comparisons that can be made between the two stories. The littluns of the island can be compared to the common people of Delhi, whose simple-mindedness and superstitiousness cause them to form a notion a ‘kaala bandar’. The bigguns (the older boys), the ones who are responsible for all the others’ safety and well being, are much like the people who hold power in Indian society- the police, the politicians and the religious heads. Instead of trying to shatter the belief of the ‘kaala bandar’, they let it be, and allow it to take control of them too. The actions of Jack’s tribe, their obsession with hunting, painting their faces, performing ritual dances and heavy chanting, resembles the sort of unquestionable power of religion, in which people have the utmost faith. The practices of the tribe can be likened to certain religious practices like the caste system, and various other superstitious beliefs. There is a breakdown of order which takes place on the small island society leading to rising tension and violence, and this is true of the inhabitants of Delhi 6 as well. Although their main fear is that of the ‘kaala bandar’, they unconsciously find a way of targeting the other religious community. The killing of Simon has an uncanny resemblance to the scene in Delhi 6 where the mob loses control and attacks Roshan. Just as the boys on the island know, at the back of their heads, that the person they are attacking is not the beast, the angry mob too knows that Roshan is not the Kaala Bandar. Yet, both the boys and the mob don’t stop. It almost seems like they can’t stop; they cannot control themselves, their actions, their fear, nothing. In the novel, Simon is killed, and in Delhi 6, by sheer luck (and because it’s a Bollywood movie and one can’t see the ‘hero’ of the film die such a terrible death), Roshan survives.
Although there are many similarities between the characters of Lord of the Flies and those in Delhi 6, it wouldn’t do much good to tear apart and scrutinize every aspect of every character and try and match it to another, for, how many ever similarities there may be, the characters of Delhi 6 are not only Indian, but also quite ‘filmy’ to a certain extent, catering to Indian multiplex audiences. Golding’s novel on the other hand, is much more serious, grim, and uncomfortably real. One last comparison though – Simon in the book, and the man with the mirror in the Delhi 6. Both the characters are seen to be quite queer in their respective societies, but they also possess an innate spiritual human goodness unlike the others. Simon openly says during a meeting, ‘What I mean is….maybe it’s only us’. This suggests that he understands the beast is the evil that lies in each of us, that we are born with, and we have the ability to use it the way we want. He even has a horrific dialogue with the sow’s head, the Lord of the Flies himself, where the beast tells him that he will never be able to escape him; he lies in all human beings. He says that even though Simon knows the truth about him, the beast would ‘still’ have fun with him. Simon is killed by the tribe, and the man with the mirror gets his mirror broken, both these acts, symbolizing the reigning evil in society, and the hopelessness of man’s future.
While stating the similarities between Lord of the Flies and Delhi 6, it is also important to look at the differences between the novel and the movie.
The most glaring difference between the two is - Lord of the Flies is set during the Second World War and looks into the developments that take place when a group of young British boys, not more than 12 in age, are stranded on an island. Delhi 6, meanwhile, is set in 2009, and unravels to us the busy bustling life of the inhabitants of Delhi 6. While one is about a group of children taken away from their normal surroundings and placed somewhere unfamiliar, the other is about a particular society, in the country’s capital, making a feeble attempt to catch up with the times. Lord of the Flies puts into question western notions of civilization and savagery, and shows us that there really is a thin line between the two, that can be easily erased in an unfamiliar environment. However, in Indian society, traditional belief in superstitious elements and unquestioned practices already exist, along with a need to become modern, and match the western ideals of order and scientific thinking. Thus, while Golding needs to create a platform where the nature of good and evil, right and wrong can be easily questioned, in a society like that of Delhi 6, the platform is already created by the way in which our society is developing. In both these settings however, the creation of an idea of a beast, or a ‘kaala bandar’, isn’t in any way unbelievable, fantastical, or over the top. Though one may not be able to relate to it easily, one cannot easily deny that in the situation that the young boys were in, and the way the Delhi 6 society works, the beast would have been created sooner or later.
The other looming difference between Lord of the Flies and Delhi 6 is the way they both end. In Lord of the Flies, even though the boys are rescued from the island, the note on which the book ends is far more grim than positive. Ralph falls to his knees and begins to cry, not because he is relieved at being rescued, but because of how tired he is, and how his days on the island have changed him forever. The boys have lost their childhood, their innocence, and their faith in humanity. They are now more than aware of the grim reality of the evil that exists in all of them. They have killed their own friends, all because they allowed themselves to be controlled by their own fear and evil.
Delhi 6 ends on a far more positive note. Roshan does not die because of the beatings he suffers from the mob, and there is a noticeable positive change that comes through in the mentality of the people of Delhi 6. Mehra shows us that evil is innate in everybody, but he also brings out the fact that so is goodness and positivity. He gives his characters the chance to change and rectify their wrong-doings while Golding isn’t so generous and lets his characters resign to his fate. These differences may also be due to the fact that Mehra is making a Bollywood film, and an unhappy ending may have a smaller shot at becoming a hit at the box office than that of a happy ending. Golding’s book doesn’t seem to have been written in order to become a bestseller, even though it did.
And speaking of endings, here’s mine.