Bheed (2023) Review: The spread of coronavirus caused a global health pandemic that has claimed more than 6.8 million lives and has led to an economic collapse in multiple nations. When cases started arriving in India, the current government imposed a nationwide lock-down for 21 days on the evening of 24th March 2020.

It was the first phase in the series of nationwide lock-downs intended to curb the spread of coronavirus by restricting the movement of the population domestically. Theoretically, the idea was sound to the policymakers, for in a reductive sense, restricted mobility of human vectors must restrict the spreading of the virus.

But the policymakers chose to ignore that the population of 1.4 billion is of living beings, the existence of which depends on mobility. According to the 2011 Census, the migrant labor population of India stood at 45.6 crores, and considering the historical trend of growth of the migrant population, one can expect the number to have surpassed 50 crores by the time the next census takes place.

It is also important to note that 99% of all migration in the country is internal. The registration of facts is important to establish the scale of the tragedy artificially engineered by the state during the first wave of COVID. When I say the state chose to ignore, I deny giving the benefit of the doubt to the merit of policymakers. The politicians in power set precedence in myopic policymaking with the demonetization of currency in 2016.

The aggressive governmentality of the right-wing is a trademark with which it has gaslighted the population into thinking that policy shocks are imperative in the face of disasters, that what it does is for the benefit of the people as it keeps them veiled in ignorance is the right way to govern, that a strong leader is one that takes unreasonable, tough decisions without democratic participation and India stands at a point in time where it needs strong leadership.

When the government announced a nationwide lockdown for the first time, it also snatched economic and social security from almost 30% population. Those with means could substitute the need for mobility with their resource reserves hoarded in the course of time. But those living from hand to mouth, earning only enough to allow them to eat on most days, could see their lives shutting on them.

Because they no longer belonged to their place of work. And if death has to come, it must come where home is. The abrupt lockdown announcement triggered a reverse labor force migration from urban regions to the countryside. This mass migration was the biggest since the partition of India in 1947.

The memory of a mob is a fleeting one. The pandemic transformed into an endemic. The vaccine gave us some immunity against the severity of the infection, and the long-term exposure tired our minds against the anxiety, leading to a compromised adjustment to reality. Therefore, when I talk to people about what happened two years ago and what went on for two years, people fail to recall the passage of time.

It’s two years lost from life. Only the trauma and its triggers remain. When the reverse migration was happening, there was chaos. The media couldn’t stop talking about it because millions of stories were stranded within civilization. The divisions of society, muted otherwise in our selfish ignorance, lay bare before us. The subtlety of human existence dissolved in the acid of disaster.

Anubhav Sinha’s Bheed is not accorded subtlety for the same reason. It is pure chaos. From millions of stories stranded due to the state’s apathy, Anubhav Sinha picks up 4-5 representative stories that are motivated to remind us of a truth, the collective memory of which is getting bleak. It’s not an archival motive per se.

Anubhav Sinha is more didactic. But this time, his didacticism is an outcome of his anger. The rage is evident in Bheed’s entire screenplay. I feel proud of his rage because it challenges his liberal tendencies. Bheed is his most angry film.

Anubhav Sinha’s anger is against power. He is confronting state-sanctioned violence and the normative justice popularized by those in power. He knows that he cannot address the violence the privileged perpetrates as long as his protagonists remain privileged and ignorant. If all his protagonists have a transformative arc, the stories become more about those in power than those without it. So he has consciously chosen to locate his protagonist in a socially disadvantaged position.

Rajkumar Rao, playing Surya Kumar Singh Tikas, is neither a naive, privileged hero nor a well-informed but morally rigid agent of the system. He is a violated individual who’s assured of his guiltlessness in the systemic violence perpetrated on him but hasn’t risen beyond the trauma. To rise beyond it is a matter of great difficulty because this trauma is not personal; it’s collective.

