By Sayantan Mondal Apr. 07, 2019
In the era of political biopics, Sanjeev Shah’s Gujarati satire, Hun Hunshi Hunshilal, reminds us how governments anywhere manipulate the narrative. The movie is set in Khojpuri, whose king is busy protecting the nation against mosquitoes, although no one has a clue why they need to be protected from these mosquitoes.
In Sacred Games, one of the characters, Home Minister Bipin Bhosle says “Desh khatre mein..” He doesn’t provide a detailed explanation but just about hints at an invisible enemy who’s out to destroy the nation. He didn’t need to. Somehow this vague threat of an invisible enemy has always served the political class, who exploit democratic mechanisms as per their whims and fancies. It guarantees that the citizens, in an extravagant Orwellian trope, rally behind the government as the social, economic and general well-being of the country goes haywire even though the people in power continue to stay relevant.
This attack on democracy has been occasionally critiqued in films like Kissa Kursi Ka (1978) and Aaj Ka MLA Ram Avatar (1984) but there are some that remain hidden. Like Sanjeev Shah’s Gujarati satire, Hun Hunshi Hunshilal (1992), which is set in Khojpuri. In the film, the king, Bhadrabhoop, is busy protecting the nation against mosquitoes, although no one has a clue why they need to be protected from them. But that doesn’t deter the film’s eponymous protagonist Hunshilal, who has been conditioned by the state since childhood in “othering” the mosquitoes. He becomes the perfect tool to obliterate these invisible enemies.
Played by Dilip Joshi, (whose claim to fame was playing Jethalal in Tarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chasma) Hunshilal is a conformist and a model citizen who uses onions to create a weapon deadly enough to annihilate all the mosquitoes. But he eventually changes his mind after befriending a fellow scientist Parveen (Renuka Sahane) at the Queen’s Laboratory. A man who was perfectly conditioned by the state to do its bidding, suddenly rebels. Naturally, it doesn’t go down well with the authorities.
hankfully, there’s no social media drivel or WhatsApp forwards in Khojpuri, which kind of makes the king’s task slightly difficult.
In a way, that’s what the movie tries to orchestrate – question leaders, their decisions and fight against totalitarianism. What is even more incredible about Hun Hunshi Hunshilal is its connection to the political scenario, the world over: In the film, the Khojpuri government keeps spreading lies and creates an enemy class – the mosquitoes who they claim are preventing the nation from moving ahead – to keep the citizens distracted. Rings a bell? Think anti-nationals, beef-eaters, and the tukde tukde gang.
The mosquitoes are probably the most interesting characters in Hun Hunshi Hunshilal: They are invisible and yet they are everywhere, keeping everyone on their toes. It prompts the king to pass several laws that keep the mosquitoes at bay so that they don’t make the citizens question authority. When Hunshilal admits that he has been bitten by a mosquito in his dream, dreaming instantly gets banned. I’ll admit, watching it gave me a feeling of déjà vu – my mind immediately recollected the number of times our governments have tried banning something that didn’t need to be banned as a result of hysteria.
In fact, to further the war against mosquitoes, Bhadrabhoop also declares a war against anything red, including tomatoes. The king also declares that the mosquitoes thrive where there is darkness, which need to be annihilated. And he has no qualms about destroying settlements where he assumes the mosquitoes breed. Thankfully, there’s no social media drivel or WhatsApp forwards in Khojpuri, which kind of makes the king’s task slightly difficult. By the end of the film, it manages to make us ponder on a few things: There is no guarantee that bringing about a change will necessarily make things right. Sure, fascist forces might be eradicated but their spectre will still linger on and blot the democratic process for a long time…
If Hun Hunshi Hunshilal released today, it would’ve created as much of a stir as Kissa Kursi Ka created during the Emergency. Especially since we live in times of films like PM Narendra Modi and My Name is RaGa, that strive to mythologise our netas and sway the country during election time. Or maybe, it would have been consigned to the limbo of the censor board.
Sayantan Mondal is an instructional designer and writer from Pune. When he is not busy at work, he likes to watch movies, make memes and hunt zombies. He also has a doctorate degree that he uses to ward off evil and other supernatural beings.