Marxism, Naxalism and Indian films

Somak Sen*

Introduction

Indian films are renowned worldwide because of their portrayal of different aspects of sociological amalgamation. Love affairs between unequal classes, riots, police story, war and successive victories against our neighbouring country, terrorism, mafia raj, political stories – all have been portrayed with vivid colours in Indian films since decades. Portrayal of Naxalism in films is one of the major choices of the Indian directors irrespective of language and region, as it is an alarming threat to the Indian democracy. Reports state that nearly 231 districts of 13 states including three districts in the NCR are now the targets of the red brigades who aspires to seize the ‘masnad’ (throne) of Delhi by 2050. It is not less than any other serious threat like cross border terrorism to the internal security and sovereignty of India. To describe what Naxalism is, one should know first about Marxism. Without it one can never understand Naxalism well enough as it is somehow linked with the communist philosophies and ideologies of Marxism.

Marxism

Marxism is the socio-political and economic view of various socio economic policies, and it is an analysis of sundry class relations present in a society. It offers a dialectical view of social change as well as criticises the development of capitalism. This renowned socio-political thought has been named after two famous German philosophers – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and it dates back to the mid and late 19th century. Marxism as a whole defines the economic status of a society, analyses the sociological structure, provides philosophical ideologies and directs revolutionary views of social change. It is interesting to note that there is no fixed Marxist theory, it is applied to sundry subjects and has been getting modified over decades by the followers of Marxism. In particular, Marxism is a materialist interpretation of various sociological objectives over decades.

The economic organisations, since time immemorial, have been considered as the rudimentary objects of society because all the social phenomena like socio-political systems, socio-economic relations and overall development of society are based on this basic structure of society i.e. economic strength. The world has been changing and modifying every day. Technological development is progressing steadily. As a result, the existing forms of economic organizations face challenge and the overall social development gets vitiated. This is the root cause of class struggle, according to the opinion of experts, which leads to the birth of proletariat and bourgeoisie. The proletariats are the ones who are directly engaged with the methods of ‘highly-productive mechanized and socialized production’; whereas the bourgeoisie class belongs to the private ownership and profit holders. The social division between these two antagonistic classes leads to social unrest, which is popularly known as Marxian revolution. The result is the establishment of a unique socio-economic system which is completely based on cooperative ownership and equal distribution of production. According to Karl Marx, the advanced technology and socialism would birth to a ‘communist stage of social development’, which underlines a classless society.

Marxism is not centered only on socio-political condition of society. Rather it has developed into different schools of thought which offer varied study on different aspects of society like ‘mass media’, ‘mass culture’, ‘feminism’, ‘economic crises’, ‘archaeology’, ‘anthropology’, ‘theater’, ‘art history’, ‘art theory’, ‘cultural studies’, ‘education’, ‘geography’, ‘literary criticism’, ‘aesthetics’, ‘critical psychology’ and ‘philosophy’.

Among the different schools of thought who believe in Marxism, the Frankfurt school and the Birmingham school are most important. Let’s briefly discuss both of them. The Frankfurt School

The Frankfurt School is a group of German-American theorists who framed a powerful analysis of the sociological changes in the Western capitalist societies, brought about by the classical Marxism. Max Horkheimer, T.W. Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Leo Lowenthal and Erich Fromm are the notable names who worked at the ‘Institut fur Sozialforschung’ in Frankfurt, Germany during late the 1920s and early 1930s. They invented the necessity of ‘mass culture’ and ‘communication’ in social reproduction and domination based on the critical social theory of Marxism. This school also produced one of the renowned models of critical cultural studies that specifies various procedures of ‘cultural production’, ‘political economy’, ‘politics of cultural texts’, ‘audience reception’ and ‘uses of cultural artifacts’.

The school came to know about the alarming growth of ‘media culture’ which includes ‘films, music, radio, television and other forms of mass culture’ (Wiggershaus 1994), while they moved their visualization from Nazi Germany to American capitalist societies. The media production and its uses in the USA, according to the Frankfurt school, was a form of commercial entertainment influenced primarily by giant business houses and media barons.

The Frankfurt School found themselves in exile in the USA because of their structural views, based on Marxism. According to Max Horkheimer and T.W. Adorno, the culture industry means ‘to call attention to the industrialization and commercialization of culture under capitalist relations of production (1972)’. This was explicit in the United States where the film or television industry received minimum support from the government. Consequently, the media and its production were completely controlled by large private bodies and other capitalist societies which gave birth to ‘highly commercial mass culture’. This commercialisation of media and its production is one of the chief characteristics of the capitalist societies.

