Vivek Agnihotri's Urban Naxals: The Making of Buddha in a Traffic Jam | Going beyond the Maoist myth
Urban Naxals is searingly honest but it also logically demolishes a kind of a mythical world existing within India that for far too long romanticised the ideas of an armed revolution.
Under any other circumstances, a book such as Vivek Agnihotri’s Urban Naxals: The Making of Buddha in a Traffic Jam would have been debated, discussed and even used as a guide to comprehending the world surrounding us today. These circumstances could be defined as situations where simple logic, basic facts, and reality that stared us in our faces would not be ignored. But as ours is not such a time, a book that disses the romantic notions attached with the Naxal and the Maoist movements with empirical data and sound argument could be brushed aside as impassioned tirade.
While on the face of it Urban Naxals is an account of the making of Buddha in a Traffic Jam, Agnihotri’s feature film, which, in more ways than one, set the cat amongst the pigeons, it’s in fact, about the manner in which Indian Maoists traversed from the jungles of remote India to mainstream society. Through the book Agnihotri relives the entire journey of the film where a business school student realises that his professor is a cog in a well-oiled wheel that feeds the armed Maoist insurgency, right from its genesis as an experiment pitched by business school students to the time his funders backed out, and later how the finished product languished in obscurity for years and then finally when he used the film as project to connect with young Indians across the country’s top-45 universities and colleges.
Agnihotri and his film made headlines on many occasions. There were times when the screening of his film was cancelled at the eleventh hour, the cast and the crew faced much opposition from students
at venues, and on one occasion at the Jadavpur University, the filmmaker also suffered physical injuries that left him with a broken shoulder.
Through Urban Naxals, Agnihotri argues that a vast network of seemingly regular people from academia sympathetic to leftist ideology, mainstream media, NGOs and the intelligentsia have come to form a kind of an ‘urban’ support system of the Maoists, who are listed among the top terror groups of the world, and should be looked at as a greater threat to the nation than any outside power.
If Agnihotri, the filmmaker, had managed to break the shackles imposed by the powers that be of Hindi commercial cinema, Agnihotri, the author, too, has perhaps broken new ground in putting across certain truths that have become fashionable to ignore. One would have wished that the prose that on its own succinctly sheds light on some dark, and rather uncomfortable truths, had avoided being a tad too oratorical.
It’s not like there is some kind of a breakaway seigneurial pride at play; rather having suffered the prejudice of commentators and observers towards his film on account of his political leanings, Agnihotri endeavours to set the record straight. On that front, Urban Naxals is searingly honest but it also logically demolishes a kind of a mythical world existing within India that for far too long romanticised the ideas of an armed revolution and nothing else in the name of uplifting a people, who continue to suffer.