How does who we are impact what we buy and how we buy it? How do we decide on the clothes we choose to wear, the food we eat, or for that matter what we identify as “entertainment”, of whatever form it is? Often, in fact, all of our consumer decisions are impacted to a good degree by what is around us: our culture, values and social class, along with the people we associate with and those we admire. These factors may be best considered as external influences on our buying decisions or choices we make. Culture is by far the most pervasive of these external influences.
Given the impact of Globalization, and the nature of market force it inspires, a neo culture has emerged, operating firmly on the principles of profit and gain. When such principles hegemonize anything to do with culture, the human situations and concerns which used to be once central to creative endeavors in the past tend to get increasingly negated or stifled into confined spaces, as the masses and mindsets are being driven by what lacks deeper cerebral engagements. The politics of imposingly defining “entertainment” as a means to provide superficial pleasure instead of what agitates the grey cells is a byproduct of similar consumerism principles inducing “entertainment” to be another form of intoxication to either reduce the stress in modern lifestyles, or else as a tool dissuading mass emotion towards the superficial.
When such the profit making forces get impudently wedded to blatant strategy which relies on an imposed notion of nationalism, even an influential medium like cinema is bound to serve and suffer as an outright propagandist ‘product’. Such endeavors also predominantly obliterate any attempt to air any alternative logic because such repressive forces are abidingly energized by their neo colonial foundation on which they chose to operate out of, to win over the minds of the masses. In such situations when the rationale, or any attempt to present a definite reason is confronted with contempt and organized backlash that could be equated to insulting insinuations, the audience who hail a film’s success banking on the consumerism principles of box office success-fail to recognize, that any mature principle of consumerism delivers quality along with the profit it earns, for both functions symbiotically at attaining an index of success.
The recent euphoria centering around the film, Mission China, produced and directed by Zubeen Garg, and the kind of popularity it attained based on what should be identified more as propaga
nda rather than anything close to what satisfies the rationale, automatically leads one to essentially grasp how promotional market principles help business by misleading the consumerism driven gullible viewers into accepting th
e adulterated glazed with the spirit of neo-nationalism that is being promoted by the regime in power. In accepting such a product, the audience rarely questioned the engaging quality of the film and its narrative, and its many other glitches.
The neo colonial principles with which consumerism is being promoted in a post Globalization India has spared none, from sports, sportsmen, to folk art and culture, not to mention cinema of a country where the very mention of this medium continues to be associated with glitz and glamour drawing inspiration from what Bollywood systematically propagates. Such attempts necessitate capital and huge financial investment. While sports is more about physicality and the passion to pursue so out of zealous individual interest, cinema has a more sensitive role to play in the society, even when it continues to be identified by a growing section of the population mired by manufactured mindsets created by the capital driven entertainment factory named Bollywood, as an avenue to experience fantasy driven entertainment. While such entertainments brusquely reflect the taste of those who respond to the euphoria around a film crated through hype, the same section, however large or small, refrain from identifying the cavities in such a system meant for mass acceptance because of the systematic creation of the euphoria surrounding a work, however much adulterated, and meant to ultimately elude the ‘consumer force’ from developing a taste for better alternatives.
The huge investment involved in such ventures is often promoted as its USP, which alone makes a film like Mission China stand out from many rests. That the minds and spirit behind such a mode of promotion of a film fail to identify with its viewers as intelligent audience, and instead treat the viewers as mere consumers of a saleable, packaged good, reaffirms the declining ethos of a market controlled realm besides bringing to light the intellectual vacuum among the common audiences in Assam; their vulnerability in swaying towards any move set by individuals they have already provided with an almost perpetual platform for self-promotion, assertion, and unending dominance.
Zubeen Garg is a celebrity of Assam who needs no introduction. None can doubt the talent of the singer-composer who has been enthralling mostly the young audience across Assam for a little over two decades now, catapulting his position within the mainstream Assamese society as a cult figure of sort. His fan club is wide and strong, and any criticism of the singer-composer who has also been a controversial character for some of his deeds despite being talented, has been often received with scorn and brickbats from his fans. For his innumerable fans across Assam’s Brahmaputra Valley, the singer has attained a position and his songs have almost become an inseparable part of these people’s lives.
Zubeen Garg’s contribution as an artiste is pretty wide and not confined to singing alone. His association with cinema of Assam is also well known. When it comes to cinema, Zubeen Garg’s association with films of Assam was mostly as an actor and music director known for his in-depth command over orchestration. His acting acumen should also deserve definite praise for the naturalness with which the singer-composer got under the skin of characters he had portrayed on the big screen, particularly in the film, Mon Jai. Mission China, however, is the famed artiste’s second endeavor as a director and producer of the film written by Zubeen Garg himself.
The release of Mission China following an aggressive promotion of the film in the local media for whom the Zubeen brand name continues to be an eternal charisma, resulted in a heightened euphoria among the mainstream Assamese who had thronged to the theaters in masses, which ultimately resulted in the film making a huge box office success unthinkable of cinema in Assam in the present times. The mammoth box office success of the brand Zubeen, which was sold well, ostensibly justified what the local media along with the film’s promoters aggressively promoted as a “significant” product bound to change an already ailing destiny of cinema made in the Assamese language. Mission China happens to be the most expensive film made in Assam thus far, involving a budget of INR two Crores, approximately. Within three days of the film’s commercial release Mission Chinawas able to generate INR 1.2 croresas return at the box office.