It has been derived from a continuum of violence spread across at least three millennia. He has small aspirations, limited knowledge, and a commitment to work. But he has the gift of empathy that is inherent. Assigned in charge at a checkpost on the Tejpur border, Surya has been instructed not to let anyone in. The conflict arises with the massive inflow of migrant laborers intending to go home crossing the border.

To Surya, everything is a matter of command from authorities, and everyone is subject to the constitution. He has no motive to exploit the faculties of his formal power. But he is with countless those who fall somewhere on the hierarchy of power and who attempt to utilize the power they are given in their attempt to survive.

And those without any power either assume power, try to snatch it from others, or try to live by escaping the eyes of the powerful in order to safeguard themselves from exploitation. The screenplay has a volatile mix of people from all social verticals and their intersections. But all these people are suffering from helplessness.

This time, the admirable fact is that Anubhav Sinha portrays Brahminism’s corruption by showing how a Brahmin refuses to let go of his hollow caste pride and islamophobia even in life-threatening times. He also challenges the idea of India by making apparent the borders existing within it. And the only incredibility Anubhav assigns to the nation is by virtue of its working class.

The choice of a black-and-white palette is a wise one to enhance how speech is registered by the audience. It might also be an attempt to mute visual markers of difference in a tragedy that came crashing upon everyone, albeit affecting differently. The substance of different stories is stronger, and their convergence is smoother than in Thappad. The lamentation on the state of affairs is more organic than in Anek because everyone is scared and anxious.

Anubhav Sinha’s sketch of a reality that transpired is uncompromising. Its importance is unlike any other film of the recent past, even with all the censorship, given the time of hate we live in. Because when the government has done everything to make us forget its engineered massacre, Bheed acts as a reminder.

Having established Bheed’s importance in the current landscape and my reverence for its admission of faith in the theory of power, as well as its courageous anger against the system perpetuating it, I would bring one huge reservation I have about the film. While the choice of protagonist is an improvement from Anubhav’s previous films, its writing suffers from his brahminical gaze.

In one critical sequence in the third act, you find an oppressor caste individual and a marginalized standing against each other, with the former having asserted his identity over the latter atrociously. The act, being an atrocity, manifests into a trigger for the protagonist, but as he gains control of his senses, a sympathy of a Gandhian character is evoked in him.

And he submits, per the religiously sanctioned caste location, to his own oppression so that it is perceived as an act of non-violence and appeals to the oppressor’s conscience. The sequence doesn’t sit right because it is a Brahmin’s idea of pacificity wherein the internalization of oppression by the oppressed has the potency to birth guilt and, consequently, reform in the oppressor.

This Gandhian principle worked, arguably and partially, against forces of imperialism, but it has never worked against casteism and never will.  Anubhav Sinha, and by his extension, his protagonist, believe that a conscious abandonment of social power can make a person just, and a moral appeal can trigger the abandonment. But the real-life counterparts of Surya who have devoted their entire lives to the annihilation of the religion and, therefore, the very way of life responsible for their oppression would find it fair to have a representation that asserts their existence without recalling their subjugation.

Anubhav Sinha mistook kindness for the oppressor to be a kindness for oppression, and that’s where he went wrong in writing Surya Kumar Singh Tikas. Surya can be kind to the Trivedi (played by Pankaj Kapur) because he can see the root of his actions lie in hunger, but he has no obligation to be kind to his oppressive tendencies. Because those are not originating from hunger but only from the sense of powerlessness when Trivedi is made to abide by what a person he considers (caste) inferior says.

Bheed ends with a spine-chilling song and reshapes our memory of a recent past that reinforces not only the misery of those who suffered but also the structures that caused and abated the suffering.

Related to Bheed (2023): Anek (2022) Review – Righteous Ideas And Themes Collide Into A Narrative Hotchpotch

Bheed (2023) Links: IMDb, Wikipedia
Bheed (2023) Cast: Farooq Azam, Digvijay Singh Gurbat, Kritika Kamra, Pankaj Kapur, Dia Mirza, Bhumi Pednekar, and Rajkummar Rao
Where to watch Bheed

Similar Posts