Anna Hazare, Batman, You and Me!

"No, you don't understand. That is what the name is called. The name really is The Aged Aged Man. The song is called Ways and Means but that is only what it is called." (Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There)

And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up. (Thomas Wayne, to young Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins)

Anna Hazare and his band of followers continue with their struggle to get their foot in the door. They earnestly, and perhaps rightly, believe that they represent the frustrations of the Indian people with having to deal with a corrupt and arrogant system in every aspect of daily life. After witnessing the loyalty of political parties, the media, and the government to the cause of eradicating graft from public life, I thought I would write about Batman.


I was impressed more than others with The Dark Knight Rises. While the trilogy is centered on the superhero theme, the closing film pulls in several metaphysical threads that are very relevant to the evolving consciousness of our times. In addition, I missed Robin right up to the very end. At the screening I attended, youngsters clapped, cheered and whistled when Batman first makes an appearance and every time he trounces the villains. It felt good but it felt strange. When I shared it later, my friends told me I was being elitist and cynical. But it was strange to hear an auditorium full of people cheering for Batman as if he were a Pawan Kalyan or a Salman Khan. It was strange when I contrasted this with the very Eastern acceptance that we display towards crime, injustice and corruption, towards exploitation, marginalization and abuse. In the face of my friends' criticism, I shut my mouth, and realized that maybe we are better off cheering at fictional superheroes in a dark auditorium.



It is not that our times are more crises-riddled than any other time in history. On the contrary, our time has seen mankind emerge victorious in several critical areas. Yet the present day sees a battle between the “ties that bind us together and those that would tear us apart” unlike at any other time in the past. We also have grown in our awareness of the evil that lies within us, perhaps within each of us, that is capable of destroying all that our civilization can be proud of. Technology has blessed us with the gift of protecting ourselves with the same generosity with which it has made it possible to wipe our race out. We have also developed an unparallelled hatred and intolerance for any fellow being who stands in the way of our greed and ambitions. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in governments and corporations and in criminals who hide behind governments and corporations.

Look at censorship, be it of the electronic or the digital media. Look at the impunity with which groups of people have been allowed to pimp our national resources away. Look at the swagger with which the underworld funds the entertainment industry. Look at how naive and easily provoked the Arvind Kejriwals and the Prashant Bhushans of our times look. Look how composed and self assured even the politicians who are in jail look compared to them.


These are the realities that the Dark Knight addresses. Unlike Matrix, where the questions revolve around the legitimacy of our perceived world and the possibility of sentient programming, Nolan’s Batman series confronts the question of morality and the choices that superheroes (or our highest ethical selves) are forced to face. It questions free will and the immutability of actions and their consequence.

Gotham City is a perfect representation of contemporary Indian society. It is lawless and amoral, and arrogantly so. The big boys of the underworld carry on their business with the certainty that one would think belonged only to the righteous. The villains in the films are more than just characters in the story. They have been carved out of the lessons in morality that can be found in almost every spiritual literature.

Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins is more than just the face of the Shadow of leagues, he is the destroyer who restores balance to creation, and he is totally assured of the righteousness of his actions. The Joker believes that he is the better class of criminals that the town deserves, not a monster, but just ahead of the curve. Bane takes the mindlessness of devilish function a step further by embracing physicality and lack of anything to redeem him in the sight of the viewer. The religious/spiritual imagery is hard to miss, be it the creator-preserver-destroyer in Batman Begins or the satanic exhortations of The Joker or the in-your-face evil of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.

Batman, the series and the superhero, has been built around darkness by Nolan. Not just cinematographically, but metaphorically too. There really is no white knight, but just the intense hope of mankind that it can somehow rectify the mess that it has dragged itself into. The films repeatedly plunge the characters and the viewers into facing classic paradoxes and dilemmas that cannot be dealt with in blacks and whites. This is the strength of the villains of the series. They are not driven by lack of choice, but by conviction. Just like Anna Hazare and friends have to think before they take names, Commissioner Gordon too has to keep himself half in shadow and half in light, if only to preserve the need for a superhero, a godlike savior that the common mortal can turn to in times of need.

