Kathmandu, Aug 27: When they fought an armed war for 10 years that killed over 16,000 people, Nepal’s Maoist guerrillas sought to ban Hindi films in the Hindu kingdom to establish their nation’s own, distinct cultural identity.
But now, with the war over and struggling with peace, the former rebels are seeking cultural sustenance in the same Bollywood.
Baburam Bhattarai, one of the three deputy leaders of the Maoists and recognised as the leading intellectual from the party, hit the headlines Friday for an unusual reason.
The alumnus of New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University took a break from politics and dialectics to troop into a cinema in the capital with close companions – and security guards – to watch “Peepli Live”, the much-talked about directorial debut by Anusha Rizvi, that has added weightage in Nepal since it is produced by Bollywood icon Amir Khan, whose earlier film “3 Idiots” was loved by the nascent republic.
Bhattarai, Nepal’s former finance minister, was accompanied by his wife and former tourism minister Hisila Yami, and senior party leaders, including Ram Karki, who had been proposed in the past by the Maoists for the post of ambassador to India.
The sardonic story of how politicians and the media seek to derive mileage from people’s woes touched a chord in Bhattarai’s heart.
The Maoist leader told the media he was moved, especially at how, instead of resolving the dilemma of poor farmers, the powers that be sought to drive them to suicide and politicised the tragedy.
He also took a swipe at Nepal’s media, saying it should learn an object lesson from how the film portrayed the media – as a tribe who make a mountain out of a molehill and sacrifice sensitivity for cut-throat competition.
The Bhattarais have made it a point to watch most of the Hindi films recently released in Nepal and talked about for their serious subjects.
In the past, they have watched Ram Gopal Varma’s “Rann” with Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan playing a media mogul, and Prakash Jha’s “Raajneeti”.
The new Nepali releases – mostly love stories, including one that justifies rape – have been overlooked by the group so far.
The Bollywood break comes at a time the Maoists are struggling to win an election in parliament to form the new government. The numero uno of the party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, failed in five consecutive bouts of vote to win the simple majority needed to become the next prime minister of Nepal.
Besides the stiff opposition by the other parties, the Maoists are also facing serious differences among their own leaders.
As the central committee of the party has begun a mammoth meeting to plan its future strategy, Bhattarai is opposing Prachanda’s suggestions.
Prachanda himself has not been spotted in the theatres watching Hindi films.
The former revolutionary did not even turn up at this week’s muharat of “Jaljala”, a Nepali film glorifying the Maoist movement and focusing on Jaljala, a Maoist stronghold in the remote Rolpa district that was the cradle of the red movement.