Return of the Indian
Sudhir Srinivasan muses about the recently-announced sequel to Shankar's Indian
The quiet, smart detective knows that his nemesis, the man who calls himself Indian, is a survivor. It’d not be beyond him to have staged a miraculous escape from the explosion that seemingly killed him and his son, a corrupt brake inspector. So the detective sits, carefully watching slow-motion videos of the explosion caused by the airborne jeep crashing into an aeroplane as it was being refueled. Suddenly, the detective sees something. The hair on his skin stands up, as he, mouth agape in astonishment, notices what seems like a man jumping out of the fire. Indian had escaped death once again. His phone rings, and sure enough, it’s the mass murderer, calling to remind him that if the country returned to its debase ways, he’d be back to strike fear into the hearts of its corrupt citizens.
That’s the ending of Shankar’s Indian, of course, and now, twenty-one years later, a sequel has been announced. This is the age of sequels, after all. Any film that performs reasonably at the box office is in danger of getting distended into a sequel. Singam’s spawned three already. VIP and Chennai 28 have just had underwhelming follow-ups. Shankar, who’s generally always been ahead of the curve in terms of the business of filmmaking, perhaps spotted this trend coming up decades ago. Perhaps that’s why he resisted the temptation to put a full stop at the end of his stories. Gentleman’s hero was alive and well. Mudhalvan’s hero led the state into unprecedented development. Anniyan’s hero only pretended to be cured of his Dissociative Identity Disorder. Endhiran’s hero (Chitti) is dismantled at the end, but is still shown to be interacting with a child. And as we know, a sequel to it, 2.0, is already in the works. And now, the most deserving of all these films, Indian, gets a sequel.
Senapathi, the protagonist, won’t ever run out of issues to take on. No country is ever truly rid of its demons. And unlike your usual do-gooder protagonist whose inherent sense of righteousness is usually the motivator, Senapathi’s anger stems from having personally fought for the safety of the country. He helped rescue it from the clutches of the British. He lost a daughter to corruption. He killed his only remaining child — the son he begot after many years of prayers — for his country. Indian wasn’t just about a man fighting corruption; it was the great story of a man being able to inflict great personal tragedies in order to do the right thing. It’s not about patriotism. It’s about self-sacrifice.
Who’s his family now? Is his wife still alive? Is Aishwarya (Manisha Koirala), who was to wed the deceased son of Senapathi, living with him now? How is Senapathi facing up to killing his son, for whom he vowed to remain clean-shaven forever? Has time rendered his seeming indefatigable body weaker? Perhaps a long stretch of mourning has made him sluggish? Senapathi may have always put country before family, but I sincerely hope that the sequel to Indian won’t. The man’s personal conflicts were what made us look past the story’s preachy bits. Also, generally, there’s a tendency for the sequel to merely follow the template of the first. VIP-2 is the latest casualty of that idea. Perhaps Indian 2 will simply end up being a gritty character study of a patriot who’s committed filicide. It probably won’t be, but a man can dream.