In ‘Contract’, Ram Gopal Varma’s most recently released film on the underworld, terrorist leader Sultan tells his group that they will plan a series of bomb blasts in Mumbai, and follow it up with blasts in the city’s hospitals where the injured would be taken for treatment. It was his way of ensuring the blasts caused the maximum possible harm and had great impact.
The chilling import of this piece of fiction came in the wake of the Ahmedabad blasts, where hospitals to which the wounded were being taken were specifically targeted after the first round of blasts in the city. Though it would be facile to assume some kind of a direct correlation between fiction and reality, it is a connection that must be understood as a rather significant pointer.
Such uncanny association is not without precedent. A year before the second Indo-Pakistan war broke out in September 1965, Indian intelligence agencies had brought to the notice of the then defence minister Baldev Singh a document released by the Pentagon in the US, derived from contemporary political speculation, which detailed the nature of possible future Pakistani attacks on India. Reportedly, Singh refused to take notice and supposedly threw the document out of the window.
He is also reported to have dismissed such connection as unwarranted speculation. According to international relations experts, during the second Indo-Pak war, which broke out exactly a year later, the Pakistani offensive followed the very pattern outlined in the Pentagon document.
Such connections largely defy the chicken and egg question — that is, which came before and which thereafter. Did those responsible for the Ahmedabad blasts actually base their modus operandi on RGV’s latest? Seems logically a bit improbable given that the film has released very recently and the blasts seem to have had some sophisticated long-term planning. In fact, such suggestion actually serves to minimise the larger linkages of the event, whether its supposed links with the Jaipur blasts, or a probable ISI/HuJI/SIMI connection.
What is significant is not so much the ‘hows’ as the ‘whys’ of such linkages, in cases where there seems to be an uncanny link between crime and contemporary fiction, and thus a larger popular imaginary.
That a Bollywood director and a terrorist organisation which calls itself the Indian Mujahideen came up with a similar strategy, one on-screen, the other in reality, says something of a collective psyche, where the ordinariness of an action flick is meshed with the abnormality of real-life terror. It speaks of linearity between the fictional space of a Bollywood film, the leisurely activity of film-going and an orchestrated terror attack that rips apart the stability of our everyday lives.
Somewhere in our minds, the public space is now integral to the potential for terror attack. It is where the normalcy that envelops our lives has actually been integrated with the potential for a rupturing of that very normalcy, and which gets featured in popular culture — the mafia film, sensationalised media reportage or reality shows on news channels.
It is probably significant that the connection between the Ahmedabad blasts and RGV’s film were made fairly early in the day. In today’s age no defence minister can ignore connections between fiction and reality. Intelligence agencies were among the first to note the similarity between the blasts pattern and the recent release. As a society we definitely have changed since a defence minister supposedly discarded a document ostensibly because it was ‘fictional’.
It is an odd nexus. While intelligence agencies have been among the first to grasp the connection between the blasts and the film, a very average film, which has largely gotten bad reviews, will now, it seems, pick up on box-office collections. Amidst speculation over such connections, the connection between the normal and the disruptive thickens in our collective psyche. On the one hand we are, more than ever, a vigilant and alert society; on the other, also, more than ever, paranoid and on the edge.
The writer is a Chicago-based film historian.