In this series two films by Kamal Hassan (starred as well as written by him) are studied. While recognizing and respecting the freedom of an artist, the aim of this study is only to show how a particular school of thought Kamal Hassan prescribes to, views Hindus, their history and their religion.

Anbe Sivam

‘Anbe Sivam’ is a 2003 Tamil movie directed by Sundar.C. The story was written and the main role was starred by Kamal Hassan. Here Kamal Hassan acts as a Marxist street-artist Nalla Sivam. The film presents contrasting value and belief systems. It purports to show the audience what is true spirituality and what is fake religiosity. In this contrast the film shows Hinduism, Christianity, crony capitalism and Marxism. The message of the film outwardly seems to be a very humanistic message that it is neither a belief nor a fear of God that is religion but serving and helping fellow humans and fighting for their justice, feeling their pain as your own – that is real religion. The title of the film and the theme song seem to carry a flavor of humanistic philosophy. However a deeper study of the film with its various portrayals of different religions reveals a different picture and provides a message that is altogether neither humanistic nor unbiased.

Marxism as true spirituality in Christian tradition

The film starts at flood ravaging Odisha where a disabled trade union activist Nallasivam and an ambitious young ad-film maker, Anbarasu meet accidentally. The film, like ‘Hey Ram’, is woven with religious symbols – chosen carefully to provide a specific perspective. As the camera move through the flood ravaged streets of Odisha, here and there Hindu mendicants are shown in ochre robes– often frozen, inactive and fatalistic. The anglicized marketing executive often exclaims ‘Jeez’ and at one time ‘Christ’. Later when the disabled limping Nallasivam reveals his past to Anbarasu, the former speaks of him, as delivering a message and makes a comment ‘Jesus himself is a messenger’. It is an interesting comment whose subliminal message would be taken up later. Clearly the message of the Marxist street player is set in the Abrahamic framework of message delivering. In the linear time, in continuation of Jesus, Marx comes.

As the film unfolds Hindu symbols get more and more associated with exploitation and negative characters in the movie. Thus when an exploiting industrialist who violates the labor laws is presented in the street play, the background music is a parody of both Vedic hymns and Azhwar Pasuram (traditional Tamil Vaishnavaite Bhakti literature). Later when the same industrialist Kandasamy Padayachi – incidentally whose girl Bala falls in love with Nallasivam who in turn also happens to be a great painter- is introduced actually in person, he is presents as a staunch Saivaite uttering a holy Saivaite expression all the time. Yet he is also shown a hypocrite who tells his guests that he would not even touch water on that special day but seen consuming alcohol. His daughter Bala, who is in love with Nallasivam, gets her father to commission a painting by the Marxist at the reception hall of the office. The painting of Siva incorporates a portrait of Karl Marx, a sickle and hammer, and the current under-paid wage. To top it all the face of Siva itself is that of Nallasivam.

As Nallasivam and Bala plan to elope and marry Nallasivam gets into a terrible accident on his way to Kerala. He is rescued by Christian missionaries – Roman Catholic nuns, the chief of whom is a very humane foreign looking elderly nun Vanessa who battles to save his life. Here the film presents an emotionally surcharged contradiction between two conceptions of religion. One is represented by villain industrialist Kandasamy Padayachi replete with Hindu symbols. He comes and taunts Nallasivam. The industrialist claims that it is his devotion to God Siva that had punished Nallasivam bringing him to this terrible and pathetic condition. He says gleefully that Nallasivam would die and Siva would kill him. Very immediately this is contrasted with selfless humane love brought by another religious impulse – Christian. The nun comes in and tells the visitors to go out and then takes care of the patient. The film shows her making the sign of cross on the forehead of Nallasivam all bandaged and battling for life. Background music is a song which jumbles the words ‘Anbe Sivam’ as ‘God is Love’ and ‘Love is God’. The camera shows Jesus on cross and scenes of the comrade recovering well under the loving care of nuns, ultimately getting an incredibly new life though eternally scarred.

