Synopsis: If ever there needs evidence to underline how cinema rules our psyche and also defines the cultural motifs of the times as also creates new social signposts on a pan India basis, Ganesha Chaturthi is one such festival which has evolved to reach every nook and corner of the country. No dance competition anywhere in the country is considered complete without a competition built around the salutation to Lord Ganesha and this has only been possible thanks to the manner in which this festival has come to dominate the cinematic and social landscape of the country.
Cultural landscapes of a city having a historicity of about fifty years or so, find prominent references in the most popular medium of entertainment aka cinema all over the world. Therefore, the annual parade of New York, the Samba of Brazil, the gondolas of Venice, the boulevards of Paris find reflection in one form or the other in nearly all the cinemas that are made by the filmmakers of these countries, apart from the landscapes also getting prominent references in international films shot on these venues. Ganesha Utsav over a period of around fifty years through its projection in Hindi and Marathi cinema acquired the same halo on the social landscape of the country after being introduced by Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1920s in a gully in Chowpati, at Mumbai.
The backdrop of Ganesh Utsav wherever it has made its presence has been a towering one. The first copious reference to Ganesh Utsav, which is made in detail and it forming a backdrop of the climax, was in Jeetendra, Sanjeev Kumar starrer TAKKAR (1980). In this film the idols of Lord Ganesh were used for smuggling of contrabands, and this must have hurt the sentiment of the believers as the occasion of visarjan of Lord Ganesha was not used in the climax scene for a long time.
Fortunately, in the same year HUM PAANCH (1980), was released starring Mithun Chakraborty and Amjad Khan. HUM PAANCH portrayed the conventional manner in which Ganesha Utsav is celebrated in Maharashtra – the rural areas- and it caught the imagination of the public. Its famous song, Deva ho Deva Ganapati Deva sung by Mohammed Rafi thenceforth became the anthem song for this festival and still continues to maintain its hold with conviction. One would not be able to find a single pandal all across the country where this song is not played once during the day on the occasion of Ganesha Utsav.
The real depiction of the Ganesha Utsavs narrating in detail the politics of the mandals was caught in its real finesse by N Chandra in his ANKUSH (1986), which gave to the Hindi cinema a new rebel star representing the angst of the youth of the street, Nana Patekar. The way the whole film was built up, it could be considered as the brand vehicle of the Ganesh Utsav, which was able to create awareness about the mandals, and the association of the youth of Mumbai predominantly with these Mandals. N Chandra could capture the nuance, the politics and the settings of the Mandals as he came out of the social structure of Mumbai where the Mandals are the dominating idiom.
Then it was left to the master craftsman Mukul Anand to re-establish the importance of Ganesh Utsav through AGNIPATH (1990). The picturisation was novel as the immersion or the visarjan of Lord Ganesh was used as the violent background to trigger the return of Amitabh Bachchan to his village, a sort of enlightenment by the Lord of knowledge Lord Ganesh. This was for the first time that the magnificence of the immersion was juxtaposed against the unfolding violence. The festival which is characterised by the return of the natives to their motherlands could touch a chord and gave the cinematic celebration of the Ganesha Utsav a further boost.
The template that N Chandra had experimented with in ANKUSH, found further diversified exposition by Ram Gopal Verma through SATYA (1998). SATYA used the magnificent visarjan process of the occasion to create the climax for his film and it became one of the significant cinematic interpretations for the occasion. SATYA arrived with the climax and Bhikhu Mhatre became the don of Hindi cinema for times to come thenceforth.
When a Hyderabadi aka Ram Gopal Verma could cinematically celebrate Bappa’s departure then how would a Mahesh Manjrekar not dabble in the genre in his own way? He did it through VAASTAV (1999) and used the Marathi song- Shendur Lal Chadao and established the song in the psyche of all the lovers of the Bappa all over the country.
If an Amitabh Bachchan had done it, then how could it be that a Shahrukh Khan would not do it, and fortuitously he was presented with this opportunity in the remake of the Amitabh Bachchan hit film, DON (2006) and Shahrukh could bring into relief his own interesting interpretation of the whole festive ambience. Its visarjan song- tujhko tera jalwa dikhana hee hoga… thenceforth has become a cult song blared by all the mandals when they proceed for visarjan of the Bappa.
When a Shah Rukh Khan did it, then how could Salman Khan be left behind. Salman through his WANTED (2009) got a cinematic occasion to pay tribute to the Bappa and he got a song in the form of Jalwa to underline the importance and esteem that this Elephant-God has in the psyche of the average Mumbaikar. Salman could carry the cinematic celebration of the occasion with a panache as he is a quintessential Mumbaikar who has seen evolution of this festival through his growing years.
SHOR IN THE CITY (2011), actually captured the cinematic nuance of the occasion without focusing on the stars to interpret or present this festival. It went out on to the streets to capture the magnificence and importance of this festival in the lives of the average Mumbaikar.
In the same year (2011) through ABCD, Remo D Souza made the lord dance into the hearts of each and every lover of cinema and to add spice to the song- it had dollops of Punjabi flavour associated with it- Sadda dil bhi tu saddi jaan bhi tu- and intelligently through the backdrop of the song Remo D Souza underlined how friendships evolve in Mumbai through this festival and how the occasion is used to rekindle and build the bridges. The union of Kay Kay Menon through the song became one of the subtle highlights associated with this festival.
The remake of AGNIPATH (2012) actually positioned in the most impacted manner the Elephant-God in the psyche of average citizen of the country. Hrithik Roshan really pulled in all his prowess to interpret the character of Vijay Dinanath Chauhan and the acme of the portrayal was through the song- Deva Shree Ganesha which underlined the hold the Lord Ganesha has in the life of the citizens of the country.
But post remake AGNIPATH it has now been a decade but Lord Ganesha has not got a cinematic exposition of eminence. So far only the surface has been scraped by the film industry of this spectacle, which has its own particular adaptation and version of own areas. One aberration associated with this festival has been that Aamir Khan has not got his on-screen exposure to Lord Ganesha so far!
It is always easy to use the backdrop of the mandals to depict violence, but the real challenge for the film makers could be to develop a romance around the Ganesh Utsav and this could be traced from one festival to the next year (N Chandra had tried to touch upon it in ANKUSH, but the occasion was lost in the plot). There is never a staid moment during this festivity and the film industry ought to adapt this unique spectacle and to tell the world that India also does not lag behind in having unique cultural edifices as a part of social landscapes, which transform the physical landscapes as well, during the ten days that this festival is celebrated.