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Southern Lights: Law And Disorder

A deep dive into moments from the 2010 Telugu political drama Leader, where an idealist becomes Chief Minister and sets out to eliminate corruption

Baradwaj RanganBaradwaj Rangan

April 20, 2017 | 09:04 AM

Fc South, Baradwaj rangan, southern lights, telugu cinema, telugu movie review,

I have a thing for idealistic dramas in which a newbie-politician changes the corrupt System. Shankar’s Mudhalvan (Tamil; Nayak in Hindi) is one. Sekhar Kammula’s Leader is another. The former (which stars Arjun) is the better film, a better amalgamation of masala elements. But the latter (whose protagonist is named Arjun) is startlingly single-minded for a mainstream movie. It begins with the Michael Corleone-like arc of a son taking over his father’s (political) empire and becoming Chief Minister. Only, he realises that he cannot deal with the political mafia without becoming something of a gunslinger himself.

It’s Arjun’s first day at the assembly, “our sacred temple, where the destiny of our people is decided”. He stands up and outlines a proposal to smoke out black money by prosecuting black marketers in special courts. The politicians around him rise in protest. “Mr. Speaker, the CM is not being clear about his proposed law...” “There are lots of loopholes in this law...” “The government will end up running around the courts...” “Income Tax comes under Central Government. How can we meddle, Mr. Speaker?”

It’s Arjun’s first day at the assembly, “our sacred temple, where the destiny of our people is decided”. He stands up and outlines a proposal to smoke out black money by prosecuting black marketers in special courts. The politicians around him rise in protest

Arjun launches into an impassioned speech, the kind we like to listen to in the movies because it’s an antidote to the poison in the newspapers we wake up to in real life. “Mr. Speaker, every year we take pride in presenting budgets worth thousands of crores. But out of every 100 crores we sanction, 80 crores are looted by crooks. Corruption and development can’t go together. Our grandfathers said that we are a developing nation. Later, our parents said the same thing. Today, we’re still repeating it, and tomorrow, our grandchildren will repeat it. When will we call ourselves a developed nation, Mr. Speaker?”

The scene ends in a tumult, and we cut to Arjun outside the assembly, walking alongside a senior politician. Arjun says, “We’re just asking to punish the criminals. What’s their problem in supporting that, sir? Criminals caught in serious offences safely walk out of jails in no time. We seem to be a doomed state. We are just asking for stringent laws. We’re not asking for any personal favours.”

“Come sit,” the older man says, amused by Arjun’s naiveté, and goes on to explain why this law should not be passed. “A guy with his hard-earned money will buy a plate of chicken biryani. If we take away the chicken, he’ll manage with dal. If we take away the dal, he’ll manage with soup. And if we take away the rice, he’ll panic. Then, we’ll give him free rice. He’ll get very excited and forget his work and chicken biryani. He’ll be our slave forever.” He waits a couple of seconds for the metaphor to sink in. He adds, “People aren’t expecting anything from us. As long as they remain the same, they’ll vote for us.”

He notices Arjun smiling. He asks why, and Arjun says, “Nothing. I’m wondering when you will die.” He asks the older man to extend his palm. He says, “You must be around 75-85 years. You must have touched Gandhi with these hands, and you must have seen Nehru with your eyes. Your intelligence and experience are of no use to anyone. And since you are useless, it doesn’t make any difference whether you live or die.” Arjun leaves.

Something stirs in the old man. He seeks Arjun out in the assembly and says, “Do you want the bill to get passed?” Arjun says yes. “Then exempt MLAs and politicians from the bill.” Arjun protests, until he sees why. “Will anyone agree to create a law to prosecute themselves?”

Arjun stands up before the speaker and adds this caveat. The law is passed. Later, Arjun and the older man resume their conversation. The latter asks Arjun if he knows the power of this new law. “When you catch hold of all the small fish, the sharks will be left with no food and they’ll panic. The corrupt are always hungry and the hungry ones are desperate.” Arjun says, “I’ll be happy to have you charged as well, sir.” 

The older man smiles – partly at the weak joke, partly at the idealist in front of him. “There is something about you. But you’ll not stay for more than six months. The moment these MLAs get to know about your plan, you’ll be out. Anyway, today the mood in the house is positive. I’m a little satisfied.” He leaves Arjun with this parting shot. “Well said about Gandhi. It hit me hard. You were looking forward to my death, right? At least now, don’t you think I deserve to live for another couple of years?”

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