The association of the Hindu symbols with negativity persistently runs through the picture. Anbarasu and Nallasivam have a Tom and Jerry relation. At one point Anbarasu gets rid of Nallasaivam by trickery and then allows he to be cheated by a charlatan in the train. The fraud babbles Sanskrit verses, praises Gandhi, and gets Anbarasu drunk. Then he robs him as well as other people in the train. When this fraudulent person is caught finally, it is fleetingly shown that he has a Hindu mendicant for accomplice.

Soon we meet the same nun Vanessa, a foreigner again in the film. There is a terrible train accident somewhere in Andhra on the way to Chennai. And there are no marks for guessing who appears there too serving the injured and dying. Now she recognizes Nallasivam who introduces to her Anbarasu who has the rare AB-. The nun convinces a reluctant Anbarasu to donate blood. Interestingly once convinced that his act could save a life Anbarasu spreads his hands to show his readiness – and Nallasivam comments that the pose reminds Jesus. In between Nallasivam tells people here and there that they are God – whether that statement is relevant or not – perhaps to give some mild diluted spiritual masala.

Hinduism->Christianity->Marxism

A person who sees the movie may initially consider the well-calculated negative portrayal of Hinduism by Kamal Hassan in this movie as a result of his own negative attitude towards Hinduism, which he has stated openly in many forums. However there is an additional factor at work there. It is Marxist hatred for Hinduism. In Marxist view of history which is linear, Hinduism represents an inferior stage of human social consciousness compared to more advanced monotheistic (and hence Abrahamic) religions. Thus for a Marxist, Christianity has to be theoretically more progressive and hence more humanistic form of religion than Hinduism. India’s pioneering Marxist M.N.Roy stated this forcefully in the context of Islam. ‘An uncompromising’ ‘rigorous monotheism’ is in the Marxist worldview of Roy the ‘the highest form of religion’.

Yet Hinduism lives. It should have died. This paradox has to be explained. So the film shows Hinduism being kept alive primarily by socially backward, anti-progressive, exploiting parasitic forces of the society – represented in the film by Kandasamy Padayachi. Hinduism is sustained here by a totally unethical, murderous villain. At the end of the film a hitman of the industrialist apologizes to Nallasivam saying that God punished him for trying to kill Nallasivam. Of course comrade Nallasivam refutes the notion and provides a more humanistic worldview as the moral of the film.

Then at another level it is represented by opium consuming inactive fatalistic mendicants sitting idle as floods ravage their surroundings – reinforced in fleeting visuals throughout the film and at one occasion they are even suggested having criminal connections: a portrait which was familiar during the colonial rule.

This Hinduism is contrasted by another form of religion. Here there is love and selfless charity. There is only universal love – represented by a Roman Catholic nun suggested as foreign. She saves the hero near Kerala border. She again reappears near Andhra also. Marxist Nallasivam is evidently very comfortable with her and shares her humanism. When she makes the consumerism soaked Anbarasu realize his humanism, Anbarasu bursts into a Jesus like posture. Lead us through Jesus from inhuman Hindu darkness into humanitarian Christian light and then ultimately to the Marxist paradise of course.

Then Hinduism has such wonderful humanistic literature. This too has to be explained. Hence the choice of the title ‘Anbe Sivam’ – Love is the auspicious Godhead – taken from Saivaite scripture ‘Thiru Manthiram’. The film gives the message that the traditional Saivism is useless to realize the true purport of the humanism buried inside Saivism. It can be discovered through humanistic Christianity and the vision fulfilled only in progressive Marxism. So what to do with the symbols of this religion that have become so popular with the masses of India? The painting of Siva incorporating Marxist themes in a way shows the Abrahamic –both Christian as well as Marxist approach- to Indian spirituality. For a Marxist the Indian spiritual expression is only an empty vehicle to convey his ideology and is bereft of any intrinsic value in itself. Its only value is its popularity with the public which has to be exploited ruthlessly for propaganda purposes the ultimate result of which may be destruction of that cultural expression itself.

Punishing Angry God of Hindus?

