Democracy is always inventive, exploiting mediums to create fresh theatre. It seems to create new sites for protest, new forms of dialogue, and new ways of storytelling. Two recent attempts, in particular, provide an invitation to comparison. The double spectacle of Aamir/Anna deserves an analysis.
Aamir and Anna are two kinds of socio-drama. Both are spectacles, both thrive on huge audiences. Both take the most mundane of problems and create events around it. Both fight the crime of silence, one around corruption, the other around foeticide and child abuse. Both create larger than life stories around these events. Both are pieces of theatre whose meaning goes beyond the event.
The beauty is they seem to telescope into each other; two age sets defining the nature of Indian society. One begins with the family, the other with society and both move to the question of values. One talks of the crime against the body, the other points to the crime against body politic. Both want their audiences to write to the politician to put legislation into place. Both are fervent pleas that the right legislation might help create the right kind of society. Anna Hazare appears earthy, speaking a nativist language of Swadesi values and Hindu cosmology.
Aamir Khan speaks the secular language of social science combining autobiography and sociology. One looks like a survivor from the Dandi march, the other looks untouched, a model or a hero from a romantic movie. One smells earthy, the other of the latest deodorant. Yet the two seem to be an interesting act of complimentarity through the very play of difference.
Both are media lovelies. People even suspected that Anna Hazare was a media creation until they realised what a crusty survivor he was. Aamir is a media entertainer par excellence. Their styles are different. Anna's is an ascetic life and he openly claims he can fast for days because he is a Brahmachari. Such thoughts would not even occur as possibilities to Aamir. He is strictly commercial and proud of his status as an entertainer. His money talks, like his shows. Anna's is a more ascetic style. Money is almost a form of sin to him. He could not dream of Aamir's bank balance.
Anna Hazare created history while Aamir uses history to create stories. Hype marks both lives. Media hype turned Anna into a perceived threat to Parliament while hype was considerable in the making of Satyamev Jayate. Aamir Khan is better at controlling theatre. He can shift attention to the participants allowing the survivor to play hero. Anna often looses crowd control by handing over his script to his three colleagues or to Ramdev. Aamir writes his script, Anna thinks he is the text. The theatrical in both is pronounced. Both provide a form of catharsis, one against the relentless pressure of corruption, the other from a form of domestic violence drowned in silence. Both are becoming mythical figures. One by being seen as a continuation of nationalist history, the other by re-reading history to create new myths for the middle class as in Rang De Basanti and Lagaan. Both seek to create a moral universes but Anna is more moralistic.
The politics of the two is starkly different. Anna Hazare is a leader of a movement; in fact a collection of movements if one adds Sri Sri Ravi Shanker and Ramdev. His is a search for the ethical, expressing a need to spring clean politics. Hazare is leader of mass movement while Aamir Khan's show is a spectacle that entertains the masses. One is a movement dying to be a spectacle; other is a spectacle forever dreaming of being a social movement. There is a middle class emphasis to both genres. They galvanize the middle class into new issues of politics. Both can be dubbed as experiments in a new middle class politics.
There is a difference in body styles and narratives. Aamir is forever the spectator and the listener, content to combine story telling and interrogation to create a visual social science. He plays out the sociological, linking micro-events to macro-processes. Anna is an activist. He does not know any other role. He is cameo Anna and nothing else. But both are stars, charismatic figures who have changed the nature of the Indian perception. Both have created the unexpected. Anna created a movement around middle class discontent at a time when the middle class was seen as apolitical. Aamir created a new genre of public documentary when the social sciences were dormant. They are two forms of creativity which shows democracy always has tricks up its sleeve. In this lies it's magic.
(Shiv Visvanathan is a social science nomad)