Shashi Baliga

The making of Anna

Sashi Baliga | Updated on August 25, 2011

FILM GANDHI

Whatever your views on Anna Hazare's methods of persuasion, there can be no argument about the cause he is spearheading. Or that we are witness to what is, at the very least, an inflection point in our history.

However, to call it a second war of independence is, to my mind, pushing it. Ditto for all that talk of the ‘Second Gandhi'. Piquantly, though, on Independence Day this year, one day before Anna Hazare launched this phase of his crusade, Richard Attenborough's Gandhi played out on TV (it wouldn't be August 15 if there were no Gandhi, right?). And there were sequences in the film that were eerily similar to many in Anna's campaign.

Much as one hates to admit it, the feature film that defined Gandhiji for millions of young Indians (and many older ones too), was Attenborough's. Till, Hallelujah, Rajkumar Hirani's Munnabhai met the Mahatma.

And I thought to myself: let's hope the same doesn't happen to Anna. Let's hope one of our best filmmakers decides to tell Anna's story before someone from Hollywood or England or France picks up a readymade story for one heck of a movie filled with more drama, twists, turns, standoffs and inspiring moments than you could hope for.

Against a backdrop of 1.2 billion people and the world's largest democracy, are classic confrontations: the underdog vs. the evil State; David vs. Goliath, the corrupt vs. the crusaders, frail old man outsmarting the scheming villains. Really, what more could a filmmaker ask for?

So let's hope it will be an Indian who will tell Anna's tale on celluloid. Is that a jingoistic sentiment? Not from a cinematic point of view. Someone coming in from the outside could perhaps see the larger picture better, mount a grander movie, give it an international touch and perspective. But only an Indian - or someone who has lived long enough in India - could truly capture the subtext, the telling asides, the inevitable melodrama, the pathos and bathos, the occasional idiocies and jokes, the essential Indian-ness of this uprising.

Attenborough's Gandhi had scale, drama, some great acting, all that goes into the classic definition of a grandly mounted historical or bio-pic. But did it have the flavour, the familiarity, the comfort with Gandhiji that Munnabhai did?

Much as I admire Anna's tenacity and purpose, I would hate to see him deified and garlanded (symbolically and literally) on the screen. What I'd prefer is to see him portrayed in more realistic hues, making some mistakes, facing his dilemmas, raising a few laughs en route to the climax. I'd like to get a glimpse of his canny thinking, his homespun humour and the dynamics of the motley but obviously efficient team that surrounds him.

Now who can make that film? Ronnie Screwvala. The title will have to be plain and simple, like the man himself: ‘Anna' . Like Sarkar or (gulp) Singham, or even Gladiator.

Now for the next big question: Who will play Anna? Ten years earlier, dear old A.K. Hangal would have been a shoo-in… but perhaps too predictable. Who will it be today? For me, it is a toss-up between Naseeruddin Shah and Raghubir Yadav, both consummate actors who make you forget they're acting. Naseer is very, very tempting, but he has such a powerful physicality on screen - even when he's just staring into the camera - that I wonder if he will, in this case, be too much of a good thing.

After much thought I decide it will have to be Raghubir Yadav, whose physicality and weathered-in-the-sun face is more suited to Anna's frail frame and distinctly un-heroic looks. From Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne to Peepli [Live] to Anna!

But then, I hesitate…. will Yadav make a good Arvind Kejriwal too? I soon dismiss that hesitation. I have another actor whose fire and passion can match that of the intense Kejriwal. Anupam Kher, I write on my list.

Next comes the irrepressible Kiran Bedi. And here I hit a roadblock. Do we really have an actress in Bollywood who can do her justice? Most actresses will be simply too pretty and act pseudo-tough for the no-nonsense, no-frills ex-cop. This is a role that goes beyond the usual ‘de-glam' slot, usually reserved for rona- dhona roles. Then it strikes me: why not cast the lady herself? Remember, she has hosted a TV show, Aap Ki Kachehri, she is familiar with the camera and the mechanics of shooting, and all she has to do is play herself.

As a bonus, she could double as a script consultant and add the little incidents and scenes that sometimes make all the difference.

Now for the calm, soft-spoken Prashant Bhushan, the perfect foil to the fiery Kiran and Kejriwal. Who can project that kind of quiet strength? Bingo! Farooque Shaikh, of course.

And there, I have my main cast. With some of our best actors, but not a single big-league star, I notice. But then, I don't have to worry about box-office collections. And you can produce hits without the big stars, as Mahesh and Mukesh Bhatt never fail to remind us.

Now, don't ask if I've forgotten the most important decision — the director. I didn't debate it, because, in my mind, it was a choice that was a given. Who else but Rajkumar Hirani? Not because he is our best director today, but because he has both the understanding and the skill to make Anna real, not to bog it down in bhashan- baazi and thundering speeches, and to entertain us as well. The director would be the real big-league star of this movie. As it should be, don't you think?

Published on August 25, 2011

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