The industrialist as well as the hitman both Hindus shown with Hindu symbols, are presented by the film as being unable to comprehend a loving humane God – they at their own levels only comprehend a punishing God. Incidentally a punishing angry God is predominantly Abrahamic notion of the Deity. In Hinduism both at philosophical as well as popular level Godhead is a musician, dancer, feminine –both loving and fierce, a playful infant etc. However what ‘Anbe Sivam’ provides is the way a Western man who is fed only the negative missionary portrayal of Hinduism sees Hindus. Rabindranath Tagore criticizes exactly this traditional Christian view of Hindu communities, which ‘Anbe Sivam’ reinforces:

The traditional Christians express their contempt for the degradation and cruelty in the characters of the traditional gods and modes of worship of some Indian communities. On account of habit they cannot however, see that their own conception of God is equally possessed by the evil genius of man. The community whose sacred books condemn to eternal hell a child that has died before its baptism, has attributed to God a degree of cruelty that is perhaps unparalleled anywhere else. In fact, eternal hell, for any sin however heinous, is the most potent invention of human cruelty. … Even today the conception of hell pervades with horror the prisons of civilized man, where there is no principle of reformation but only the ferocity of punishment. (‘Supreme Man’, Lecture given at Andhra University, 1933)

It is this scenario ‘Anbe Sivam’ reinforces. The adherents of a spiritual civilization, who made their Godhead more a playing infant than a punishing celestial Deity, are shown as being unable to rise above the concept of punishing God. The proselytizing agents of a religion that invented a jealous God and eternal hell are shown as bringers of selfless love. Such are the necessities of ‘The Theory’- after all it was Marxism which materialized in this earth in modern times Gulags and killer camps that came very close to the Christian hell, designed for the heretics and unbelievers. The affinity and affection are then understandable.

A reality test

How do facts of history and present reality match this powerful visual propaganda based on Marxist theory as well as individual malice towards Hindu culture and society?

Fatalistic and Criminal Mendicants

Let us take the case of Hindu mendicants. Were they as presented by the picture inactive, indifferent fatalistic opium consuming parasites of the society? The idea of criminal mendicants and their fatalism was a carefully cultivated colonial myth by British authorities. Historically these mendicants have been associated with peasant uprisings against oppressive regimes throughout history. So much is this image of righteous mendicants fighting for the common people imprinted in the traditional mind of India that Gandhi himself roped in the services of these mendicants in freedom struggle. Cambridge historian William Pinch notes that the very fact Gandhi seemed able to speak to India’s monks, convinced them that he could speak for India’s peasants. Hundreds of monks attended the 1920 Indian National Congress meeting in Nagpur, anxious to see and hear the man who was bringing mass politics to the national level and to involve themselves in his and in many ways their own political idiom. Government report spoke of “an association of the most powerful sadhus called Nagas[soldier monks] had been formed at Nagpur” and informed that later these “sadhus visited most of the villages and towns and the masses had a high regard for them, and thought a great deal of their instructions and preaching. When these Nagas took up non-cooperation, the scheme would spread like wild fire among the masses of India and eventually Government would be unable to control 33 crores of people and would have to give Swaraj.” The official report also noted that Gandhi personally thanked the sadhus for their support and urged them to “visit the vicinities of cantonments and military stations and explain to the native soldiers the advisability of giving up their employments.” This recalled for the British fears of 1857. For from insensitive to social problems Hindu monks took up the problems of the common suffering peasants not because they were motivated or sanitized into the issues by a Soviet subsidized Marxist indoctrination but as Pinch points out as in the case of Swami Sahajanada the commitment to peasant welfare was ‘derived in large part from a conscious dedication to Vaishnava ideals of equality and social reform’. (William Pinch, Peasants and Monks in British India, University of California Press, 1996, p.5, p.10)

‘Missionaries alone serve’

Equally unrealistic is the appearance of Christian missionaries in the scenes of disasters in India. If there is one organization that has been credited with appearing in every place of national disasters, accidents it is RSS. The Kaki-shorts clad volunteers have been spotted rescuing victims at almost all places where disaster struck from Morvi Dam disaster in Gujarat to Quilon train tragedy in Kerala to Bhopal gas leak.