The Frankfurt School also developed the term ‘culture industry’ in the 1930s which mentions the overall industrialisation of mass media and its productions, influenced by the private interests of the media barons. The basic aims of this industrialisation of media content are three – ‘commodification’, ‘standardization’ and ‘massification’.

The Birmingham School

The Birmingham School supported the radicalism of the first wave of the British cultural studies. The University of Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, established in 1963-64 by Hoggart and Stuart Hall, developed a variety of critical approaches regarding media and its production.

Stuart Hall analysed and stressed the ‘reciprocity’ in how cultural texts focusing on the idea of encoding/decoding even mass-produced products are used, questioning the valorized division between ‘producers’ and ‘consumers’ that was evident in cultural theory such as that of Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt School.

The School focussed on subculture, popular culture and media studies. The experts associated with this School made an inter-disciplinary approach to the study of culture, including Marxism, post-structuralism, feminism and critical race theory. They also emphasised several traditional methodologies like sociology and ethnography. The Birmingham School mainly stressed on the representation of various groups in mass media and its production and also judged the effects over the audience and interpreted the final outcome.

Mao Zedong and Maoism

Maoism, a completely modified view of the Chinese political leader, Mao Zedong (1893-1976), reflects the anti-Revisionist form of Marxism-Leninism. It was considered as the political hymn of the Communist Party of China (CPC) during 1950-60s. Maoism defines the agrarian class of the society as the main driving force rather than the working class, which can turn the capitalist society to a socialist state. Their belief was ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.’

Mao Zedong alias Mao Tse-tung was a renowned Chinese communist revolutionary cum politician. Also popular as Chairman Mao, (26 December, 1893 – 9 September, 1976), he is known to be the founding father of the People’s Republic of China. He ruled China since its independence in 1949 as the Chairman of the Communist Party of China (CPC) till the last day of his life. It was Mao who transformed China into a single-party cum socialist state, where all major industries and business houses were nationalized under state ownership and controlled by the state itself. The reformation based on socialism was implemented in all strata of society since Mao’s reign. Chairman Mao was a believer in Marxism-Leninism and his ideologies reflect the same, but in a more vulgar way.

Maoism compelled as well as mobilized large rural populations in China and later in many parts of the world to revolt against the established institutions through the means of ‘guerrilla warfare’. According to this ideology, the division between urban and rural population is caused due to the industrial development, which is fueled by capitalistic force. The capitalistic power, therefore, has come to be known as ‘First World societies’, which has been ruling over the developing and underdeveloped Third World nations.  The peasantry movement under the tenets of Maoism, therefore, attempts its best to overthrow the omnipresence of ‘global cities’ by the ‘global countryside’ by means of national liberation movements in the Third World countries.

Though it criticizes the urbanite capitalism, Maoism states that the expansion of capitalism to rural areas would bring the overall economic development of the society, diminishing the division between villages and cities. It also refers to the egalitarianism, i.e. equal rights to every strata of society. The inequalities in society, according to the Maoists, are the brainchild of capitalist and ‘revisionist’ Communist Party.

Maoism met its climax in China with the introduction of the ‘Reform and Opening Economic Policies’ by Deng Xiaoping. His ideologies opposed the fundamental beliefs of Maoism and greeted, favoured as well as applied open market principles.

Maoism, widely considered as an antonym to mainstream politics, is practised in various parts of the Third World nations and other developing nations including India. The Naxalite movement in India is completely influenced by the Maoist principles. The vulgarism and ultra left policies, enshrined in Maoism, thus, has not at all helped the same to get endeared by the majority throughout the world. Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is the only political entity of Maoism which came to power in Nepal through a general election.

Naxalism

The split of the Communist Party of India activists between Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) and Communist Party of India (Marxist – Leninist) (CPI-ML) in the seventies led to the birth of the Naxals, a group of people who firmly believe in ultra left communism. The basics of Naxalite philosophies are drawn from Maoism completely, but in a more turbulent way.

