Abhishek Mishra on: protests
Detroit may be past its prime, but here in India, it’s still dear to politicians because it provides them fodder for protest
Detroit may have been the motor capital of the world once upon a time, but people have been making fun of it since the 1970s. This is why it always struck me as strange when people would refer to any state in India as the “Detroit of the south/west/east/whatever”. I mean, is that supposed to be a compliment, naming any place after a once great/long failed city?
But something unexpected happened in February this year and it changed my opinion. On the news, I heard a functionary of a political party, let’s call him Funcky, talk about the Detroit in Maharashtra. It was an eye-opener. I’ll need to give you some background here, so please bear with me.
Do you, like me, enjoy watching cars being destroyed? If yes, you’d have undoubtedly enjoyed the $11 million worth of cars destroyed in the latest Die Hard – that was probably the only good thing about the movie.
Filmmakers have long appreciated the entertainment value of wanton destruction. With advances in CGI, they’ve even been able to show the destruction caused by volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters like never before. Still, they often go back to the basics. You see, real or CGI-manufactured natural calamities are difficult to fit into a frame. But a car blowing up in the middle of the street makes for a great subject. It offers viewers an aesthetically perfect picture. And it can easily be shot in slow-mo from different angles. Imagine a good old car chase with big explosions and loud crashes. It’s all so... satisfying.
Our politicians obviously have been quick to realise the immense potential of this form of entertainment; they see it as entertainment with a message. While vehicles have often been damaged in protests before, politicians in Mumbai have been able to ‘produce’ this violence with a certain degree of professionalism.
Coming back to Funcky and the news – the TV screen was split into two halves – one showing a screaming anchor, the other a burning Maruti 800. The flames rose high from the car that was bang in the middle of the road. In the background, you could see the traffic had backed up for some distance. It was a picture worthy of an art gallery.
I know you may think that a burning a car won’t help any cause any political party may be trying to espouse, but you would be wrong. The cause here is entertainment and it is evident if you study the picture. The people in the background don’t have a hint of fear on their faces. Most are smiling, laughing and clicking pictures on their phones.
Anyway, after the hoopla, when police began investigating the case, they discovered that the car burning on our screens had been recently purchased by one of the party’s leaders, let’s call him Burnall, for some 35,000 bucks. Most people immediately criticised the party for the “staged” protest. I disagreed.
Truth is, Burnall was responsible for some well-produced street entertainment. He even took care not to damage public property and actually burnt his own car for the show. Burnall is a selfless man.
Back in the news studio, Funcky had to face some loud questions from the perpetually pissed off anchor. So Funcky brought some much-needed perspective and requested people to look beyond the violence – burning that car on the street was his party chief’s way of highlighting the “detroit” in Maharashtra. “The government had embezzled Rs 70,000 crore meant for irrigation projects, and lakhs of people continue to be affected by severe detroit,” he said.
Funcky is a car lover by the way. He allegedly owns expensive brands like Bentley and Hummer. So you can see the potential of their protests for sure. If Funcky follows Burnall’s lead, next time, we may see a proper high-budget production on our streets. Come on Funcky... do it for Detroit!