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Where Is India's Iron Lady?

Where Is India's Iron Lady?

March 11, 2012

While Indian political leaders are busy erecting statues deifying them, can a film ever be made which humanizes them?

Women, naturally and historically, have been a pacifying force. War and administration is considered a man’s game. There has hardly been any episode in history when tribal women have ganged up to raided neighboring villages. But then, they have rarely been in power. If they are empowered as leaders, conditions may force them to make the same bellicose decisions that men do. Women in power are always different. There is a strange fascination associated with the very thought of it!

History has a few women to name, who rose to leadership by playing according to the political rules of ‘a man’s world’. They defeated men in the toughest political fights. Various psychological studies show that men gravitate to the hard power of command, while women are collaborative and intuitively understand the soft power of attraction and persuasion. Psychologically, women can be better politicians then men. It is indeed a treat to watch a woman rise to power and administer the world around them.

The life story of Margaret Thatcher, recently depcited in ‘The Iron Lady’ (Phyllida Lloyd, 2012) is intriguing. The first thing one appreciates after watching it is how easily the personal and public history of a living person is blended. To accomplish this, an old Margaret Thatcher is shown to be looking back on her years in power. Meryl Streep is amply helped by makeup and hair artists. But the way she completely grows into the character and delivers a touching performance is a treat to watch. She indeed immortalizes Thatcher.

It is remarkable how the filmmakers have managed to retain the humaneness of one of the greatest living political figures of the last century. They never tend to glorify her. Be it the never negotiating stance of the United Kingdom, the recapturing of the Falkland Islands, or the Brighton bombing - the big events of history become nostalgia, playing out as memories of the aging lady.

Being a great fan of both cinema and politics, it makes me wonder whether such attempts can ever be dreamt up in our country. We see Margaret Thatcher talking to her dead husband. We see her schizophrenia which definitely tends to degrade her Iron Lady stature in the viewer's mind. Dennis Thatcher’s normalcy further humanizes the Prime Minister.

Can such a simple and undramatic love story be shown for any Indian leader, man or woman, alive or dead? Can you even imagine an Indian leader being shown struggling with any disease?

This is precisely the reason, why a film like 'Gandhi' (Richard Attenborough, 1982) had to be made by a foreigner, with another foreigner playing the role of the Mahatma. Gandhi was humanized in the film, unlike Lage Raho Munna Bhai, which declared him as god. Imagine how much controversy and politics would have been framed around the film makers and the actors, had Gandhi been an Indian film! Precisely the same fate was met by Chanakya, the beautiful Doordarshan TV series by Chandraprakash Dwivedi, when it faced criticism for having a pro-Hindutva subtext and a nationalist agenda.

Can you imagine a film which shows the Indian Iron lady - Indira Gandhi as she was? She might not be as righteous as Thatcher, but she did decide the discourse of India for about two decades. The country met two of it's most celebrated war victories and the worst emergency and riots during her times. Can a film be made that, instead of justifying, or criticizing her, just shows her as she was? Can such a film be made without drawing any controversies?

While our current leaders like Mayawati are busy erecting their statues to become gods of the future, can a film ever be made in India which humanizes a political leader of the past? While the Iron Lady was a treat to watch, it left me wondering how far this land is from producing one of our own.


  • Ashwath
    15.03.12 05:18 AM
    When Gulzar Saab started writing Aandhi, it was supposedly to be based on life of Indira Gandhi, atleast her foray into Indian politics.
    However as of now similar to Gandhi, a Hollywood producer is in talks with an Indian director to come up with a movie on Indira Gandhi.It would be mainly based on set of events which led to Bangla war of 1971 and how Indira Gandhi stood firm on waging a war when rest of the world opposed to it!
  • Writerzblock
    12.03.12 12:26 AM
    That was an absolutely brilliant post. And you are spot on, we wouldn't normally make a film like that. And even if we did, the theatre would probably be set on fire by protesters who have no clue what they are protesting against/for!
    11.03.12 11:10 PM
    I don't think this will ever be possible in India, because we put big people on pedestal, which automatically gives power to the person incharge in to new persona of god, rather then show them as human that they are, and also fallible to mistakes like rest of us.

    I also think, we Indian expect too much from people who are in power, because we expect them to be a role model and a moral authority, so the code of conduct of this induvidual has to be non human and that's the way we see certain people thus we treat them like god. I think this is wrong because after all they are same as rest us.

    In west they humanise the individual, where in east, we glorify them, and because of this we will always treat them like gods, and that's our nature, and you can't change that.

    You can take Indians out of India but you can't take Indianess out of Indians.

  • Bharat
    11.03.12 03:11 PM
    Can't humanize current 'politicians' via film because the monstrous statues that dot Indian landscape best reflect their true nature

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