The mammoth success made many including the celebrity loving media of the state, describe Zubeen Garg as the ultimate savior of cinema of Assam. The euphoria around Mission China, constructed intelligently by the brand promoters for mass acceptance by a large section of the society who are already effortlessly credulous to anything promoted and sold under a brand name, and encouraged a further environment of hostility towards any critical views about Mission China despite its false promises and what it failed to deliver even as an endeavor meant for “entertainment”. Those few, who were rational enough to criticize the film for what it is not contrary to its robust claims, were either verbally slammed by Zubeen Garg fans, or abused as anti-national in the social media. The euphoria surrounding the film and the allied aggression, kept many away from expressing their views who were otherwise critical about a film evidently made with a purpose of promoting a hollow sense of nationalism, synchronizing well with what is being aggressively promoted by the present ruling regime across the country. Many stayed away for the fear of receiving brickbats or rubbing the wrong shoulders.
The success of the film, and the cult position it attained, has reaffirmed how aggressive consumerism can determine situations crippling the human capability to make choices. The middle class in Assam has emerged over the recent years with considerable buying power which has consequently determined a large section of the people’s taste and interest when it comes to determining the saleability of any branded product, from cars to cinema. For, that is exactly how the market forces unleash itself on a milieu favoring well-constructed market spaces which identifies more with brand names and desired profits rather than with the ultimate quality of the product itself. Such aggressive promotional drives rarely restrain on their own from sneakily, or at times even forcefully silencing alternative views of the opposition.
Of course the situation in Assam is no different from that of the Tamil and Telegu film industry, or Bollywood for that matter, where a Rajanikant or a Salman Khan are two cult figures enjoying demigod status that still causes a massive euphoria whenever films where they act are released for mass consumption irrespective of the standard of such entertainments. The same is also the case with the Rajamouli productions as works like Bahubali has attained a new avatar of Indian cinema not for the quality of a film’s narrative, but for its sheer captivating aura created through visual affects serving the alter ego of the average Indian audience who continue to retain a soft corner for fantasy driven stories where myths, however distortedly misrepresented, can boost a film’s success. Even though incomparable to the Tamil, Telegu, or Bollyood dictated market forces, the brand ‘Zubeen Garg’, is nothing but a similar assertion hindering upon the democratic choices of the common masses who are already gullible to hypes and promotional consumerist principles. Thus a new “Thaliver”is born in Assam, one whose very name and association with a film is reason enough to ensure its success, forcing logic to give ways to mere gimmicks and the superficial.
Finally, what the audience of Mission China in particular, and the Assamese society at large, has failed to question is the rationale behind the film’s title itself. Any annotation, that Mission China is based on the rhetoric of an ongoing political duel between the two countries, India and China, does not seem convincing at all. The producer-director of Mission China was often heard speaking to the local media, that his film espouses a firm stand against militancy which has, of course, long been a thorn adding more wounds to the social milieu of Assam and certain parts of India’s Northeast. However, if Zubeen is serious about his stand against separatist organizations operating within Assam, and the rest of the region as well, he should have instead tried to raise apprehension about separatist functionaries like the ULFA, or the Bodo militant groups, the latter causing more misery to the struggling pastoral lives, or the NSCN factions for that matter, instead of weaving a story around what is out rightly fictitious. If the celebrity singer is truly socially committed in his stand of singing Hindi songs (read Bollywood songs) at Bihu stages across Assam to contest ULFA’s hegemonic imposition in the form of banning singers from singing in Hindi on Bihu platforms, then one is bound to wonder why Zubeen conveniently chose to identify separatism in China as the antagonist instead of plotting one from his own immediate periphery when choices were plenty? In such a case will it be wrong to question Zubeen Garg’s act as one toeing the line with the nature of state sponsored nationalism propagated by the ruling regime at New Delhi and Assam, affirming the step on the artiste’s part to stay close and dear to the power?
The convenient reliance on a rhetoric which is more of a political duel between countries with complex international implications affirm how state sponsored nationalism, too, is becoming increasingly marketable. Invariably, these questions would be aggressively countered as awkward intention, worse when such questions turn the needle of suspicion towards one who has been basking under the sun for long, enjoying a platform provided by fans, and a brand driven market force that determines so. The misery of the modern man stifled by the market forces precisely lies here, that whatever the market forces unleashes, however derisively, all are acceptable to already handicapped minds, incapable to make choices between the rational and the irrational. It’s a Zubeen Garg’s movie, so “let it pass”, happens to be the usual zest, and this continues to be the faltering fate of people with dwarfed conscience, who are becoming victims of newer kind of hegemony that a film like Mission China asserts.
Mission China is a platter of Zubeen Garg which he garnished with all the delicacies to his taste. The amalgamation of various cultural ideas revealed through overall treatment of Mission China is a reflection of the director-writer’s political and cultural views. People of Assam rewarded back Zubeen Garg for his mammoth investment in Mission China which probably he himself had not expected as the film has become a cult hit. This is, no doubt, an inspiring story for many other producers but there is risk as a collective cinema conscience is yet a far cry in the State of Assam.
At the end, we found it worthy of mention of a statement by Zubeen Garg that reflects his intention behind making of MC. After a controversial incident in Guwahati airport, Zubeen Garg published a statement about the actual motif of making Mission China that:
“Have seen adverse reactions on my recent comments at the airport. Some people are arguing it to be a defamation of dignity of Indian army. It was entirely unintentional and noting was meant seriously! I love Indian Army and people who follow my activities can trace various events where I was involved to pay my tribute to this people who never compromise with the integrity and security of our country. Anyway I have realized that somehow or other I have hurt the sentiments of Indian Army and I would sincerely like to apologize for that. I am so passionate about army that I made Mission China as an expression of my hidden desire to be a part of it! Love and respect for them!”
Teron is an avid cinebuff who has been writing incisive write ups on world cinema in print and social media. Senapati is a filmmaker and a film academic.