The one thing that is common to all the villains is that they are products of our times, of our value system, and they could actually be the kid you grew up with and felt really close to. In a way, they symbolize the devilish aspects of humanity that exist in some measure in each one of us. The good news is that the superhero is also a product of the same predicament, and that the strength that Batman has lies not in his wealth or his gadgetry but in his inherent humanity and compassion. This strength is fortunately alive and kicking, and is perhaps the only reason we have not driven ourselves into extinction.


The present telling of the Batman story is about hope, the one thing that keeps us all going. It is about survival of human values in the face of the greatest crisis that mankind will ever have to deal with. It is about winning over the darkness within each one of us. It is about why the 75-year-old Gandhian continues to fight for the Lokpal Bill. It is about what makes each of us wake up in the morning and do the things that we know make a difference. It is about why I write, and why you are reading this.

By the time Alice heard it, she was already tired of poetry.

*****

For those of you who clicked through expecting a review of the film and got stuck with this moral discourse, may I temper your disappointment by pointing you to two superb analytical reviews of this series that I came across.

Thoughts on the Batman Saga by Greatbong and Christopher Nolan's Batman Franchise - An Analysis by Arun of Passion For Movies.

*****

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30 comments:

  1. I find it intriguing that the entire world, from the US to Europe to India, seems to see an image of their own state in Gotham. We must truly have become a part of a single global village!
    I think people cheer for a superhero because they smell in him a winner. Anna seemed like a winner last year. So everyone cheered. Not so this year and the world has stayed away. No one wants to cheer a 'suspect' superhero, no matter how noble his cause.
    Perhaps too facile an explanation!
    That was a wonderful read. Thanks for sharing.
    Do stop by my blog when you have some time to spare.
    http://reekycoleslaw.com/
    Certainly not as deep as your content, but I am also trying to make a point, albeit through satire.

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    1. welcome to the jejune diet, rickie. i have been reading your blog for a while now and love it. the trouble with the anna gang is sincerity and honesty. they believe in what they are doing and they are not diplomatic; they say what they feel. this becomes a problem when it includes anna's views on social discipline, or kejriwal's views on the congress, or prashant's views on pakistan. the first lesson a politician learns is to keep his views to himself and say what the people want to hear.

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  2. Very interesting. I always had this feeling that Batman and his cohorts are not a good role-model for any society with their vigilante stance. When Batman dons his cape and cowl to fight the criminals in the dark of the night, he is fighting the symptoms rather than the disease itself. I found the character of Harvey Dent to be much more relatable and idealistic than anyone else in this franchise. Before his ideals were corrupted by The Joker, he was very much a White Knight fighting corruption. His conversion to Two-Face is one of the most heart-wrenching and powerful sequence of film-making. Good one.

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    1. i think the problem with the anna hazare movement too is that they are trying to fix the symptom and not the disease itself. and perhaps, somewhere that is why the support is fading away.

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  3. We cheer for the superhero because somewhere we can connect with the struggles that he faces and the evils he overcomes. But, we cheer from far. As long as someone else does things for us, we applaud from a distance. I also like the fact that you highlighted about easy provocation of team Anna's members; whereas, the conniving politicians handle it with such elan. Aren't we all like this? Getting provoked and all worked up so easily, washing away whatever sense that we were making. I liked your analogy too.

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    1. when i look back and what you and i and many others like us were writing, saying, and feeling this time last year about the india against corruption movement, it seems a little embarrassing. there was this feeling that we were on the brink of change, that by next tuesday, we would wake up into where the mind is without fear.

      the good thing is that this teaches us to be pragmatic, to have a clear plan and agenda for change, and to seek leadership that can withstand the scrutiny of being in the public glare.

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  4. More worrying than the corruption and crime is the fact that a huge number of people believed they saw a solution in Anna Hazare's schoolboy book of Ethics. Imagine Anna in any powerful decision-making capacity, perhaps with Ramdev as an advisor - Enough to make one want to emigrate to Colombia.

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    1. it really is a devil and the deep clue sea situation. we have seen what happens with charismatic idealistic leaders like mamata when they have to govern a state. but we are living in times when we grasp at anything that seems like a solution. in many ways, the government probably allowed the anna movement to continue because it was like a pressure valve allowing the masses to vent off their frustration. that done, they could go back to their lives, and the government could go back to doing what it does best.

