Bad film, worse budget, same abuse
With the only aim of keeping the fiscal deficit in check and hollow promises of creating more jobs, Budget 2019 was a damp squib
Had I directed a film that made R218 crore in its first two weeks and is still going strong or had I been re-elected to power by winning 303 parliamentary seats when my own party and intelligence agencies predicted 220 seats at best, I would probably keep my mouth shut and enjoy my good fortune. Not so in the New India.
The aforementioned filmmaker who remade his Telugu hit Arjun Reddy as the Hindi-language Kabir Singh recently gave an interview that has gone viral. Critics have derided the film's "toxic masculinity" and its denying the heroine any agency. No surprises there: Salman Khan built a career on a conservative, small-town machismo in which the demure woman is merely a prop to enhance the hero's manliness. There is a reason why the Deepika Padukones and Kareena Kapoors of the world publicly announced they would never act with Salman Khan in his productions. He lately called Priyanka Chopra a loser because instead of being a prop in his latest mind-number, she opted to get married and leave.
It did not occur to the film director of Arjun Reddy that he could have kept mum and appeared wise. Instead, he used the opportunity to call film critics "parasites". It is probably true that film critics do not sway the box office of a film (though in the case of last year's The Accidental Prime Minister that I co-wrote, it was both a critical and commercial failure, so overlaps do occur), but it is not true to say that film critics don't matter; after all, newspapers and websites would not devote space to reviews if no one read them. It is also probably true that film critics are nothing without films, though I suspect that it is their superior writing that factors in significantly as well in their successes.
If film critics did not matter, the director would not have been so bitter as to pointedly and repeatedly forget the names of two critics during the interview: evidence that a promising acting career lies ahead. And his bitterness was so profound that he called one of the critics "fat", claiming he was not objectifying the critic, merely describing it. Come on, dude, move on.
Yet his blubbering nastiness is merely a sign of the zeitgeist, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called those criticising the latest Union budget (presented on Friday) as "professional pessimists", something akin to his former finance minister's term, "compulsive contrarians". As usual, the PM is attracted to nastiness in his rhetorical flourishes: one can understand individuals being compulsive about their antipathy to a party or an ideology, but to be professional means that such individuals are paid to do so. It is no different than a minister who early in Modi's first term called journalists "presstitutes", a term that reveals more about the abuser than the abused. It makes you think that despite his admonition to Bhopal assemblyman Akash Vijavargiya for recently thrashing a municipal bureaucrat with a cricket bat, the PM secretly admired this call to direct action. The PM could have avoided calling people names – though he is a compulsive abuse-monger – and stuck to his assertion, not a bad one, that the budget aimed at increasing the "size of the cake".
His abuse draws attention to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's uninspiring maiden budget that is not much of a roadmap for our rapidly sinking economy. Even the stock market took a dive – a rare occurrence on a budget day. Experts openly gave it a thumbs down for its lack of imagination. Its only target is to keep the fiscal deficit down, at 3.3 per cent, despite fantasyland revenue projections; and its only new initiative is to issue sovereign bonds so that money flows in from abroad. It does nothing for the largest private sector in India, agriculture; in fact, the budget avoids any mention of the PM's earlier promise of doubling farmers' incomes by 2022. Modi obviously hopes the private sector will create jobs, but anyone who's worked in the private sector knows how misplaced a hope that is.
Still, the ruling party's ministers and members have mindlessly parroted the same hollow praise that the budget is pro-poor, pro-farmer, a boon from God, etc. Modi has talked about increasing the cake that is the Indian economy, so his next five years rests on the promise of a five-trillion dollar economy. The budget showed that like her predecessor, Sitharaman is clueless as finance minister; it was perhaps a full-throated defense of the Rafale jet fighter deal that got her the job, and not any intellectual chops. She delivered us a bureaucrats' visionless, tinkering budget. It was her big moment, and she blew it. This is neither toxic masculinity speaking nor professional pessimism.
Aditya Sinha's latest book, India Unmade: How the Modi Government Broke the Economy, with Yashwant Sinha, is out now. He tweets @autumnshade Send your feedback to
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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