Pa Ranjith’s second collaboration with Tamil superstar Rajinikanth, Kaala, has left many a Rajini fan disappointed. An atypical Rajini film but true to Ranjith’s trademark style, the film fails to serve up the masala factor every Rajini fan looks forward to in the superstar’s films.
Right from its not-so-subtle portrayals of a Hindu nationalist leader who promotes cleanliness and digital connectivity (a thinly veiled reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi), who is portrayed as villainous from the beginning, to the allegory of Balasaheb Thackeray, to the alleged racism of the native, “oppressive” Maharashtrians, and the portrayal of the Mumbai police as an evil force that indulges in rioting, arson, and rape – quite unfortunate since the actor who played the main officer, Pankaj Tripathi, could have had a better role, the movie wastes no time in dissing Hinduism and capitalism, much like the Sundar C-directed Anbe Sivam that starred Kamal Haasan.
While Kabali showed the struggles of the Tamil diaspora in Malaysia – a country where the Tamils were discriminated against – Kaala aims to portray their alleged struggles in India’s financial capital. Mumbai has largely been open to south Indians, especially Tamils, barring a few instances of anti-Tamil movements led by the Shiv Sena in its early days. It is, however, quite ironic that in real life, the legislator representing Sion-Koliwada – the constituency that borders Dharavi, where the movie is set – is Captain R Tamil Selvan, a native of Pudukottai in Tamil Nadu.
Credit must be given where it’s due, however, especially to Ranjith’s efforts to recreate the scene from Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather, where Michael Corleone’s rivals are killed one after another as he coldly attends the baptism of his god-child. In Kaala, Haridev Abhayankar alias Hari dada, played by Nana Patekar, is shown to be attending a Ramayana recital while his men brutally massacre the not-so-innocent slum-dwellers of Dharavi.
But enough of that, for we know that no mainstream Indian film can be Hinduphilic.
Dharavi, Slum Rehabilitation, And More
The crux of the movie is the opposition of the local slum-dwellers to rehabilitation and redevelopment of Dharavi to the extent of romanticising slums, poverty, and people’s existence in squalid conditions.
In the film, the residents of Dharavi don’t want to give up their land for a redevelopment plan – curiously titled as Pure Mumbai and Digital Dharavi – and resort to all sorts of tactics, including rowdyism, to thwart development plans. They demand the status quo to remain – they have been working in the dhobi ghat for 20 years and want to continue to do so. They claim that the land is theirs and that if the government takes it over, not everyone gets a house in return. While this been the case several times in the past, it isn’t always the case. Maharashtra has been the most proactive state as far as slum rehabilitation is concerned, building high-rises, mostly to allot them, while slum lands are cleared for infrastructure projects. Then there are also cases where allottees have given out their flats for rent and returned to the slums.
The main opposition to redevelopment plans in Dharavi is the fact that after the redevelopment, only those who lived in the area prior to 2000 get allotted houses. Plus, the size of each apartment is slated to be 350 sq ft – still considered premium in parts of the city. With a population density of over 2.7 lakh per sq km, the number of residential units and allied infrastructure including parks and schools is a challenge in itself. However, Dharavi does escape from the problems that other areas such as Jari Mari face because the airport is still at a distance. Housing the seven lakh residents of Dharavi in high-rises would require numerous buildings and, more importantly, very tall ones.
The other reason why several residents oppose redevelopment plans is that Dharavi is a major small-industry hub with an estimated 5,000 businesses and 15,000 single-room factories. Locals fear that redevelopment would throw a spanner in the works as they would not be allowed to pursue their business interests in the allotted units. Given the prominence of the industries there, including leather, textiles, and jewellery, which are exported, the state government can consider setting up large hubs where these small commercial units can thrive.
A key point to remember is that some land will have to be parted with to the developer. As an example, many parts of Mumbai have had housing societies not more than four stories tall with houses of 250 sq ft area in them. These allotments usually date back to the 1970s when the suburbs were still expanding. Over the last two decades, the city has witnessed many of these small units being redeveloped into high-rises. A locality in Andheri had 120 apartments spread out across four housing societies, which was acquired by a prominent builder. After the redevelopment, each flat owner got back two 650 sq ft apartments in lieu of a single 250 sq ft apartment along with landscaped gardens and parking spaces. The redeveloped building, however, is a high-rise occupying only half the original land while the rest is developed by the builder as premium apartments. A fair solution especially since the developer has to demolish and rebuild the housing society and also pay the owner of each apartment rent while the redevelopment is in progress.
In Kaala, one such ‘compromise’ suggested was a golf course that was opposed by residents. However, if residents are getting fair compensation in the form of a proper apartment, what would be wrong with that?
The release of Kaala to coincide with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ trip to the United Arab Emirates to garner support for the Dharavi redevelopment project raises eyebrows. In all fairness, redevelopment of Dharavi would provide nearly a million people access to a better quality of life and also allow for the area to be cleaned up. Places like Tai Hang in Hong Kong have seen redevelopment that has resulted in a better quality of life for the locals, why not Dharavi?
The opposition, as depicted in the movie, is eerily reminiscent of Dolores Umbridge’s statement from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Progress for progress’ sake must be discouraged. The fear psychosis that might manifest in the minds of Dharavi residents might hurt the prospects of numerous residents, most of whom will be aspiring for a better life.
The question is, do we want Dharavi to remain the second-largest slum in the world after the Orangi Township in Karachi? Or do we wait for Karachi to clean itself up, leaving Dharavi to become the largest?
Redevelopment was never the problem; what hindered it was corruption in allotment of housing units. Like Shankar’s film Mudhalavan (Nayak in Hindi) stated, a lot of the housing units get allotted to the corrupt bureaucrats instead of the slum-dwellers. With the digitisation of government machinery and records, the effect of corruption can be reduced to a large extent. Once that happens, Dharavi, situated right next to the posh Bandra-Kurla Complex, can transform into a prime hub in Mumbai.
Srikanth’s interests include public transit, urban management and transportation infrastructure.
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