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  5. Interesting analysis. I sometimes wonder whether the corrupt view themselves as villains. Like many of us buy pirated books and DVDs on the street, travel on buses, trains without tickets etc. But we don't view ourselves as villains. Wonder if the corrupt have their own justifications for what they are.

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    1. never thought of it that way, TF. it is difficult to believe that a person can willfully be doing things that he believes is wrong, so there must be a belief system that supports their actions.

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  6. Interesting analogy....We are all a product of our circumstances and upbringing...just like the villains. And we dont call them villains anymore. They are anti-heroes.

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    1. thanks, alka. with the twists and turns that the people's movements have taken, be it in the middle east last year or with the occupy movement or in india, we are looking at a true human revolution, and we must learn from the errors that similar movements have made in the past so that we can have a universally beneficial outcome.

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  7. I started writing interesting analogy and read Alka's comment :-)

    But does it not make us a nation procrastinators, waiting for a superhero to rescue us from hell? Our system is such that it encourages corruption. One simple document needs signatures from 15 government officers.

    Dis-empower the powerful. With great power comes the feeling - I can get away with it all.

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    1. All the waywardness we are seeing in all sections of society can be traced back to what you have said, the feeling that I can get away with it all if I have great power.

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  8. Interesting post subhorup . I knew it was not just another review when I saw the title . Have not seen any batman movies so far .I kind of agree with TF . Everyone has some justification . It's the I-bother-only-about-myself attitude that's deep rooted and needs A Batman for correction

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    1. Thanks, Jaishree. Superhero films also help us see that we are all connected by the commonality of our condition, our frailty and our strength.

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  9. Gotham found batman and he did what was right , because he took it all in his own hands.. MAYBE the time has come for us the indians to get together and make some noise , a noise that will wake the deaf..

    I dont have anything against ANNA ji or his party but with all that is coming out and now the step to becoming political has shades of grey..

    Gandhian priciples work upto a limit as we have seen , during independance struggle also we had the Gadar party and the martyrs who gave the ultimate sacrifise of their life , while the gandhians did nothing much but starting a cause and then stopping in the middle.. or doing what was POLITICALLY good for them and their leaders..

    I think time has come to realise we need a bit more than Politics to help us out of the mess the so called Gandhian principles have put us in.. wish the leaders followed those rules ..

    Bikram's

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    1. The delay in replying to your comment has actually helped understand the situation better, Bikram. The movement needs to be much stronger, and much wider in base, and not focused on a superhero, but on the superhero in each one of us.

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  10. Would you still feel the same way after Anna has announced the need to start a political party? Totally agree with you on Nolan's interpretation of the darkness in our minds, lives and societies... but found Joker the most intense, scary and devilish! And at the same time, the one who aroused the most compassion and sadness in me, for the way his life had shaped him to be the Joker! The plot of Bane seemed weak especially when in the end he too was a puppet! But, yes it is important for each of us to find the knight within and awaken and resurrect it, for our sake and other's!

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    1. Thanks, Abhimanyu. Time has shown us how easy it is to subvert a popular movement that is not strategically thought out. It remains to be seen how the political party strategy impacts Sheila Dixit.

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  11. Very interesting indeed..and then again :)

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    1. Thanks, Maitreyee! You are right, as time proves. :)

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  12. Great post with unique perspective which is interesting. How our perception of villains has changed without we even realizing it? Kind of shocking

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    1. Thanks, Farila. As long as we acknowledge that the hero and the villain are both within us, we still have a chance. Or else, we will be repeating the age-old mistake of defeating the villain in order to become the villain.

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  13. My first time here and I must say its an interesting analogy that you have drawn. A well written post.

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    1. Hey, welcome, and sincere apologies for the delay in responding to your comment. I hope you will keep coming back for more.

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  14. I would call this a very brainy post. So thought provoking and urges our gray cells to think about the world we are living in and the direction it is taking. And yet this post is full of heart as well. Ah.. the paradox! I was really intrigued by the parallels you drew between Batman’s struggle and our struggle in this world for the values we believe in. Sometimes in our fight we get tired and need an inspiration – your post is one such ray of hope. Keep the light burning my friend.

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  15. Paul would have loved this piece. See his articles here (read the last two specially) http://www.fridaygurgaon.com/news/3180-the-anna-phenomenon.html

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  16. Thanks for the link, Bhavana. It is the Annas and the Pauls of this world who are the real supermen of our times.

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