In the late 1980s, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s ‘guru’ Anant Dighe faced his first acid test involving political math.
Dighe’s writ ran large over Thane, a Mumbai suburb, as Shiv Sena’s tallest leader and the region’s most feared muscle. But political numeric cannot be addressed by stretching the sinews in a muscular bicep.
Dighe’s Shiv Sena had just won a wafer-thin majority in the Thane Municipal Corporation polls and mayoral elections were around the corner. But Dighe, the Sena patriarch, was confident of his men, many of whom he had personally spotted and backed to win. On the day of the election, however, four Shiv Sena corporators defected and joined a rival camp. Dighe could not stomach the betrayal, according to Marathi biopic Dharmaveer: Mukkam Post Thane which released in May this year.
More than three decades later, Eknath Shinde, Dighe’s trusted shishya (disciple) faces a similar acid test involving political numbers in the state assembly. Both Dighe and Shinde are nearly mirror images of each other. Ambitious, bearded men who believe in seizing the moment.
Whether inadvertently or by design, the film ‘Dharmaveer…’ had performed Shinde’s cinematic rajyabhishek (coronation) a month and a half before Maharashtra’s ongoing political drama introduced 58-year-old Eknath Shinde as the state’s 20th chief minister.
Early on in the 177-minute Marathi film Dharmaveer: Mukkam Post Thane, the bearded protagonist and Shiv Sena strongman from Thane, late Dighe, wants his favourite ‘maniac’ to unleash mayhem in a dance bar.
At his daily durbar at the Anand Ashram in Thane’s Tembhi Naka, residents of a nearby Brahmin colony had just complained to Dighe about mushrooming dance bars in the Mumbai suburb.
Dighe, who was to the bustling suburban district of Thane what Bal Thackeray was to Mumbai, is warned by his associates, that the Shetty lobby which controls dance bars was strong and there was a chance of bullets flying about, if their operations are disrupted.
“Sir, there is a chance of firing. We need a maniac to handle this,” an associate warns Dighe.
Played by Marathi actor Prasad Oak, Dighe responds onscreen, stuttering nervously: “There is no dearth of maniacs. Where is Eknath…”
Played by Kshitish Date, Eknath is a quiet, stocky, bearded youngster who speaks little and swings his arms more, debuts onscreen on an Enfield Bullet, with a group of Sainiks.
Fate, smart political manoeuvring and a jilted Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scripted Eknath Shinde’s final journey to Maharashtra’s top political job on June 30. But ‘Dharmaveer…’ had already tipped Shinde for greatness.
While the movie is based on the life and times of Anand Dighe, there is a distinct, well etched out parallel sub-plot which focusses on the journey of the Sena strongman’s key disciple Eknath.
Take this sequence for example.
Soon after Sena workers thrash the dance bar and Eknath smashes a liquor bottle on the man who is about to draw a gun on him, they are hauled to a police station and made to sit on their haunches in a corner.
An enraged Dighe walks into the police station and confronts a police inspector, who calls his Shiv Sainiks, including Eknath Shinde, goons.
An angry Dighe cuts him short and says: "Goons....They are my loyal workers who risk themselves to protect innocent people. You think they are goons? Then take a good look at the faces of these goons, (police inspector) Shelar. There will come one day when you will be saluting these very same goons."
Cut to the next scene, 20 years later Shinde’s character is seen alighting from an SUV with bodyguards in tow to offer his tribute to his dead mentor. The real-life Dighe died at 50 in mysterious circumstances, following a road accident.
When Dighe lived, his writ ran large over Thane district. Suburbs like Thane house hundreds and thousands of men and women who commute to Mumbai every day, keeping the ‘city of dreams’ alive by punching in for the day’s work.
Marathi cinema has accommodated several political conspiracies on the silver screen, like Jabbar Patel’s Sinhasan and Saamna which are a commentary about political power broking in Maharashtra and the state’s rural politics respectively or Sarkarnama which is based on the nexus between politicians, administration and the real estate mafia.
But no film perhaps has virtually predicted —and so pinpointedly— the rise of a politician less than two month of its release. With ‘Dharmaveer…’, Pravin Tarde, the director, also appears to have also donned the hat of a soothsayer.
‘Dharmaveer…’ is Tarde’s third film. His two other films, Deool Band (Temple Closed) deals with the inner conflict of a scientist —an atheist— on his return to India to work on a sensitive security project and Mulshi Pattern, an edgy thriller about the real estate mafia cornering agricultural land set in the village of Mulshi near Pune.
Both films were a hit at the box office. ‘Dharmaveer…’ also appears to be walking the same route, even more so in view of the fact that the film’s deuteragonist is now the state’s leading political figure.
But the film, which repeatedly harps on Dighe’s ‘loyalty’ to the Thackerays and Shiv Sena, also holds the mirror to Shinde, who has rebelled against the leadership of Uddhav Thackeray to split the party founded by Bal Thackeray.
‘Dharmaveer…’ is replete with incidents, including the alleged murder of a former Sena corporator by some of Dighe’s henchmen, when he switched over to a rival municipal panel in 1989. Before the corporator is murdered in broad daylight soon after the defection, signs and posters which say ‘No pardon for traitors’ crop up in his ward.
Actors assaying the roles of Thackeray’s son Uddhav and his nephew Raj also make an appearance in the film, while Dighe is on his death bed. Uddhav’s character is a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo, while Raj is in the frame for a longer duration.
Dighe’s repeated obeisance to Bal Thackeray and the former’s nervous stutter whenever he speaks to the Shiv Sena founder, also suggests a sense of reverence which Eknath Shinde’s mentor had towards the Thackeray clan. In one scene, Dighe is seen washing Thackeray’s feet on the occasion of Guru Pournima as a mark of reverence to his mentor. Minutes later, Shinde washes Dighe’s feet to pay his obeisance to his guru.
Monday’s floor test in the Maharashtra state assembly pits Shinde, Dighe’s favourite disciple, against the son of Dighe’s mentor Bal Thackeray, Uddhav. A script for this showdown has not yet been written.