By Nisha Susan
According to writer Raja Sen, at one point in Buddha in a Traffic Jam, Vikram Pandit (Arunoday Singh) is “aroused by information, at one point inexplicably shown to be touching himself, one hand down the front of his boxers, while reading left-wing material written by his professor.” I have also been told that the film pays tribute to the 2009 Pink Chaddi campaign through something called ahem, the Pink Bra campaign. This detail prompted a bunch of messages from friends this week saying “Heh, heh, Arunoday Singh plays you.”
The truth is that the threat of Everymooli (as writer Paromita Vohra memorably once called the Arunoday Singh genre of hero) playing me first popped up some years ago. I was gainfully employed back then at a magazine and frequently got calls from strange folks. A dancer who told me that she lived in a cave. A woman who was enraged that we hadn’t celebrated her dead literary father with a cover story. Many Malayali men who felt that only I understood them (It’s true, only I do). And a year before that I had got so many calls of sterling idiosyncrasy including news that the Ram Sene wanted to donate pink saris to us and that someone’s granny in Assam wanted an address to send her pink underwear to.
Even among these winners the call about the film that would go on to become Buddha in a Traffic Jam stands out. An upbeat and earnest man called me and said he worked at the film incubator of the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. Why a business school had a film incubator, I don’t know. The man said they were making a movie about the Pink Chaddi campaign and did I object. I told him politely that I believed vaguely in freedom of speech and they should do whatever. And then promptly forgot about it.
In a while I got an email telling me the outline of the movie. This is what I remember from that email (and let this be a lesson to me to never delete emails, zero inbox be damned). Young idealistic student (played by Arunoday Singh, a casting coup the email crowed) is in a bar and enter right wing dudes who beat up girls. Everymooli then vanquishes the goondas and then starts a Facebook campaign to help women which makes him famous like anything. Then he is approached by the Naxals who convert him and then tell him that he should conquer the urban youth with his new-found social sway and personal charisma. My response to this script requires me to repeat another story. Stop me if you’ve heard it before.
A brief historical detour. A college classmate once asked me to read his film script., which went roughly like this: Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. They meet, in fact, once every few months on a hill-top because they live in different towns. Then, during one of these meetings the girl confesses. She has been unfaithful. She has slept with someone else. Swiftly after this confession, she jumps off the hill and kills herself.
A day or two after I stopped laughing I went back to my classmate and gently suggested that his heroine didn’t necessarily have to kill herself. My classmate looked intelligently at me and said “Haan, kya?” and went off. Some months later he came back with a revised script: Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. They meet, in fact, once every few months on a hill-top because they live in different towns. Then during one of these meetings the girl confesses. She has been unfaithful. She has slept with someone else. Swiftly after this confession, the boy forgives her. They embrace. There is peace. They are happy. Then she trips, falls off the hillside and dies.
This being my early contact with men who want to make progressive movies, I didn’t think there was much to be gained from Mr Incubator. Some days later he called me again, friendly as before. What did I think of the story? Again, as politely as I could, I told him that of course he was free to make whatever movie he wanted. But I found it puzzling that a campaign which was run by hordes of women, including the one he was speaking to, was now represented in his script as one run by a giant man. Wassup with that? Mr Incubator, for the first time got very shirty with me. At a volume close to a yell he taught me something very important about cinema. “We can’t show the campaign as being run by a woman! That won’t be realistic.”