The Naxal movement in India dates back to 1964 when it first erupted in the Naxalbari region of northern West Bengal.  It is a small village in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal. The term ‘Naxalism’ was also associated with the name of the place, Naxalbari. Naxalism is considered by political experts as a modified ideology that has taken a lot from ‘Maoism’. At the outset, the Naxalites mainly targeted the moneylenders and landlords (zamindars). Later, they turned against democracy as well as the administration which were based on the constitution. They even declared the Indian constitution as invalid and opaque, incapable of bringing equal justice to all. Apart from that, the Naxalites, aka Maoists, started to establish the so-called ‘liberated areas’. In these areas, only the Maoists laws function which is completely illegal, according to the Indian constitution.

The Communist Party of India (Maoist), a Naxal organization, was declared a terrorist outfit by the Government of India on June 22, 2009 after the Communist Party of India (Marxist – Leninist) (CPI-ML) had merged with the Marxist Coordination Committee (MCC).

Naxalism in Indian films: A reference to Chakravyuh

Various social issues like the dowry system, the nexus between politicians and the underworld, social backwardness, economic and political scenarios-all these have long been portrayed in Indian films. Representation of Naxalism is, therefore, not an exception.  Several Indian movies have been made on Naxalism. Here we briefly discuss the portrayal of Naxalism in the film ‘Chakravyuh’.

‘Chakravyuh’, a Prakash Jha film, was released in the latter half of 2012. Based on the story of the Naxalite movement in the state of Madhya Pradesh, the film depicts the reasons behind the Naxalite movement and its growing support among the tribal population of that region. The film also throws enough light on the hidden causes of spreading Naxalism in the backward and underdeveloped regions of India. The entire middle and eastern India comprising of Madhya Pradesh, Chattishgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh are now considered as the ‘Red Zone’ by the Indian administration.

The film narrates the story of the tribal uprising against the nexus between industrialists and politicians which they consider as an attempt to overthrow them from their ancestral land and rights. Apparently seeming violent, the film explored the root causes of Naxalism in the tribal heartland, namely Nandi Ghat. Kabir (Abhay Deol), a simple urban guy, sought to help the police, particularly to save the life of his childhood friend, the SSP of Bhopal, Adil (Arjun Rampal), from the Maoists. Kabir put his life to risk as he joined the Maoists letting them know that he is also a police source. But he was identified by the local police as a Naxal activist after he had had a brawl with some policemen while in the police custody and fled from the lock up. Actually, it was a game planned by Kabir and Adil in order to nab some dreaded Maoist leaders. Kabir, during his association with the Naxals, came to know about the police atrocities on the tribal population and also the violation of the human rights by the administration in the name of curbing Naxalism. Rape, encounter, physical torture, ‘hafta’ (collection of money from the poor by the police on a weekly basis) -all these turned Kabir into a complete supporter of Naxalism from a common man. He hit the headlines when he along with his three comrades blew up the police station inside the jungle and publicly hanged one police officer named Madhav, who was accused of raping the Naxal leader Juhi. When Adil met Kabir and requested him to come back to the mainstream, Kabir refused to do so and asked his friend to leave the Nandi Ghat and confine himself to Bhopal city.

The film concludes with a heavy gun battle between the Naxalites and the police. The Naxalites were led by Kabir, aka Azad, the police team was commanded by Adil. Kabir, who refused to put down his gun even after his companion, Juhi’s death, received a bullet shot in his heart from Adil’s wife, who was also a friend of Kabir’s. The urbanite turned Naxal, Kabir wished whole hearted success to the Naxalites against the oppression of the tribal population by the administration. The film ends with the message that already 170 districts of various Indian states are now considered as the breeding zones of ‘Red Terror’. Even the Prime Minister of India has declared Maoism as ‘the single largest threat to the India’.

