Arvind Kejriwal is not the only aam aadmi to become chief minister. Meet a young woman who has grown up in a village as a Bollywood cheerleader, becomes the mukhiya for a lark and two-and-a-half years later, ends up as chief minister of the third-largest state in India.
Please welcome onto the stage, Namkeen Kumari, better known to TV fans as Nimki Mukhiya — the high-spirited, silver-tongued village belle with catwoman dark glasses, a belt around her waist to hold up her saree and a smile on her face to turn “tragedy” into “comedy” (Star Bharat).
Nimki’s rise has been as remarkable as Kejriwal’s — within two years of becoming the village head, she took a fast forward leap into the future — as do all self-respecting Hindi TV stars — and landed up in Patna as Nimki vidhayak.
From vidhayak to CM
Six months later, in the recent final episode of the series, she took the oath of office as the new chief minister of Bihar, with just one “yojana” on her manifesto: to become the “best CM”. Yes, that’s all very well, but what will she do for the people, a journalist asked at her first press conference as incumbent chief minister. Pat came the reply — provide whatever facilities people need to improve their lives.
Nitish Kumar, beware, have you got competition.
And believe it or not, she has something else in common with Kejriwal: she swears by Hanuman — only in Nimki’s case, he takes the form of a politician and loyal coalition partner who facilitates her rise to the top position in the state.
What set Nimki apart?
Fiction has imitated real life in the case of Nimki Mukhiya and we are sad to see her go. A more lovable, fun-loving, wholesome character will be hard to find in Hindi TV shows. There was an innocence combined with homespun good sense that made her special. As she tells her formidable political rival Ganga Devi, she must have had brains to go from being a simple village girl to mukhiya, vidhayak and then chief minister.
For two years Nimki Mukhiya, the show and the character, have stood out in a cast of TV shows that feature a galaxy of young women characters overdressed and under-employed who inhabit huge, hollow mansions and spend entire episodes fighting with other women just like them over men who are equally overdressed and under-employed.
The serial was different, boss. Its central female character did not weep, suffer, or cast smouldering looks at the men around her all the time.
Instead, she is empowered, she empowers and takes on authority be it as the village mukhiya, as the wife of Babbu, or the daughter-in-law of the village strongman and her father-in-law Tetar Singh — in each case, she asserts herself.
She is raped by her husband, she loses her child while pregnant to violence, she is framed for crimes she did not commit but with the help of a supportive family — father, sister Mahua, brother Monu, Bimla chachi, sister-in-law Sweetie, friends like Tunney and Abhimanyu — she comes out on top.
Shades of Nimki
All of these tussles and tragedies are not allowed to linger into melodrama; the instant the scene becomes too heavily laden with tears or bloodied by violence, the script gives it a good tickle and Nimki is made to joke, laugh and return to her winsome ways.
And, she is by no means boringly virtuous: she chooses muscleman Babbu over the more sensitive Abhimanyu who loves her; she leaves her family to return to Babbu, the husband who raped her; she is capricious and quite taken with her own charms. To that extent she is more real than the mannequin women lead characters of other Hindi serials who never do anything wrong and yet suffer all the time.
When was the last time you saw Prerna from Kasautii Zindagii Kay (Star Plus) smile? Like never… Nimki Mukhiya and its successor Nimki Vidhayak tackle serious issues of patriarchy and political venality with a light hand. As an MLA in Patna, Nimki takes on class and caste battles: it’s interesting that her main political opponent, Ganga Devi, is always draped in a georgette saree with a string of pearls around her neck while Nimki wears a salwar kameez or a saree wrapped around her like a kitchen rag. Her other political adversaries go by names like Mishra and Shukla — you can’t get more Brahmanical than that. She also tackles the very real issue of human trafficking — this time of young girls. No other Hindi serial has gone where Nimki has been and it’s unlikely any other will in the near future.
For that reason alone, she will be missed.