Weapons of the Weak
The blogger went for a second viewing of Vishal Bharadwaj’s Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, two weeks after the first viewing. While previous opinions still stand true ( http://vichaarkhaana.blogspot.in/2013/01/mandola.html ) here are some additions to it.
Mandola (yes, I absolutely refuse to call it MKBKM!) provides a crisp opportunity to observe emotionally-wrenching depth conveyed with subtlety. When Bijlee goes looking for Matru in the rain-washed, deserted village, she only shows him, from a distance, her freshly hennaed palms . Not a single word is uttered. The sad-but-blank face of Anushka doesn’t even flinch. All the pathos of an unhappy present and doomed future are spared their conversion to words and we are left with just that one sight. That’s all.
Later on, when Matru is packing his stuff to leave, Bijlee simply says, “I have started brushing in the night”. No sentimental, mushy “I love you”-types expressing of love there. Just a simple dialogue, hinting at the depth of attachment, belief and hope, binding these characters in an unconventional yet romantic way. Economy of words has always been the forte of the brains behind this film!
Finally, the thought that did not leave my side since the very first viewing! Dialogues and actions of the movie constantly reminded me of J C Scott’s “Weapons of The Weak”! This movie is an exercise in the display of not just the arm-twisting tactics of the strong but also of the small stings that are weapons of the weak. Here the haves do not have it all. The have nots do not believe that what they have is insignificant in denting the haves, even if minimally so.
An obvious example of this was the usage of dung as cannonballs to disrupt ‘Operation Mao Mao/ Mow’. The villagers may not be laced with technologically advanced options to counter the chemically-armed, menacing son of the manipulating politician, but that did not prevent them from devising a smart (even if stinky) plan to protect their lush crops from being destroyed in the wake of midnight’s darkness. This was maximisng the usage of resources at their disposal, no matter how crude!
In their discussion with the politician (representing the state that wants the land), Mandola (who owns this land) and other officials (of the bureaucracy that will process this deal), tillers indulge in ‘coercive bargaining’ (Guha 1987:2001) to get a better price for their sacrifice (of land). Scott’s book demonstrates how…
In Malaysia the state has become the main provider of valuable public goods but has not succeeded in replacing the rural elites as patron at the village level. Many of the material benefits distributed by the state are mediated by the official party machine, which is controlled locally by landowning families (Esmon 1987:311).
Similarly in Mandola, when Matru circumvents the village patronage and attempts get a fair selling price for their wheat at the mandi (wholesale market), Mandola’s henchmen actively intrude to prevent the sale from taking place. Strains of ‘coercive bargaining’ can also be identified in other (crisp) exchanges between Jalebi Devi and Mandola, Mandola and Bijlee, Mandola and Matru, among others! In each of these scenarios the ‘weak’ character plays his/her asset to their advantage while bargaining for their personal benefits. The outcome of it may not always be entirely in their favour, but that small foot in the door is not an insignificant gain either!
This has been a stellar comeback for VB who was showered with widespread criticism for his previous directorial venture, a movie both the Lady (http://dolcenamak.blogspot.in/2011/02/7-khoon-maaf-and-me.html) and me immensely enjoyed. In Mandola there shines the characteristic wicked wit and sarcasm that comes from an evolved understanding of our evils. The ability to communicate it with simplicity and deadpan humour is the forte of VB and Gulzaar Sa’ab! Blessed are we to be living in the times that they are too!
Scott, J.C. 1986. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Connecticut:Yale University Press.
Guha, R. 1987. Presentation of Class in Everyday Life Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance by James C. Scott. Economic and Political Weekly. 22:47. pp. 2000-2002.
Esman, M.J. 1987. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance by James C. Scott. The American Political Science Review. 81:1. pp. 310-313.