Chakravyuh is the second major mainstream release this year after Shanghai to allude to the lopsided equation between big industry and common folk. Shanghai’s plot centred on the nexus between government and private capital, while Chakravyuh, which delves into the Naxalite movement, indicts three of India’s biggest companies and a leading shoe manufacturer in the song Mehngai.

The song is sung in the movie by street theatre activists, which explains the simplicity and directness of the lyrics “Birla ho ya Tata, Ambani ho ya Bata, sabne apne chakkar mein des ko hai kata."

Chakravyuh’s director Prakash Jha has stated in interviews that the song is a critique of industrial exploitation and does not target any specific group or individual, but going by the legal action initiated against the film-makers by the Birla group and Bata, it’s obvious they don’t agree.

Bata, which is synonymous with affordable footwear, seems to have been shoehorned into the song only because it rhymes with Tata. The other groups that have been named also have a lyric-ready ring to their names. “Jindal ho ya DLF, Sterilite ho ya IMF" doesn’t sound as snappy—though imagine how red-hot the lyrics would have been if the lyricist had prior information on the Robert Vadra controversy.

It’s not nice to be called a butcher, but corporate leaders better get used to it. If the Harley-Davidson motorcycle is synonymous with rugged individualism and Madhuri Dixit with the boob-thrust, India’s Tatas and Ambanis are equated with tremendous wealth and influence. Our business leaders are so huge that they are impossible to ignore. They employ thousands of people, occupy prime space in the media, and overtly and covertly influence public policy. The movement of their stocks runs like blood through veins at the bottom of the screen on business channels. The people who lead these behemoths assume the pose of Roman senators on the covers of business magazines and hold forth on the “Indian growth story" as though they were dictating the tenets of a new faith.

Given how high-profile these industrial houses are, how seriously they take themselves, and how assiduously they try to portray their companies as agents of social change rather than merely business centres, they will naturally be folded into social critique and become a target of ridicule and anger—just like the government has been for all these years.

Going by the level of inequality in the country and the lack of transparency in government policy and corporate projects, it is not surprising at all that the public will buy into any song, cartoon, news story or campaign that suggests that the biggest thugs are actually the men in suits. At the rate at which anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal and his team are turning up scams, even the most skilled corporate communications executive will find it difficult to give a positive spin to bad news—especially if the client’s name rhymes with Tata or Birla.

Also Read | Nandini’s previous Lounge columns

Close