When one watches Sai Paranjai’s masterpiece, Katha, made in 1983, the one aspect of the film that rises above the beautifulperformances by Naseeruddin Shah, Deepti Naval and Farooque Shaikh, is the turmoil of the chawl and its various inhabitants. In Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, Shah Rukh Khan arrives in thecity to settle in a chawl, from where he rises up to become, well, ‘a gentleman’.
And who can forget Urmila Matondkar humming ‘Geela geela paani’, as she watches the rain showers from a window of the chawl she stays in, in Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya. Mumbai’s umpteen tenements have often served as the perfect backdrop for many filmmakers, who have almost romanticised the small ‘kholis’ and lack of privacy. The small screen too, in shows likePavitra Rishta and Madhubala-Ek-Junoon, has seen prominent characters emerge from chawls.
But it isn’t just popular culture that has been influenced by chawls. Believe it or not, there is a mobile game called Fighter Lukkha launched recently, that is inspired by the chawls of Mumbai. The action-packed game, launched by Disney UTV, is based on gang wars set in chawls and has local goons fighting each other. The plot revolves around the main protagonist, Fighter Lukkha, who has to take on his arch enemy Todfod with the help of knives, pistols and sometimes, even bare hands.
Talking about the inspiration behind this game, Sameer Ganapathy, chief operating officer, Digital, Disney UTV, said, “Chawls have been an inspiration for films, television serials and even books, making them nationally famed. The mobile audience in India has always loved content with a local flavour and our game Fighter Lukkha provides just that. We thought why not createa game in this setup and give our audience a feel of chawls. Set in a Mumbai chawl, Fighter Lukkha showcases action, fun and strategy with great elements witnessed in a chawl -- fellowship, brotherhood and togetherness. In fact, to draw inspiration, our development team even visited chawls for days together to create something true to its essence.”
The makers of Fighter Lukkha hope to appeal to the relatable aspect of the game -- the chawls -- that Indians, specially Mumbaiites, are pretty familiar with. But won’t a game based in the chawls, so intrinsic to the city of Mumbai, limit the market? “More than location, chawls stand for unity and brotherhood among residents, which is depicted in the game with Lukkha fighting against his archenemy Todfod with their respective gangs to protect his chawl. So even with a backdrop of Mumbai’s chawls, we believe that the game has a universal appeal where gamers will connect with these attributes of togetherness and enjoy the local backdrop of a chawl,” says Ganapathy.
Adding to the thought, Hrishi Oberoi, director, games and studios, Disney UTV says, “We did some research and came to the conclusion that this is an underdog story, which has universal appeal. It is about a person trying to protect his house with the help of his friends and neighbours, and really resonates with the Indian audience. Secondly, we realised that these kind of games has worked well in the past in the global market. So even though the setting is Indian, I don’t think it will alienate the global audience.”
While there seems to be no issue with the chawls by itself providing inspiration for the makers of this game, the name of the game -- Fighter Lukkha -- does raise some questions. The term ‘Lukkha’, slang for somebody who does no work, seems to categorise chawl inhabitants as good-for-nothing.
But Oberoi states that the name was created as a loveable nickname for the character. “The idea is to show the growth of the character. Within the chawl, the character doesn’t do much, but when his house is under threat, he becomes the protector. The name ‘Lukkha’ was created as an endearing term from within the chawl, but then he rises to the occasion to become the protector.
‘Game’s title epitomises stereotypical constructions’
Chawls have been hallmark of urban life in Mumbai from its very beginning. A majority of the people in Mumbai live in chawls. When artists and filmmakers represent the city, it is understandable that the chawls will have a fair share of representation. It is fascinating to learn that a mobile game has been designed with life in the chawls as the background. The title epitomises the stereotypical constructions of the middle class about chawls. From that sensibility comes the word ‘fighting’ and ‘lukkha’. The game probably reinforces such notions. A game would not promote the culture of chawls. First of all, one cannot see life in the chawls in isolation from life in other locations. It is a continuum and there are many threads of dependence and influencebetween people and cultures between different urban spaces.
Dr Joseph MT
Assistant professor, Dept of Sociology, Mumbai University