Plot Analysis

Right from the beginning, the film ‘Chakravyuh’ makes the audience get a real feel of authentic tribal life. The dense forests of Sal, teak, and bamboo are the true representation of the hidden heartland of the Maoists, hardly reached by the administration. The frequent visits of the armed Naxalites late at night to the tribal villages and their dictatorship over the poor tribal population, the ‘proletariat’ in real term, sends the true message of Tribal-Maoist connection to the audience. The police atrocities on the tribal population if they fail to provide information on the Maoists and the brutal punishment by the Maoists given to the ‘offenders’ who supply information to the police as well as administration have rightly reflected the trap into which the tribals in the country are confined. The chopping of ear and the subsequent hacking of a tribal character by Manoj Bajpayee, the commander of Maoists in this film, portrays the Maoist violence on the tribal people for whose rights the Maoists usually claim to fight against the state. ‘Police Ka Kutta’, (police dog) was the expression used in the film for those who wanted to come out from the grip of the Naxalites and were finally destined to death. The deep relation between the Naxalites and the tribals has been revealed when Manoj Bajpayee announced in a public meeting, ‘Humar movement janta ke liye, aukhor adhikaro ke raksha ke liye human akhir dum tak larbo’. (Our movement is for the tribals, we shall fight till the last drop of our blood to safeguard the people’s interest.) Apart from that, the press meet of Manoj Bajpayee his face hidden behind a veiled reminds us of Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji, a dreaded Naxal leader who used to meet the press after every successful attack on security forces or political leaders in West Bengal. Kishenji, however, was killed in an encounter between the CRPF and Naxalites in 2012. The name of the character of Kabir (Abhay Deol) was changed to Azad by Om Puri (Professor Govind alias Dharam Prakash) when he joined the movement. This very name Azad reminds us of another dreaded Naxalite politburo member, Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad, who was gunned down by the police in the dense forests of Adilabad, Andhra Pradesh in 2010.

The sloganeering of ‘Lal Salaam’ after every successful attack on the police force also reflects the ‘ism’ of the Naxalite movement in this film. Besides, the saga of the domestic torture on tribal women, which compel them to follow the way of extremism, has also been depicted here. The movement of the Naxalites in a decorated troop from one place to another in the jungle world and their olive green uniform armed with modern arms and ammunitions largely reflect the reality. Besides, the regular meeting between the members, the formation of people’s court (Janata ki Adalat), the open punishment, the firing squad and killing of offenders and violators of the arbitrary rules of Maoism – all rightly reflect what is going on in the Maoist-hit tribal heartland. The killing of Naga, a Naxalite character in the film because of his regular theft and misuses of funds, is really a horrifying one.

Other Indian Films

Apart from ‘Chakravyuh’, Naxalism has been portrayed in various other Hindi films and regional films. ‘Drohkaal’, a film by Govind Nihalini in 1994, also picturised the dark sides of the Naxalite movement. It basically expressed the country’s fight against Naxalism as a whole. ‘Padatik’ is a renowned Bengali movie which was released in 1973 and depicted the life of a Naxalite, trapped between social obligations. This film was directed by Mrinal Sen. ‘Aranyakam’, a Malayalam film, was directed by Hariharan and released in 1988. ‘Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa’, a Hindi feature film was released in 1998 which narrated the life of a woman who lost her son, a practicing Naxalite. It was directed by Govind Nihalani. ‘Red Alert: The War Within’, is another Indian film which was released in 2010 and depicted the true story of a person namely Narasimha who was trapped in a clash between police and Naxalites and was compelled to work with the Naxals without his consent. It was directed by Ananth Narayan Mahadevan.

Conclusion

Film is the mirror of society. It reflects what is going around the society as a whole. Human life is influenced by the socio-economic factors and films portray the human life, affected by different socio-economic factors. Every film, where Naxalism has been portrayed, finally ends with a message about the social gap that exists between the rulers and the ruled. All the Naxal movies aim to reflect the societal division between two distinct classes, i.e. proletariat and bourgeoisie and the attempt by the government to curb the menace of Naxalism. But the final outcome is still unclear in films as well as in reality. Violence can never be the solution of any problem. Sometimes violence claims success, but it is temporary. Only peaceful steps can bring the solution, be it Naxalism, terrorism and any other serious issue. Hope the dawn would come soon with a new serene look.

References:

  1. Wikipedia.
  2. Man Mohan, ‘Taking on the Reds’, The Tribune, 2nd June edition, 2013. p. 11.
  3. The Frankfurt School, from Internet. Web Link :
    http://pages.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/papers/fs.htm
  1. The Birmingham School, from Internet. ‘Center For Contemporary Cultural Studies’. Web Link:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centre_for_Contemporary_Cultural_ Studies
  1. Ashok Das, ‘Naxal politburo leader Azad gunned down in Andhra Pradesh’, Hindustan Times, Hyderabad online Edition, July 02, 2010. Web Link:
    http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/SouthIndia/Naxal-politburo-leader-Azad-gunned-down-in-Andhra-Pradesh/Article1-566303.aspx

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