A former film student himself, Rohit 'Vats' feels that a good film is made with a zealous heart rather than brilliant technique. He thinks that films can be used as a tool of social change, as the language of cinema crosses all barriers and touches people's lives deeper than any other medium. A self-confessed film noir buff, Rohit has equal admiration for other genres as well. Currently he is trying to bud as a film commentator.
Now, when all the reviews are out and the audience more or less know about the storyline of director Vishal Bhardwaj's 'Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola', there is a need to decode the mystery of 'Gulabi bhains' (Pink buffalo) featured in the film. It was a prominent part of the promos as well as the film but somehow the message hasn't been conveyed to the viewers.
Despite facing the dilemma of sounding like an idiot who needs have a look at 'How to read a film', I am taking this chance. Interestingly, we have an established notion that visuals can be read differently in various contexts; basically I am shielding myself from being criticised just on the basis of ignorance. I am sure that you have attended so many such seminars where the audience knows more about the film's 'message' than the director himself, consider this as another in the league.
You should be awarded if you become successful in counting the number of times the characters of the film say 'Mao' (Mao Tse Tung). Entire second half is based on the conceptual difference of the public and private property. Pankaj Kapur plays a wealthy, cynical businessman Harry Mandola who finds it hard to not drink and whenever he doesn't get his drink he hallucinates about a pink buffalo, which will be referred as 'GB' from here on.
In the end, Harry decides to lead a protest against the bourgeoisie and very firmly says to Hukum Singh Matru (Imran Khan), "Main aisa nahi hoon jaisa tum sochte ho." Let me do a little foregrounding, Matru is a JNU educated revolutionary who clearly says that he is Mao and wraps his face in red. So, this eliminates the confusion that Bhardwaj is ignorant about the radical left theories. He has deliberately put the names of the characters as Chaudhary Devi (Shabana Azmi) and Baadal to give the film a satirical feel.
Whenever Harphool Singh Mandola aka Harry gets drunk, he becomes the advocate of equality for all but never repeats the same, in fact regrets his drunk deeds, in his senses. It works well till a hardcore capitalist businessman becomes the leader of the revolution and marries his daughter off to the modern day Mao. The absurdity of the ideas goes just fine with the spectators and this defines the significance of 'Gulabi bhains'.
Mandola becomes a socialist, which as per popular 'practice', is a diluted form of communism. And especially in India, it avoids the direct confrontation between the proletariat and bourgeoisie. So, here comes the funda of 'Gulabi' (the colour pink). The buffalo is pink because it is not completely red and has been mixed with the cultural artefacts of the Haryanavi society (the story is positioned in Haryana). So, in a nut shell, it depicts the watered down form of stern communism. It suits the mindsets of the people of special economic zones as well.
Practicality is what Bhardwaj tried to persuade in 'Matri Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola' and it pushes him to opt for a middle path which was more inclined towards pink then deep red. The song 'Jiski kheti uski zameen, hatt lootne wale' also echoes the same sentiment.
A film that showcases a lot of things from the Zulu slaves to clueless policemen is not likely to use 'GB' just as a caricature of a man who loves his drink. Though Mandola says, "Jab dil saand ho na meri jaan, tab har ladki bhains nazar aati hai," but he always runs away from the pink buffalo. Isn't that an interpretation of a wealthy man who knows he is accumulating money on the people's cost and he can anytime be questioned by the oppressed!
Ultimately, Mandola gathers the courage to face his worst nightmare and eventually rides it. Doesn't this signify that 'Gulabi bhains' was actually a representation of the toned down communism!
Well, the threat of misinterpreting the film is still there!