For the first time in a long time, Madhur Bhandarkar seems to have rediscovered two-letter movie titles, a semblance of nuance and a leading lady who doesn’t ham her way through her scenes. “Indu Sarkar” is not the most searing depiction of a dark period in India’s post-independence history, but it manages to make its limited point.
Told through the eyes of Indu (Kirti Kulhari), the film chronicles her transformation from the stammering, submissive wife of an ambitious diplomat to a slogan-shouting activist who openly opposes the state of emergency declared by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975.
In the beginning, Indu is blissfully unaware of the atrocities being committed by the state. Forced vasectomies, mass destruction of slums in the name of development, food shortages and arbitrary arrests seem to have no place in her cocooned life. She believes her husband Navin (Tota Roy Chowdhury) when he tells her that the emergency is for the good of the country, and even writes poems about “Sukhi Bharat” (Happy India) that her husband’s boss can recite at public meetings.
But when she gets caught in the middle of a clash between slum dwellers and the police, Indu has an epiphany. She rescues two children and in the process of rehabilitating them, finds herself drifting farther and farther away from her husband and his ideology. A meeting with activist Nanaji (Anupam Kher) possibly modeled on the RSS ideologue Nanaji Deshmukh, inspires Indu to sign up as an underground worker for a movement fighting the emergency.
To the detriment of the film, Bhandarkar, who made the atrocious “Calendar Girls” two years ago, focuses only on Indu’s story and doesn’t train his focus on the people behind the emergency – the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay. They are never once mentioned in the film by name.
Sanjay’s character is simply referred to as “Chief”, even though Neil Nitin Mukesh is a spitting image of the Congress leader and does a good job of imitating his personality. His mother, referred to only as “Mummy”, appears on screen only in the end, probably because of the numerous censor cuts that the film has had to go through.
In true Bhandarkar style, there are no grey areas. There are coincidences galore, and sweeping statements are made about the dangers of a government seeking absolute control. But in light of the prevailing atmosphere of fear and intolerance in India today, even the bombastic dialogue seems to hold a grain of truth. Kirti Kulhari shines as Indu, bringing a vulnerability and quiet strength to her character that seeps through the tone of the film.
For all its rough edges, “Indu Sarkar” has a strong message; and to Bhandarkar’s credit, he doesn’t let that message get lost in the fluff that usually abounds in most Bollywood films. For that alone, this is a credible effort.