Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pratidwandi/The Iran Situation

In Satyajit Ray's brilliant film, Pratidwandi (The Adversary), Siddartha (Dhritiman Chatterjee), a young man who idolizes Che Guevara, is desperate to find a job. Jobs are scarce in the 1960s and 70s India but this is also the age of rising feminism in the country. His glamorous younger sister has got a job (and is involved with her boss) but all his attempts at finding a job come to a naught. His mother asks him to find a job soon so that his sister could leave her scandalous job.

Siddartha's anger at the system accumulates as he is heaped with humiliation after humiliation in the process of finding a job. One day, after an unsavoury meeting with his sister's boss, he walks down a road in the city. He sees a scene of accident. A rich man's car, a Mercedes, has run over a poor girl. A mob pulls the driver out of the car and gives him a good thrashing. Siddartha looks at the car and the Mercedes car's logo leaps out at him as a symbol of wealth and injustice. He joins the mob to vent out his frustration against a system that has been built to serve the rich and the powerful.

When I read about the post-election Iran protests and saw images of young people shouting and burning stuff in the streets of Teheran, I remembered the Siddartha of Pratidwandi. Are the youth in Iran any different from him? The time and circumstances might be different, but isn't it the expression of the same internal rage against a system that has failed them, that has smothered their dreams?

Consider these words from an editorial:

... But after thirty years of the revolution, younger, educated and religiously-moderate generations can't be deluded anymore. These generations are seeking explanations for why they are culturally, religiously and politically suppressed. They want to know where their great Islamic republic is. Why unemployment and inflation rates are high and where did all the oil revenues go. That's why the current dissent is coming from inside Iran rather than anywhere else.

(Italics mine)

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I didn't see it until now but Swapan Dasgupta adds a twist to the tale (by introducing a class angle to the situation):

It is possible the angry young men and well-dressed women in Victoria Beckham sunglasses in Tehran - the only place where Mousavi outpolled Ahmadinejad - have different ideas. While Ahmadinejad supporters tend to be poor and socially conservative - more black chadors are seen at his rallies - Mousavi becomes a rallying point for all those who feel weighed down by the social illiberalism of the Ayatollahs. There is an emerging Facebook and Twitter generation in Iran which rues the curtailment of personal freedoms and yearns for the relatively more exciting lives enjoyed by their non-resident cousins. The fierce allergy of the theologians to the intermingling of the sexes is a particular irritation and there is exasperation that fun has been driven underground.

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