Dharmaveer : The Anand Dighe Biopic that foretold the current Revolt

Dharmaveer: Mukkam Post Thane (available on Zee5), the Marathi biopic of the Shiv Sena strongman, Anand Dighe, was released in May 2022. Aside from presenting Dighe (who passed away in 2001) and the Thane Shiv Sena unit as virtually autonomous, the film also strongly made the point that the party had grown powerful only by speaking up for and standing by its workers. Eknath Shinde, Dighe’s protégé, is portrayed as the carrier of his legacy, but the message of unity between him, Rajan Vichare, Ravindra Phatak and others, is too blatant to be missed. The T-dynasty is not paid much credence, beyond the customary lip service. Raj was still shown to be on familiar terms with Dighe, and in his good books, but Uddhav is dismissed as nobody, which frankly, he was in 2001. One does get the impression that the story does not get over with the credits, and that Shinde would or should rise to save the Tiger. Less than a month after the release, Shinde has rebelled, thus fulfilling the prophecy.

Anand Dighe was one of those men who are venerated as local deities, but about whom, internet does not have much information to offer. Google reduces lives to bare facts and statistics- elections won, positions held, lengths of office tenures, rewards received and records broken or created. It might inform you about how many milimetres of rainfall did the cyclone cause, and how many huts and trees got uprooted. But can the ferocity of the natural phenomena be captured by mere mention of wind speed? Can Wikipedia sing paeans in the honour of the brute force that enforced order by its sheer will? Can it justify or explain the purity of purpose behind seemingly wanton acts of violence? Do books and internet tell us that riots became pitched battles, difficult to control, once Sena organized Hindus, who began standing up against Islamic gangs?

The Thane Unit head of the Shiv Sena, Dharmaveer Anand Dighe was the uncrowned king of the district. He never fought any election and did not accept any official post, but his unrelenting commitment towards the welfare of his people, Spartan life-style, non-compromising attitude towards Hindutva and ability to mete out local justice turned him into a living legend, and made his party the strongest outfit. He used to solve the problems of one and all while holding his Janata Darbar at Thembi Naka. It was not necessary that you be his friend, all that was required was that you went to the Anand Ashram with your problem, and submit to his justice. Your problem would then become Shiv Sena’s problem. He did not have a family of his own, but even two decades after his death, is badly missed and fondly remembered.

Balasaheb Thackeray understood the unbending nature and indomitable will of this fellow CKP (Chandraseniya Kayastha Mahaprabhu), and granted him utmost freedom in running the local unit, including the selection of party candidates for corporation, the Assembly and the Parliament. Of course, Balasaheb was more than decades his senior, and as such, his venerable elder and the Guru. Balasaheb had warned him not to act impulsively after four of his corporators had backstabbed him in the Mayoral elections. But Dighe had decided that there was to be no mercy for the traitors. He was later charged for murder of a Sena corporator, and also booked under TADA. He could get out on bail only after two long years. This incident did leave Balasaheb embittered. Curiously, the latter did not attend Dighe’s funeral, attended by five lakh people, but that could also be because of the riotous situation that had developed after Dharmaveer’s death.

After all, Singhania Hospital was burnt down. The hospital authorities were so furious that they had demanded Shiv Sena for damages. There were widespread riots. Rumours were afloat that the Saheb had been murdered. Anand Dighe was admitted to the hospital after a late night accident during the Ganapati, and had suffered leg fracture. But ironically the Tiger of Thane also had a weak heart, smoked a lot and worked himself to exhaustion. Yet, murmers persist to this day.

Prasad Oak has delivered a masterful performance as the inimitable ‘dadhi-wala baba’ Dighe. Every movement of his body commands respect, and every word that he utters is obeyed. Pravin Tarde’s screenplay, dialogue and direction are top class. The scene where Dighe visits Eknth Shinde to console the latter after the death of his two kids is quite heart-rending, but is handled with remarkable poise by everyone concerned. That said, they could surely have made a better Balasaheb, who looks quite washed out in some scenes.

The film works because it remains unapologetic about the protagonist’s Hindutva mores and his controversial career, and the bubbling Maharashtrianism in the narrative. If Muslim rioters chant Nara-e-takbeer, Hindus reply back with Hara Hara Mahadev. “I do not hate every Muslim who wears a cap, only those who are out to perform jihad”, thunders Dighe at one point. The Hinduness just spills over in various festival scenes, be it the Navratri, the Rakshabandhan, the Ganapati or the Guru Purnima. You cannot make up this kind of reverence, only deep-seated faith gets displayed with such splendour.

Balasaheb, irritable as ever, once directed the Shiv Sainiks not to bother him on the occasion of Guru Purnima, and even slipped away to a ‘top secret location’.  But Anand Rao was not the one to be denied the darshan of his Guru, nor was any ‘top secret location’ in Maharashtra beyond his reach. He surprised Balasaheb and Meena Tai at their hideout, invoked his right to worship his Guru on the holy day, and thus performed his duty. With tears streaming down his face, Anand washed an emotional Balasaheb’s feet, placed chandana and flowers upon them and sought his blessings, even as a visibly overwhelmed Meena Tai watched them.

“Keep gracing our lives like the fragrance of the frangipani in your mala, Anand Rao”, she says. One doesn’t expect the going to get any better. After all, Anand is ‘anandit’, his followers are ‘prafullit’. And then on the way back, his shishya-mandali stop their own vehicles on the bank of a stream, and invoke their own right to worship their Guru.

“You got to wash the feet of your Guru. Now let us wash the feet of our Guru, and take blessings.”

Any work done with such reverence, while remaining true to the cultural spirit of the land, is bound to succeed. Dharmaveer already has, maybe the rebellion shall too. The Tiger needs to be saved.

Kuthe, Eknath? Eknath, kuthe?

In Guwahati, Thane or on streets of Mumbai?

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