Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 26, 2006


Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 4:01 pm

"Company" is an icy-cold saga of organized crime in Mumbai. Like "A Bittersweet Life" that also was shown at this year's Asian Film Festival, the tragedy flows from a gangster's decision to act morally. In the topsy-turvy world of the mob, showing mercy is a tragic flaw.

At the beginning of the film, we meet Chandu (Vivek Oberoi) and his gang. Until recently, they have been involved with petty crimes in the Mumbai slums. But because of Chandu's obvious charisma and street smarts, he is recruited by a big-time gangster named Malik (Ajay Devgan). Just as India's booming legitimate business has created a demand for labor, so has an increase in criminal activity led to people like Chandu being wooed like MBA's.

The film traces Chandu's rapid rise in Malik's syndicate that is always referred to as "the Company". Both his mother (Seema Biswas) and his wife (Manisha Koirala) understand that his "job" is with the mob, but they accept it as a way of deliverance out of poverty. When Chandu shows his mother around the new and well-appointed apartment he has purchased for her, it is obvious that she is proud of her son, even if his success was achieved through violence.

Unlike other films in this genre ranging from "Godfather" to "Goodfellas," there is very little attention paid in "Company" to the mechanics of crime. Indeed, it is not very clear how Malik's operation actually generates income although old-fashioned extortion seems to be at the heart of it. After the gang relocates to Hong Kong, we do see a number of big businessmen being executed after they refuse to heed Malik's demands for a payoff.

Chandu goes along every step of the way until he is ordered by Malik to carry out a hit on a local politician requested by his corrupt rival in parliament. At the very last minute, when Chandu discovers that the target's children will be killed along him in a kind of collateral damage, he backs out. In this world, however, such a decision has consequences. Eventually, Chandu's fears that he will be killed himself for refusing to carry out orders leads him to carry out a preemptive strike against an associate, even though the gangster was simply trying to act as an intermediary. This act generates a spiraling series of attacks and counter-attacks that will remind you of the conclusion of the Godfather movies, but without making any effort to represent either side as more justified than the other. Coppola's mafia operates on the basis of some kind of feudal warrior ethic, but director Ram Gopal Varma looks at his protagonists more in terms of the business world with its emphasis on the bottom line. As Malik and Chandu carry out their bloody vendetta, they keep mourning the fact that the Company is not what it used to be.

Among the legitimate businesses that the Company has sunk its tentacles into is the Indian film industry. A good part of the film describes the efforts of Malik to cultivate ties with directors and actors in "Bollywood" productions. He seems motivated as much by fandom as he is by a desire to make money.

As it turns out, screenwriter Jaideep Sahni was simply reporting on developments then taking place in India as the South China Morning Post reported on October 8, 2003:

India's 20-billion-rupee (HK$ 3.4 billion) Bollywood film business is in the grip of organised crime. That oft-repeated rumour and accusation was finally given credence through the conviction by a Mumbai court last week of millionaire diamond merchant and film financier Bharat Shah.

"The police have been saying for many years that the underworld has made inroads into the Hindi film industry," said Maharashtra State Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal. "That stands proved now."

Shah was sentenced to one year's imprisonment for concealing information about an extortion racket targeting top film personalities run by an overseas crime syndicate. But since he had already served 14 months in jail, he walked free.

He was acquitted, however, of the more serious charge of being linked to the Mumbai gangster Chhota Shakeel (Little Shakeel), now operating from the Pakistani port city of Karachi. Shah's producer and an assistant were found guilty of underworld links and jailed for six years.

Although few people have met Shakeel, his shadow loomed large over the dramatic, 15-month-long trial. The prosecution, for instance, produced 32 taped telephone conversations between Shakeel and Bollywood notables, including Shah.

Unable to refute the taped evidence, Shah's lawyer told the judge: "Several film personalities have talked to Chhota Shakeel over the telephone. What I am trying to say is that everybody in the film industry is acting under pressure."

India's film business is the world's largest, annually producing around 900 feature films. More than a quarter of these are churned out by Bollywood's dream factories, mostly dewy-eyed melodramas packed with romance, action and lavish musical numbers.

Until recently, however, the government denied Bollywood the official status of an industry, depriving filmmakers of bank loans and keeping corporate investors away.

Producers had little option but to borrow money at high rates from shady businessmen. But a box-office slump in the late 1980s made access to even this kind of finance difficult and brought in organised crime. Gangsters jumped at the opportunity to rub shoulders with film stars.

It is to the credit of the Asian Film Festival curators that they have selected Indian films that are trying to break new ground. Unlike the typical Bollywood film, the four selections have "no singing, no dancing, no mercy." Director Ram Gopal Varma is an outspoken advocate of shaking up the Indian film industry and understands that there is no problem learning from the West, as the occasion arises. When Time Magazine asked him,"What's the future for Bollywood?," he responded:

There's going to be a massive change. A lot of old filmmakers are going to go out of business. Anyone who looks at a film as a formula of one song, two comedy scenes and three action scenes, who doesn't look at the totality of the film, is lost now. Anyone who follows the old prudish traditions, of showing a bush's shaking leaves when they mean people are f—ing behind a tree, is gone. And anyone who doesn't follow the West is gone. For many people in the business, their pride won't let them. But following the West is not surrendering. Following the West, the best of the West, is following originality. Western innovation is superior, and I think we're just beginning to understand that. With my films, I'm targeting the urban multiplexes, the sophisticated media-savvy young crowd. Frankly, I couldn't give a f— for the villages.

1 Comment »

  1. Aloo gazar pyaar bhail ba
    Chumma diyay ninare ma
    Bhaiya khara pichhware taake
    Maiya khari duware ba
    Laaz sharam sab chhoot gail ba
    Siti baje osaare ma
    Aloo gazar pyaar bhail ba
    Chumma diyay ninare ma
    Chalat isaaraa aankh se karte
    Mauka milat lagaway haath
    Na kehoo kay dar ab rahali
    Na kehoo kay mane baat
    Aisa kalyug aay gail ba
    Ras choose maikhaane ma
    Aloo gazar pyaar bhail ba
    Chumma diyay ninare ma
    Agar kehoo kuchh karay sikayat
    Tab dekha gurray
    Jaise sher garjay jangal ma
    Waise khara dekhaay
    Ab inse raam bachaay
    Ras rachaway sirhaane pe
    Aloo gazar pyaar bhail ba
    Chumma diyay ninare ma

    Comment by Shambhu Nath — July 12, 2007 @ 9:46 am

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