Revisiting a Bollywood Song to Understand Our Radicalised Times

Anurag Kashyap’s films have always set benchmarks – not just for their quirky, sarcastic and tightly written scripts but also for the nuanced emotions they evoke. Watching his films, I’ve often wondered if Kashyap is as pessimistic as I am when it comes to the future of this country. Is he as unapologetic and frustrated with extremist elements (read Hindutva) as many of us are?

But this piece isn’t about his work and sentiments in general. Rather, it’s about one of the songs embedded in his movie, Gulaal – a soulful, sarcastic number that tackles the kind of radicalism propagated by so-called fringe-elements. ‘Yaara Maula’, sung by Rahul Ram and Ashim Chakravarty is not only poignant but also doesn’t shy away from taking a dig at fanatics and the propaganda that radicalises them.

‘Yaara Maula’ tells the story of innocent youths who get lured into radicalism with false promises of heroism and martyrdom. While it’s not possible to do justice to the Hindi lyrics with a rough translation, here’s the rough gist of the song.

A young man’s promising life, filled with books, art and knowledge, is derailed when he’s humiliated by a mob wielding swords and knives. They convince him that the world outside (referred to as a well in the song) is full of nonbelievers, enemies and treasures. All he has to do is jump into it, slay the inhabitants and recover their valuables. The lyrics evoke Shivaji and Sikander – comparing the mob to them and telling the young man, he is the Shivaji of the future. It’s a twisted perspective – the world is a well and they are its liberators, the bigoted heroes who champion jingoism. The young man’s books, previously his prime source of knowledge and ideology, are branded lies. Once cherished, they’re now the sources of the falsehoods and ignorance that characterise life in the well.

The young hero does everything that’s asked of him, believing that he’s working towards the good of his community, but once his mission is complete, no glory awaits him. He’s left isolated, with the blood of innocents on his hands. There’s nobody to tell him what to do about the blood he’s spilt or the consequences of his actions. There’s only remorse.

Gulaal was released in 2009 and dealt with student politics and a fictitious secessionist movement in Rajasthan. But, today, we see the same conditions playing out everywhere in real life. Young people across the country are made to believe that a particular community is their enemy. And that they must fight to save their culture and religion from total destruction or erasure. So many of us fall into this trap, oblivious to the malicious, political goals of the organisations and people that spread such paranoia. In the end, all that’s left of them is shame and remorse. But by then it’s too late. The damage has been done.

Akhilesh Kumar is a 22-year-old civil engineer, who works at the Haldia Insitute of Technology, Haldia, West Bengal. He tweets @TheRahul_Raj and you can find him on Instagram @akhi_rahul