On 8th July 1988 14 bogies of the Trivandrum Bound Island Express plunged into a lake near Quilon in Kerala over a railway bridge. Matrubhoomi the leading Malayalam daily (dated 12th July 1988) reported:

While all others were hesitant and stood closing their nostrils, the Swayamsevaks of RSS volunteered to remove the decomposed bodies submerged in the backwaters… At the hospitals too, the Swayamsevaks were ready to offer blood to the needy victims. The Perumanas Kayal backwaters near the accident spot became the centre of Swayamsevak’s activities. On the day of accident itself the Swayamsevaks have rescued many people trapped in the carriages. Some of the Swayamsevaks were also injured in this rescue and relief operation.

The same story can be seen repeated in almost all national disasters. Let us take the instance of 2001 Gujarat Earthquake. The magazine India Today (Feb-12-2001) reported:

The first volunteers in Ahmedabad and in Kutch were RSS and VHP workers who worked along with the army (which eventually deployed 22,500 troops), the RAF and members of the gallant fire brigade in rescuing the trapped. In the absence of the official machinery in Kutch, it was the RSS – VHP brigade that helped rescue people, nurse the wounded and even carry bodies for the last rites. On January 29, the residents of Nanireldi, a Muslim-dominated village in Kutch virtually starving since the day of the quake were pleasantly surprised to see a batch of RSS and VHP workers land with food-grain, clothes and medicines. Said Abha Ibrahimbhai: “I could never imagine that the RSS and VHP workers would come to our rescue.”

Saba Naqvi of Outlook (Feb-12-2001) reported:

Similar scenes were repeated in all the collapsed multi-storey across Ahmedabad and Bhuj, where the operation to find survivors and the dead went on for nearly a week. Says Panchal: “Whenever we hear of a calamity, rss people reach out at their own cost.” Adds Vyas: “In Gujarat, the rss is always seen as an organization committed to public service.” Ahmedabad’s collector K. Srinivas agrees: “This is an old tradition in the rss. To be the first at any disaster site: floods, cyclone, drought and now quake.” In Kutch too, the rss was the first to reach the affected areas. At Anjar, a town in ruins, the rss was present much before the army and took the lead in finding survivors and fishing out the dead. In rural Ratnal, again the rss played saviour. Arvind Chaudhary, an rss volunteer, says that 30 cadre members are here to take care of around 40 remote villages.

Almost the first persons to reach an area of disaster in India have been RSS volunteers. These are not isolated events but for decades this has been a reported fact and a phenomenon in India, despite mineralized reporting.

Yet, the film which specifically shows similar disasters in two different parts of India, gives the credit to a fictionalized Christian nun than to a Hindu service organization had it bothered to present a reality. The reason is clear: apart from the jaundiced personal perception of Hassan, there is the theory that necessitates that Hinduism cannot involve itself in such humanitarian services, only Christianity can. The issue is not that the film depicts the missionaries and not the Hindu groups –RSS or Ramakrishna Mission. It is the freedom of the film-maker. The point is only to show the psychology of the Marxist or/and pseudo-secular presentation of reality which necessitates an active suspension of social reality by closing eyes to Hindu groups which work in all areas of major national calamities prominently and without discrimination. One can in fact compare this asymmetry presented by ‘Anbe Sivam’ in serving people by blocking out the Hindu services to the fabricated scenes of Hindu violence in ‘Hey Ram’ for the sake of secular symmetry with planned Islamic violence during partition.

The portrayal of religions in ‘Anbe Sivam’ presents Hinduism and Hindu culture as negative phenomena, which can align themselves with crony capitalism, (though crony capitalism itself is the result of state socialism created by a leadership which had mostly aversion for anything Hindu and a romantic inclination towards Marxism). In this depiction Hindu culture and traditions are kept alive only by violence, ignorance, and inertia and of course, by vested interests. On the other hand Abrahamic religions including Marxism, are saviors of the suffering humanity in India and the duty of the secularist is then to ridicule, hate and harm Hinduism in whatever way possible and promote the spread of Abrahamic religions.

Next: Hey Ram

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Aravindan Neelakandan

Co-author of acclaimed book "Breaking India", Aravindan Neelakandan has worked for the past decade with an NGO in Tamil Nadu serving marginalized rural communities in sustainable agriculture. He is also a popular science writer in Tamil and is part of the editorial team of highly popular Tamil web portal www.tamilhindu.com.

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