In the general elections of a fictitious country called Gajadweepa, a master political manipulator called TK successfully sets up film superstar Gajasimha as a dummy candidate to lead the country. But after tasting power and money, Gajasimha refuses to play TK’s game. To counter Gajasimha, TK takes active support from his part time moll and a full time Barathanatyam dance teacher, Malini. She helps Avinash, a karate expert, to escape from a jail where he was wrongly condemned for an attempt to murder Gajasimha. Avinash now wants revenge – he wants to bump off Gajasimha. Not to be undone, Gajasimha engages the services of a top foreign spy, Agent Marie Pop Hoff. Somewhere down the line, Avinash, Malini and Marie Pop Hoff find that they are all pawns in the hands of a warring TK and Gajasimha. They decide to break free. After a lot of manipulations, twists and turns they manage to kill both TK and Gajasimha. Mission accomplished, Marie Pop Hoof bids farewell, leaving behind a happy couple – Avinash and Malini.
When we think of non-mainstream Indian cinema we generally think about the realistic stream of films of Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Girish Kasarvalli or even MS Sathyu’s own Garm Hava (1973) and Bara (1980). Chitegu Chinte (The Restless Corpse) is one of MS Sathyu’s lesser known works but no less compelling.
Chitegu Chinte is a parody of the times that it was made. Made immediately after the lifting of the emergency days, it fleetingly refers to the dynasty rule of the Congress, the greed to cling on to power at any cost, and the usage of the state machinery to spy and fleece its own people – in short criminalization of politics in the post-Nehruvian era.
Chitegu Chinte is quite unlike Sathyu’s other films. But it shares a form that he has abundantly used in his work in theater, mainly in plays like Bakri.com. It is wacky, funny, absurd, mundane, satirical and at times, illogical. It spoofs the karate films that were popularized by Bruce Lee and later aped by many Indian films. It also takes a swipe at the James Bond spy films, which were very popular when Chitegu Chinte was released.
At a basic level the story line seems to be mythical in nature, lending itself to some experimentation in the ‘form’ in which the story is told. Therefore, surprisingly, the film does not belong to the realistic narrative stream of filmmaking. This write up highlights a few pointers to this effect.
1) The photo frame, Bruce Lee and Avinash:
The war cries of ‘Eyaoou’ and ‘Kuwooou’ that emit out of this aggressive lanky martial art super expert sometimes take on the level of high absurdity. An angst-ridden Avinash kicks a framed photo of Gajasimha, with a loud ‘Eyaoou’, in the jailer’s office. The frame falls down and breaks. The glass pieces of the frame fall on Gajasimha’s face who is sleeping in the bedroom of his cozy palace! Back in the jail, the jailor chides Avinash for breaking the frame and cleans up the mess. Bruce Lee reincarnated in Gajadweepa!
2) Gajasimha and the real life superstar:
The superstar-turned-dictator loves to read comic books while holding government meetings, enjoys munching groundnuts while delivering political speeches and likes to experiment with artificial moustaches that looks similar to the ones worn by Charlie Chaplin. Giving a Karate pose during a photo-secession with a Japanese delegation is his idea of being cool. His style, mannerisms, hairstyle and dialogues reminds one of a real life Kannada Superstar!
3) TK’s door-less headquarters:
TK’s headquarters is hidden behind the facade of a blind school where a blind singers’ orchestra always holds their practice secessions. Inside, below the steps there is a wall beyond which there is a room that does not have a door. A corpse like TK is being medically treated in this room. From here, he has been controlling the events in Gajadweepa for around thirty years. Anyone who wants to enter the door-less room has to just walk up to the wall and continue walking. He would then find himself walking inside the room and up to TK. When someone has to walk out, he just has to walk up to the wall and yes, continue walking. He then will find himself walking out of the room!
