Skip to main content

High-octane comic satire on Gujarat cops influenced by colonial 'criminal tribes' law

Community leader Chhanalal with Raghlo, the petty thief
By Rajiv Shah 
Released across Gujarat and Mumbai last Friday, not unexpectedly, “Kamthaan”, a Gujarati feature film based Ashwinee Bhatt’s novel, has received wide appreciation from the audience as well as the media for action, direction and production. While the Times of India, in a review, has given it 4 out of 5 stars to the movie, calling it “out-and-out comedy”, replete with “laugh riot”, individuals from Gujarati industry are quoted as appreciating the movie with “applause”.
Social media has appreciative comments ranging from Modi bhakt actors Manoj Joshi and Paresh Rawal, to top Dalit rights leader and Congress MLA Jignesh Mevani. Set in an imaginative small town of Central Gujarat and timed around 2000, when BJP chief minister Keshubhai Patel ruled the state, there is nothing to complain about the manner in which the Harfanmaula Films produced the movie -- acting, direction, story telling.
What, however, appears to be missing in the wide appreciation the movie has initially received is the powerful message it seeks to offer: Much like the Harfanmaula Films’ previous release, “Hellaro” (2019), “Kamthaan” too centres around the rebellious nature of a subaltern social group which seeks to find ways, in its own crude style, to rebel against an oppressive social order.
If in “Hellaro”, which means “outburst” in English, it is the women in a remote village who rebel against the patriarchal social order which does not allow them dance to the tune, in “Kamthaan” (roughly “chaos” in English), it is a denotified tribe (DNT), dubbed by a 19th century British law as “criminal”, for seeking to rebel against corrupt and casteist police officialdom. It’s quite another thing that “Hellaro”, set in 1975 in a rural backdrop, is a serious film, while “Kamthaan”, set in 2000 in small town backdrop, is a hilarious comedy, a satirical comment on the corrupt offialdom.
Rathod with his junior cops
While the British law calling about 200 DNT tribes has “criminal” may have been repealed, “Kamthaan” reveals a glaring fact: that the colonial legacy continues among cops in Gujarat, as elsewhere, till today. Such is the legacy that of all persons Kiran Bedi in controversial tweet in 2016 called people from ex-criminal tribes as "hardcore professionals in committing crimes" – which she had to later apologise following protests.
It is in this backdrop that the movie goes out of the way to use the so-called criminal nature of the tribe to point out how the community seeks to project how small time theft is used a rugged way to resist the power-that-be, especially the police administration, which openly discriminates against it. One of the dialogues in the movie says it all: “Nana manas na haathe lakhato hoye, tyare khabar na hoy ke itihas rachahyi rahyo che”, suggesting, people from ordinary background aren’t aware that they are the makers of history.
The movie revolves around a petty thief, Raghlo, in a midnight attempt, creeps into the just-promoted police sub-inspector Rathod’s house via his semi-pucca rooftop. Sensing that he has entered the wrong house, aghast, he first lights a lamp before a picture of Lord Hanuman, hanging on the wall, expresses regret with folded hand, but finally gathers courage and runs away from the rooftop hole he had created with the cop’s uniform, pistol, medals, and some cash.
If the theft in the town’s top cop’s house, where he temporarily lives even as he awaits getting a police quarter, puts the entire policedom in a quandary, the act is seen as a valiant move by community leader Chhanalal. While Raghlo is terrified about the consequences he might suffer from for burgling into the house of a top policeman, Chhanalal calls it a “valiant act”, which he believes greatly adds to the glory of the community, which is targeted by the town’s casteist cops.
The theft, in fact, is seen as symbolising revenge against the custodial death of a community youth in the past. Replete with instances of how the police sub-inspector’s juniors in the town police station scheme in order to identify and catch the thief without filing an FIR, or revealing that the theft had taken place in the house of the sub-inspector, the movie shows how the junior cops seek to scheme, use pressure if needed, to keep it a secret, even as seeking regular “hafta” (bribe).
The movie’s flashpoint comes in the form of a “Parsang” (Prasang or occasion), in which  community people and cops gather. It is organised by Chhanalal, ostensibly to celebrate Raghlo’s valiant act of thieving in the house of the town’s topcop. The event coincides with the worried poor petty thief getting is daughter married. Ghanshyam Zula, a Kutchi folk singer, is seen singing a song, which continuously repeats the words “daru ni dhaar...” (flow of liquor) in a state where prohibition rules the roost.

Comments

Maya Valecha said…
I enjoyed the movie and agree on all points, but on second thought I found that there was no mention, hint of lower police staff sends part from their hafta to higher officials, reaches politicians. High level corruption is missing.
Tulsi Patel said…
Very invitingly appreciative review. Talent!!

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Sharp 61-85% fall in Tech startup funding in India's top 'business-friendly' States

By Rajiv Shah Funding in Tech startups in top business-friendly Indian states has witnessed a major fall, a data intelligence platform for private market research has said in a series of reports it has released this month. Analysing Tech startup data of Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Tracxn Technologies Ltd , the Bengaluru-based research firm, finds that except for Kerala, funding witnessed a fall of anywhere between 61% and 85%.

Students, lawyers, professors detained in Delhi for demonstrating in support of farmers

By Our Representative  About 25 protestors, belonging to the civil rights network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of over 40 organisations, were detained at Jantar Mantar for holding a demonstration in support of the farmers' stir on Friday. Those detained included students, lawyers and professors, including Prof Nandita Narain and Prof N Sachin. 

Maize, bajra, jute, banana cultivation banned off West Bengal border: Plea to NHRC

Counterview Desk  West Bengal-based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manch, and is national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, second within few days, has bought to light one more case of trespassing and destruction of a fertile banana plantation by BSF personnel along the Indo-Bangladesh border, stating, despite a written complaint to the police has taken "no initiative".

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Solar energy funding dips 9% in 2023; 2024 'kicks off' with US$1 billion investment

By Lakshmitha Raj*  Solar energy tech companies have already secured slightly over US$1 billion in funding in 2024 (till Feb 7, 2024) after total funding into Solar Energy companies in India fell 9% to US$1.55B in 2023 from US$1.7B in 2022. A total of 39 $100M+ rounds have been closed till date, with Delhi leading the city-wise funding, followed by Gurugram and Mumbai.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das  Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.