What Raktha Charitra taught me about violence
I must confess that I’m not exactly a fan of Ram Gopal Verma. The best response his films usually generate with me is an indifferent “meh”. Raktha Charitra Part I hasn’t changed my opinion of him or his other films.
But I am anything but indifferent to Raktha Charitra, and for some reason have found myself thinking about what this bloody biopic really means for the polity, more so since the events (save for a few exceptions) are broadly true.
Make no mistake; Raktha Charitra is not just a movie with a story that has a neat beginning and a neat end. One gets the sense that Paritala Ravi (or Pratap Ravi in the movie) was someone who went through a systematic process but understood the process better than others. I’ll sort of try and explain what I mean by this in this post.
From the start, RGV makes it very clear that violence is a way of life in “Anandpur” (thinly disguised Rayalseema). What I have found out from friends and read about Rayalseema does nothing to dispel this notion. This is not violence-as-a-way-of-life in the way of say, Somalia, or Kashmir in the 1990s. Violence here is both lawful and unlawful and, most importantly, normal. Normal, not in the sense of the usual, frequent or ordinary, but in the sense of being the norm. Violence is an expected and accepted response to wrongs and the response to violence can only be violence.
RGV does a great job of conveying this in Raktha Charitra. Two instances stand out. Somewhere, in the second half of the movie, we are told of the story of Babu Qadri whose sister is brutally kidnapped and raped by the main antagonist, Bukka Reddy, causing her to commit suicide. When Babu protests, he is taken to Bukka Reddy who casually tells him that he’ll rape anyone he likes, and goes on to systematically break Babu Qadri’s legs with the butt of a rifle. At the same time as he’s meting out his horrific “punishment” on Babu Quadri, Bukka’s aunt walks past the scene, batting not a single eyelid, casually asks Bukka if he wants to join her on a visit to the temple, and accepts his negative response with less than a shrug of the shoulders. Bukka’s behaviour is not even shocking to her.
At another time, Pratap Ravi is hatching the plot to kill Bukka Reddy with his associates over lunch, while being served by his mother and his wife. As far as his mother and wife are concerned, this is not different from any political, personal or business meeting that Pratap may conduct over lunch. There’s no moralistic objection to violence or revenge. As far as they are concerned, Bukka Reddy’s violence is to be met only with violence, and that is perfectly acceptable.
The violence-as-the-norm view, I suppose, is not a unique point of view that RGV is peddling, or even the context in which he is putting it in (the Telugu film industry thrives and survives on such faction violence), but Raktha Charitra asks a deeper question, namely, is violence all there is, but is there something more? This is especially so, if we compare the characters of Bukka Reddy and Pratap Ravi.
From the start, there seems to be little difference between the two, as far as methods go, and arguably, their ultimate aims go. Both use violence publicly and freely to meet their goals, i.e., the destruction of the other and the gaining of power. The difference however, is seen in their response to Shivaji Rao (Shatrughan Sinha brilliantly channelling NT Rama Rao’s charisma and eccentricity) during the elections. As far as Bukka is concerned, violence is the only way to establish supremacy and seeing a new threat, he attacks him as well, believing that this will dissuade Shivaji Rao from campaigning and challenging Bukka’s hold on the district. Pratap however, sees an opportunity for an ally. More importantly, Pratap recognizes that violence alone will not give him victory over Bukka (nor Bukka over Pratap) and to break the deadlock, he needs to compromise and enter politics on Shivaji Rao’s side.
As far as Bukka is concerned, violence is politics by other means, but Pratap recognizes the difference. As far as Bukka is concerned, fear is the only thing that drives people, but Pratap knows that fear can be trumped by something else; respect. This is also evident in their leadership styles. Bukka’s men obey him because they fear him; Pratap’s because they respect him. Without the ability to terrorize a population, Bukka suddenly seems vulnerable and defenceless, his brutal assassination only a formality for Pratap (or justice, in the case of Babu Qadri). Pratap, on the other hand, enjoys the respect of not only his peers, but his “constituency” as such, something he is schooled in by Shivaji Rao. This allows him to dictate terms to the biggest gang-lords of the city without the fear of repercussion.
Earning the respect of people involves quid pro quo, something that is not possible with fear alone. Pratap solves disputes, gets things done and generally does for his constituents what they want him to do for them. I won’t go so far as to suggest a Nitish Kumar – Lalu comparison, but at some level, Pratap and Nitish Kumar would understand each other. In effect, Pratap is trying to break out of the cycle of violence which perpetuates itself with more killings, revenge killings and revenge killings for revenge killings, and sees entry into politics as a way of doing this. Raktha Charitra Part 1 is essentially the rise of Paritala Ravi as he not only avenges his father’s and brother’s deaths, but also tries to rise above the cycle of violence.
Of course, earning respect later in life does not absolve one of responsibility for the sins committed early on, and Part 2 of Raktha Charitra (releasing this Friday, the 3rd of December) will probably track the fall of Pratap Ravi for this reason alone.
So, what does this mean for our polity? I don’t claim to make a broad ranging argument but just a couple of thoughts I’d like to throw up for discussion:
1.Violence is nothing but a means to an end. Sometimes it is an apt tool, and sometimes it is not. It is as much true of counter-insurgency efforts in Chattisgarh as it is when dealing with Pakistan or Arundhati Roy. Perhaps, in some situations, to paraphrase Isaac Asimov’s saying, violence is the last resort of the fool, but it takes a wise man to figure that out. In this regard, Gandhi’s means-and-ends argument is as much about practicality as it is about morality.
2.It is reductionist to see politics and violence as being two sides of the same coin, i.e., violence is politics by other means. The interaction and interplay of the two is complex and often confusing, but that, by no means renders the two the one and the same. The two can co-exist and thrive in separate fields. For instance, what methods the Myanmarese junta use to control their population would be nothing but violence, but the methods they use to stay in power vis-a-vis each other is not the same. Perhaps the recent sham elections may indeed be an effort to overcome some limitations of the first, and allow the better use of the latter.
I know I’m only using the terms “violence” and “politics” loosely, so students of political science and … violence are requested to look beyond definitional difficulties while commenting.
Or you could just tell us you hated/loved the movie and why.