The imposition of the Emergency in 1975 meant a suspension of individual rights, but the severity of its application was regional. It was the North Indian provinces that suffered acutely from forced sterilisation and other aberrations of the Police State run by Sanjay Gandhi and his cohorts. This movie is a fictional rendition of those traumatic times. What it does is to take a young married couple in Delhi and tell us about the excesses of the emergency from their perspectives. The husband is an ambitious government officer who has set himself the goal of climbing the slippery slopes of Delhi’s bureaucracy. His wife is supportive of him, until she discovers that the propaganda of a new disciplined and progressive state is just a cover for acts of naked fascism.
The scales fall off the eyes of Mrs. Indu Sarkar (Kirti Kulhari) when she witnesses the demolition drive at Turkman Gate. She rescues two little orphans from the riots that take place there, and is horrified at what the operation has done to the poor. Her husband, Navin Sarkar (Tota Roy Chowdhury), is an important part of the government department that wants to forcibly relocate shanty towns to beautify Delhi. His adamant refusal to accept that this authoritarian approach is undemocratic and illegal, eventually leads to an estrangement between the couple.
Director Madhur Bhandarkar approaches the subject with his usual style of providing us with dramatic revelations about the nexus between institutions – political and individual freedom, private enterprise and the state, media and censorship. But unfortunately for him, there is nothing new to reveal about the Emergency, as it has been done to death by journalists, those who bent and those who crawled; historians, pink and saffron; inquiry commissions, objective and inquisitorial. As a result, ‘Indu Sarkar’ is a politically tame film that does not ruffle too many feathers today.
Unless, of course, you consider the depiction of Sanjay Gandhi (Neil Nitin Mukesh) to be too central to the heart of the film. He is shown as quite a dashing looking fellow, but his whimsical comments, his monosyllabic and quixotic responses to matters of state, and his schoolboy manner of manipulating a coterie of semi- literate friends to set up a parallel centre of power in Delhi, clearly indicates an underlying mental disturbance. He is presented as neurotic, and, in this sense, actor Mukesh’s interpretation of Sanjay Gandhi’s personality is perhaps the most detailed and accurate seen yet in Indian cinema.
But the finest performance in the film is by the lead actress, Kirti Kulhari, when we see her transform her character from a privileged Delhi homemaker to a fiery activist who risks imprisonment to defend the rights of the individual to political dissent. Through the character of Indu Sarkar, Bhandarkar may be drawing a parallel with contemporary times, and referring to the attitude towards dissent displayed by the present dispensation.
Be that as it may, Kulhari demonstrates that she is a passionate and skilled actress. Her nuanced performance holds your attention and makes this film watchable.