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Countrywaale: very good, very good!

Deepa Gahlot

Our filmmakers continue to be fascinated by the idea of a village as an idyll, a paradise where people are innocent and simple, where women in bright clothes sing on the way to the well with pitchers on their heads, where farmers sing joyously while harvesting crops, where everybody dances together and stays happy. Jis Desh Mein Ganga Rehta Hai

Cities are dens of vice, where na´ve villagers get corrupted. Everybody smokes, drinks, parties endlessly and turns up his/her nose at rustic folk who can't eat with a fork. The villager than takes a dafli and sings a song about the heart of real India, that shames the wicked urbanite.

Strangely, the villager never encounters the honest, hard-working lower and middle class urbanite, he is always plonked right into the midst of a depraved upper class milieu.

Watching Mahesh Manjrekar's latest Govinda starrer, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Rehta Hai with a mix of irritation and amusement, one can't but wonder which insulated world our filmmakers live in.

They might not ever step out of their air-conditioned flats and cars. But don't they even read the papers? Don't they know the age of rustic innocence is over? Was over long ago? Govinda in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Rehta Hai

Don't they know TV and cinema have reached all but the remotest tribal village, where people are so hungry, illiterate and sick, that they can't possibly do the Govinda-style bouncy dance numbers? Can there be a villager today who doesn't know how to wear a pair of trousers and has never seen a slice of bread?

So commercial filmmakers don't want to show the bitter reality that parallel filmmakers portray with such insight. They sell dreams, but the audience they are selling these dreams to is not buying them any more.

They (audience) know better, because they are the villagers who have left behind their deadend existence and come to a live in a city slum that affords them the time and money to see films that try to show them an idealised view of their own lives.

They are the cabbies, paanwallahs, waiters, watchmen, hawkers who never lived Govinda's Jis Desh Mein life. Never in their wildest imagination did a rich mini-skirted city girl fall in love with them, or is ever likely to.

Manoj Bajpai in Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar In that sense, Hansal Mehta's Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar -- also unsuccessful at the BO -- was a slightly more realistic picture of city life as seen from the point of view of a Jaunpur bhaiya (Manoj Bajpai), working as a garage mechanic, and living in a filthy room with a dozen others.

His Jaunpur -- recreated for the audience through his letters home -- is also tinged with nostalgia and probably not as bucolic as he would like to preserve in his memory. He falls in love with a journalist (Tabu). But but unlike mainstream heroines from Nanda (Jab Jab Phool Khile) to Karisma Kapoor (Raja Hindustani), she does not want to live with him in poverty and squalor. She throws him out.

Maybe this was much too realistic for all the Jaunpur cabbies and paanwallahs who rejected this film, too.

In another recent film, Aaghaaz, Govind (Sunil Shetty) comes from a Punjab village with his values intact and is appalled at the cowardice and heartlessness of his city neighbours. He fights gangsters on behalf of all of them and teaches them to be brave. Sunil Shetty and Sushmita Sen in Aaghaaz

This film also bombed at the BO, perhaps because audiences are now too dazzled by the gloss of the Yash Chopra-style opulent romances, where no unpleasant reality intrudes at any level. Even the villages in these films -- Kunwara and Dhaai Akshar Prem Ke to take recent examples -- are in paradise islands away from all civilisation, where the glorious Indian joint family is preserved in formaldehyde. (Anyway, these films flopped too -- what DO audiences want?)

Govinda's Ganga has only Dada Kondke's idiotic villager as precedent, and in no way represents the immigrant experience, that so many filmmakers have dealt with in a variety of ways from the poignancy of Muzaffar Ali's Gaman, the grittiness of Sai Paranjpye's Disha to the unabashed commercial Dhaai Akshar Prem Ke melodrama of Gaon Hamara Shehar Tumhara and Rampur Ka Laxman.

But Ramsaran of Dil Pe is a descendent of the Raju of Shri 420 (Raj Kapoor loved playing the rural innocent in the urban wilderness) and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, Vijay of Agneepath and even the eponymous Satya.

The two Rajus survived the city with traces of their village simplicity. And they had the love of good women to redeem them. The other two were swallowed up whole and spat out as monsters. Hardly anyone in mainstream cinema wants to tackle the reality of village as well as city life, seen in the contemporary context -- with all its contradictions and contrasts.

Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman One would, perhaps, like to see a film about an honest, unspoiled city dweller, lost in the badlands of rural Bihar, where he is very likely to have his throat slit for his shoes!

But who's going to break the mould of stereotype?

Email Deepa Gahlot

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