‘Memory in the Age of Amnesia’ echoes Mirza’s own 1984 film Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho. It is a rant as much as it is an argument, and is often uncomfortable.
Veteran filmmaker Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s new book ‘Memory in the Age of Amnesia’ is a Marxist history of an entire era — from Partition to contemporary politics — and echoes the closing moments of his own 1984 film Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho.
In the film’s final scene, a judge surveys a chawl window-dressed for his benefit, and he is almost convinced that there is nothing wrong. Then the crowd begins chanting, “Sach kya hai? (What’s the truth?)”, at which point an old Mohan Joshi pushes with the last of his strength at the temporary supports erected to keep the building in place. The building collapses upon him, and the landlord’s truth is revealed in this tenant’s death.
The filmmaker has written a book where a 75-year-old man is pushing against the shaky façade of global politics. But it is like reading disjointed diary entries with as many stories as histories, and as many rants as arguments. And it is often uncomfortable.
In his narrative of Gaddafi’s Libya and its downfall, Mirza writes: “I will not judge him by the standards of the West.”
His contentious reading of the Charlie Hebdo massacre runs counter to the popular narrative, and after much qualification, he does consider them “bad satirists” even as he mourns for the slain cartoonists.
But even as Mirza goes from Kashmir to Israel to Iraq to the Holocaust to Vietnam, and from Harsh Mander to P. Sainath to Kanhaiya Kumar to Rana Ayyub, there are curious absences. There is no Narendra Modi, but there are numerous references to “The Face” who promised he would make India great again.
In his tale of Mumbai, there is the history of a “political warlord” whose grievances against outsiders morphed into a legitimate political entity, but there is no Bal Thackeray or Shiv Sena in the flesh.
If there are names he still cannot say, that perhaps is to keep us reminded of a politics he does not want the world to forget. I don’t imagine Mirza is afraid. Yet, as he says, if he does not speak his mind now, when will he?
Shantam Goyal teaches at Ashoka University.