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A whole lot of Dhoom about nothing

Updated January 02, 2014

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Some of my friends are quite disturbed at ‘the low level’ to which Aamir Khan has stooped in his latest movie Dhoom 3. They are unimpressed by the fact that the blockbuster is stashing crore after crore of rupees for its owners with each passing day. They instead take swipe at the highly irrational acts of chivalric heroism that the film is all about – a hero on a rickshaw breaking the wall, landing right in the middle of a street fight and as usual, but in somewhat unique manner, beats the hell out of the villains. They are disappointed that Aamir Khan, who they thought had promised a cinema-for-change, has betrayed them by being part of this ‘commercial’ flick.

But I am sure that the makers of the movie have no time to attend to such criticism. They are too busy celebrating the record smashing success of their venture. Why shouldn’t they be? They have been surgical in stage managing whatever it takes to blow the box office. They knew exactly how to bring the viewers to the edge of their seats, make their eyes pop out, send their hearts racing at maddening speed and their adrenaline levels hitting the ceiling.

The viewers come out contented, entertained and exhausted. They got the bang for the buck, probably a bonus too. They can now rejoice the experience till the next big thing arrives.

My skeptic friends find yet another consummate experience just as bizarre. I was amused, however, when some of them were upbeat at the speech that Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari delivered at the sixth death anniversary of his mother. They were elated at the bold manner in which the scion of the Bhutto clan hit out at the opponents of their party and its ideology. His tone and tenor was enthralling, and the crowd gathered at the Bhutto mausoleum in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh frequently burst into frenzied applause. Some of the catchy phrases that he tossed, busied quite a few thumbs generating a flurry of activity in the social media, besides becoming the talk of evening talk-shows.

PPP supporters had a good day and they can savor the pleasant after taste till the next statement is cracked by a politician.

I have no take on what the young man had said per se. My issue is that this playing-to-the-gallery wit by politicians is now considered as ‘the political discourse’. It hops from one statement to the next, revolves around these and concludes with these. The statements are self-serving; they do not have to represent anything other than themselves – they are the politics unto themselves. Politicians do not feel compelled to be objective and to back their words by facts or actions and policies. They just say what elates their supporters.

Imran Khan knew well that corruption cannot be uprooted in 90 days but what he knew even more was that this is what put his supporters on a high, so he committed to it before the elections and when confronted, he lowered the deadline to 19 days!

Narendra Modi probably offered a classic example of this phenomenon when recently addressing a rally in the state of Bihar, he informed the audience there that it was the people of Bihar who had defeated Alexander, the Macedonian conqueror, in India in 326 BC.

He probably was short of ideas about how to excite his Bihar audience but knew for sure that he must, never mind the fact that Alexander never went beyond present day Pakistan. His political instincts made him stretch the oratory a bit too far. He is most definitely a shrewd politician and must have anticipated that the Twitterati laughing at or cursing him would be a bonus ray of the limelight. Absurd, nonsensical or whatever he might have sounded, he won the day.

If you still harbour any doubts about how fake the political discourse has become. Listen to this 50 second video. I recorded it while attending ‘the revolutionary rally’ of Pakistan Awami Tehrek (PAT) of Allama Tahirul Qadri in Lahore on December 29. It was attended by a well-meaning and motivated crowd of seven to 10 thousand of his party men and women. Qadri does not believe in violence nor does he espouse electoral democracy and yet, he wants to bring down the entire system and his enthusiastic followers find no reason at all to ask him how. One of the main speakers here claimed that they will soon descend on Islamabad with a procession of 50 million, (yes, 5 crore) people and the crowd was ecstatic at that.

Politicians know what they are doing. But what is most astounding are the supporters, who do not bother about the falsehood of their discourse. They just want them to say something which can seemingly help them score a point against their political opponents, which could afford them an opportunity to holler an insult in the others’ face, giving them a false sense of political activism.

When some of the politicians raise a ‘real’ issue, it is merely intended to serve as a peg to hinge some quotable quotes on. Three different provinces are being ruled by three different, and opposing, parties and none has any clear superiority over the other. Governance remains unexciting and mundane; moving at its own pace, quietly following the dictates of global economics and politics which combined with the class interests of our elite only leaves room for minor tinkering with the status quo.

If you still want to test my skepticism, just have a look at their local government laws. Isn’t it ironic that all three of them wanted local elections on non-party basis? They all want these elected bodies to perform strictly under their appointed bureaucrats, and fearful of suffering a loss they are bending rules and even gerrymandering constituencies. All three of them – there are no exceptions.

The new media broadened the canvas but it hasn’t altered the direction. In fact, in many ways it has exasperated this conversion of politics into a consumable commodity. Politics is now next best thing to the leisurely ‘commercial’ entertainment as it now comes with moral, or even religious, justification.

It is not surprising then that entertainment channels running soaps lose audience in times of some or the other ‘movement’ becomes too gripping. And when revolutions are in short supply, the news channels have to mix scenes or soundtracks from hit movies to make their bland stuff palatable and retain viewers and ratings.

A certain level of exaggeration is accepted as a merit in poetry and by same standard some rhetoric can be accepted in politics, but it cannot be made to stand in for a genuine political discourse. The blurring of the line between political rhetoric and political discourse is a profound way of sustaining the status quo. People are injected regular dozes of adrenaline that keeps them euphoric about non-issues. It deprives them of the ability to think, analyse, organise and act to get their birth right to happy, prosperous lives.

However, I’m sure it can not deprive them of their ability to dream and that’s the last hope of an ardent optimist.