Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Great Indian Rip-off Redux

Inspired by the Mahabharata, Shashi Tharoor wrote the great Indian novel. That in turn inspired the great Indian rip-off in May 2005. Due to lack of sponsorship, this ultimate Desi soap opera was cancelled. Now it is being brought back to a screen near you. The first three instalments are re‑posted below. Stay tuned for the continuing story.

Part One

We set our scene in the fair city of Calcutta. It is some time in the first half of the 20th century. Mohandas Karamchand owns several small businesses. He is married to Moti Bai, twenty years his junior. Their son Jawahar Lal is a college student.Mohammed Ali, a young man from Mohandas's village, arrives in the city to study. Mohandas takes Ali into his house as a tenant.

Yeah right, you say, didn't you hear your grandmother talking about those Hindus treating Muslims as dirty and all, I hear you ask? I argue that the social norms of the village often break down in big cities. A Desi is a brother, regardless of which god they bow to. Not convincing? Well maybe it's improbable, but hell, this is a soap opera, not social history!

Anyway, back to the story. Ali and Jawahar are of similar age and it's not long before they become good friends. They go to the movies, talkies as they called them back then. They support Mohunbaghan against the Goras. They debate the merits of socialism and nationalism.
They are like any other young men of that era.

And like any other young men of any era, they are mesmerised by pretty girls. Well, one particular girl — Archana Wavell, a local Anglo-Indian hussy — besets both Ali and Jawahar.A good soap opera must have love triangles and twists, who will get girl, the audience must be made to wonder. This is no exception.

Archie Wavell flirts with both our heroes, but she actually has a boyfriend — a local tough called Sirdar Ballabh. Our heroes are unaware of this, but soon become aware of the other's attraction to the girl. They maintain their outward friendship, but secretly, each plots the other's demise.

Jawahar comes out on top, stealing his mother's necklace and framing Ali. Mohandas kicks Ali out of the house. But Jawahar's triumph is temporary. He gives the necklace to Archie, who sells it, takes the money and sails off to Vialayat with Ballabh.

Part Two

Mohandas soon finds out about his son’s misdeed. He becomes very remorseful over the unjust treatment he metted out to Ali. In good Desi fashion, he turns to the gods. He begins to spend a lot of time in the local temple. Pretty soon, in his quest for spirituality and repentance, he turns to abstinence. This last development makes Moti Bai, who recall is 20 years his junior, very unhappy. Moti finds solace in the arms of Nathuram Godse, the local gardener.

Yeah right — Desperate Housewives rip-off.

Anyway, to the story. Mohandas is guilt-ridden and spending time prostrating before Shivalingam. Moti is unsatisfied, and makes illicit trysts with the local gardener. And before you know it, she is pregnant. When a baby is born, Mohandas accepts her as God’s child, and names her Jaya Narayan.

The stresses of the affair and pregnancy turns Moti into a manic depressive. Blaming Mohandas for Moti’s condition, and deprived of the fatherhood, Nathuram kills Mohandas in a prayer meeting.

Part Three

We return to Ali. Despite being evicted by Mohandas with the shame of named a thief, Ali’s life is unhindered. How? We are not shown that. Let’s take it for granted that he does well in his studies. He does so well that he is sent to Vilayat to study law.

Before going to Vilayat of course he has to be married off. His family arranges this. The bride is a shrewd village beauty named Ayuba. Ali finishes his study in double time, and becomes a solicitor in Londonistan. Ali and Ayuba are soon joined by Fatima — Ayuba’s divorced younger sister, and her infant son Mujib.

Jawahar also sails to Vilayat. He is joined there by Moti and her daughter Jaya. Jawahar quickly develops an intense rivalry with another Desi student called Subhas. Subhas taunts Jawahar for his trading class non-bhadralok background. Jawahar replies by setting Subhas up on pranks. The two are to be found in every contest, be it rowing, cricket or bhangra night.

Bhangra night? Well why not? This is a Desi serial, and phoren Punjabis are a big demographics.

Anyway, pretty soon the Jawahar-Subhas rivalry takes a nasty turn. One day, in the heat of the moment, Subhas charges after Jawahar with a knife. Jawahar ducks, Subhas falls and breaks his back, becoming paralysed. The whole incident puts an end to Jawahar’s dream of becoming an ICS officer. He moves to Londonistan instead, becoming a school teacher.