The Ganesh festival is all about gaiety and piety, but in Hindi cinema, the aarti is fast becoming the cue to bring on the violence.
My first memory of the Ganesh Puja featuring in Hindi Cinema is of the song “Deva Ho Deva” from the movie Hum Se Badhkar Kaun. The same is the case with acclaimed documentary filmmaker, film historian and biographer Sanjit Narvekar who was recently conferred with the prestigious 2022 V Shantaram Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the understanding of films. “At my advanced age, the earliest connection I recall between Hindi films and Ganesh vandana is that song where both harmless thieves and some antagonists are circling the idol with their eyes on the jewels.”
A little refresher of all the movies and songs shot around the celebrations of the Ganpati festival, and he uncovers an interesting observation. “Have you noticed how most of the Ganpati aartis or vandanas either end in or are in some way a cue to some potentially violent scenes ahead?” Sir said, and that got me thinking about the truth behind that query.
When I remember Ram Gopal Varma’s gangster classic Satya, I first recall the ‘Mumbai ka king kaun...’ scene and then cut to the climax scene. Right in the centre of throngs of milling devotees at the beach to immerse their beloved idols, the eponymous character avenges the death of his friend Bhiku Mhatre by brutally stabbing local minister Bhau to show how visarjan does not necessarily have to be non-violent.
The very next year, in Mahesh Manjrekar’s violent drama Vaastav, a pious looking pristine white kurta clad Sanjay Dutt performs the Ganesh aarti to the stirring ‘Sindoor Lal Chadayo...’ track while a close friend is murdered in an encounter. A friendly cop soon pops by to inform him that he’s the next one on the list. Abandoning the aarti halfway, Dutt strides away to attend to the matters at hand, again not of the peaceful nature.
In the 90s immortal superhit Agneepath by Mukul Anand, Amitabh Bachchan’s Vijay Dinanath Chauhan sings the lilting ‘Ganpati apne gao chale...’ while ushering the idol towards the immersion area, symbolic of the new crime-free life he desired to begin with his loved ones. But the song is rudely cut short as are his plans while the mood changes to a chaotic crimson red without skipping a beat.
The 2012 remake starring Hrithik Roshan too keeps with the spirit. While singing the upbeat yet soulful ‘Deva Shree Ganesha...’, the devout Roshan breaks character without breaking a sweat to stab a would-be sniper in a heartbeat. While your heart surely skipped a beat, no one in the crowd was alarmed at first because of all the gulal from the visarjan proceedings. That’s a masterful recreation of an iconic scene if there ever was one – when the star gives his ‘pura naam’.
Sanjit Sir also recalls a very unlikely Madhur Bhandarkar movie called ‘Aan, Men at Work’ from 2004. “While the chaos of the Ganesh visarjan proceedings are on in the city, cop Suniel Shetty is cornered and fatally shot by his rivals.” So much for a happy ending!
If subterfuge is to be considered, depicted with the backdrop of the elephant God’s puja, nothing can beat the long thrilling sequence from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani. Amidst the lush proceedings of the ‘Gajanana...’ aarti Bajirao's first wife informs him about the scheme to murder his other wife and their son, and what follows is an action-packed sequence that’s shot in the irresistibly iridescent palette that the auteur is known for.
Ganesh is regarded as the righteous force of good that decimates forces of evil. But an unlikely symmetry involving the Lord stirred my soul from choreographer-director Remo D’Souza’s dance drama ‘ABCD’. During the local Ganeshotsav carousing, Prabhu Deva first lays eyes on a bunch of talented no-gooders who can dance like their lives depended on it - though the sequence ends in rivalry-led violence. In the climax, the same bunch comes together to blow everyone’s minds in the competition finale, where they grove to an impromptu, energetic Ganpati Visarjan ‘Sadda Dil Vi Tu...’ dance on-stage after their rehearsed routine is stolen. The leitmotif of Ekdanta is hard to miss – though, if you ask me, Hindi cinema is banking on Ganesh’s vighnaharta role too much. It would be nice to see them go beyond that one ‘roop’ of the deity, and worship as well as depict him in every way possible.