4) Agent Marie Pop Hoff’s entry:
In a meeting with his coterie, Gajasimha gets a brainwave – why not hire the services of a super spy of a foreign country to save himself from the mess that he is in? Immediately the phone rings and Gajasimha is informed that the foreign spy that he was just thinking about would be arriving in ninety nine seconds. A huge plane lands on an air strip. Gajasimha and his coterie wait in their meeting room. After the ninety ninth second, Agent Marie Pop Hoff makes her entry, introducing herself as Agent 009 & a half.
5) The balloons from the ears:
In Gajasimha’s office, Marie Pop Hoff removes a hidden microphone planted inside the mouth of Gajasimha by his enemies. The person who listens to the conversation at the blind school clutches his headphone. Back at Gajasimha’s office, everyone is surprised that there is a bug inside Gajasimha. Marie Pop Hoff throws the microphone and stamps it hard with her foot. The resultant noise distortion forces the listener at the blind school to throw away his headphone. His ears are in pain. Two balloons pop up from his ears, they grow and then one after another they burst. The man almost faints.
6) Agent Marie Pop Hoff and Avinash’s fast-forward-entry into the palatial hotel:
Shot One: A top angle shot of a road on a hill. Agent Marie Pop Hoff and Avinash are driving in two separate cars. The camera pans as the cars disappear behind a boulder. In the vast landscape beyond the boulder we see a huge palatial hotel, far below. The camera zooms on to the hotel to settle down to an extreme long shot of it. Within a second, we see two similar cars entering the hotel premises. As they stop in front of the main gate, the camera shifts focus to see Shamba Shiva, TK’s right hand man, in extreme close up. He is spying on them and standing, logically, near the boulder.
Shot Two: Cut to the hotel corridor as Marie Pop Hoff and Avinash make their way into the lobby after getting down from their respective cars. We see Samba Shiva appear from behind a wall in the hotel corridor, spying on them. Obviously two sets of similar cars were used in shot one – one set for the foreground when the cars disappears behind the boulder and the other set at the hotel entrance as they stop in front of the main entrance. It is a single shot, but there is a jump in time. The real time taken for the two cars to travel from the boulder that is there on top of the hill, to the palace hotel down below, which must have been at least five to six kilometers away, is simply chopped off by this device, without any editing devices in between! Further, shot two has a continuation of time from shot one. If the two shots are supposed to happen in real time, Samba Shiva must have been still up on the hill when Shot Two starts. Instead, when Marie Pop Hoff and Avinash enter the hotel lobby in shot two, we see him appear in the hotel corridor from behind a pillar!
7) The magic bag and James Bond:
Gadgets inside Agent Marie Pop Hoof’s hand bag contain cutting pliers that can plug out hidden microphones from various body parts, a mini torch that can be switched on and off to give signals to waiting associates stationed far away, a tooth paste that is actually a smoke bomb, a lip stick that is a gun and others. Item’s that even James Bond would be proud off.
8) Agent Marie Pop Hoff’s final exit:
After the climax, Marie Pop Hoff takes leave of Avinash and Malini. At an open space and after the mandatory farewells, she takes a toy helicopter from her bag, switches it on and exits frame. We hear the sound of helicopter taking off and Avinash and Malini waving at the sky. Titles roll.
9) MS Sathyu and the politics of CC:
Chitegu Chinte also ridicules the song and dance melodramatic routine that the Indian mainstream film industry churns out day in and day out, using the very elements that construct the routine. The acting style of the actor who plays Gajasimha, the central character, closely resembles the acting style of a real life Kannada superstar. The fact that his style was ridiculed probably had some far reaching consequences for the fate of the film itself. Some time back, Sathyu had written in the magazine Tehelka, “The problem is the bunch of powerful people controlling the Kannada film industry. I faced a similar situation in the 1970s when my film, Chitegu Chinte, was taken off 11 theatres in Bangalore, even though it was not officially banned.”
Chitegu Chinte is well worth the cinematic watch, at least for me. It is one of the few Indian films that have broken away from the ‘realistic’ school of thought that has been associated with Indian non-mainstream cinema right from the 1950s and what’s more, has done it pretty successfully too.
Kannada, Comedy, Color