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Gangaajal, Tezpur, and Stoicism – A Lesson in Societal Imbalance

Gangaajal, a Hindi cop drama from 2002, still has a rich legacy. If you happen to know people preparing for their civil services exam, you would know the impact of Gangaajal.

In a previous piece on the movie Lakshya, we discussed why the film still manages to inspire young people. It will soon be two decades since the release of both Gangaajal and Lakshya. Yet, they stand apart in their respective domains untouched.

While Lakshya is more straightforward in showing its main character overcoming chaos, Gangaajal is much more complex in its approach. In fact, it is one of the few great movies which effectively portrays the ease with which chaos causes decay in society and slowly leads to anarchy.

The movie was received well at the time and made a decent sum of money. The success came due to a number of reasons.

First, the story came from a source who has seen the decadent law and order situation of Bihar, retired IPS officer Mahendra Lalka. Prakash Jha did a brilliant job adapting Lalka’s story into a feature film.

Second, Jha makes no effort to dumb down the complex elements of this story. This allows the characters to organically become one with the story.

However, there are other, deeper reasons behind the success of Gangaajal. For people living in urban cities and believing above all in the concept of society, Gangaajal is a warning.

There is enough yearning in Indian subculture to abandon societal goodwill and descend into an older form of living that predates civilization.

Why? Let’s discuss.

The Players in Gangaajal

Gangajaal is a typical example of a four-corned opposition. This means there are four main players in the film. Each side has different divisions of its own which makes the film even more interesting.

Here are the four sides explained.

  • IPS Amit Kumar, played by Ajay Devgn, is the new SSP of Tezpur (the town where our story is set). He is a stoic law enforcement type who understands the scope of his powers and responsibilities. Furthermore, he doesn’t accept the otherwise accepted and indoctrinated corruption in the police force. He refuses to lower his standards for his peers and expects everyone around him to aspire to a higher moral standing.
  • The patriarch Sadhu Yadav, and his son Sundar Yadav, are the primary antagonists of the story. They represent the source of all corruption in Tezpur. Their influence goes beyond the meek public and extends to the police force and government departments as well. The arrival of Amit Kumar threatens their hegemony the most because he doesn’t accept the smooth nature of their pervasive influence in Tezpur.
  • The law enforcement forms the third corner of our four-cornered opposition. The police force is not entirely against Amit. There is a definite yearning for serving justice amongst some officials. However, their susceptibility to hand out mob justice eventually pits them against Amit.
  • The last opposition to Amit Kumar is the public of Tezpur. While Kumar wants to follow procedures and use the law to dismantle the Yadav crime syndicate, the public believes it is more efficient to kill them in broad daylight. This is the ultimate showdown between societal values and pre-civilization ideas of justice.

 The State of Tezpur

Prakash Jha does a brilliant job of depicting Tezpur. In many ways, Gangaajal is not the story of Amit Kumar catching the Yadavs. Instead, it is a story of how Tezpur stops accepting the corruption perpetrated by the influential Yadavs and revolts.

Generally, people blame criminals for chaos in society. However, the criminal class has always existed since the beginning of civilization. Thus, criminals alone cannot be blamed for the chaos in society, and Tezpur for that matter.

To understand this better, look at the players we discussed previously. The Yadavs are criminals. They will behave like criminals and will do bad stuff. They are simply playing their role in society.

The foundational element of every society is to counter criminality with laws and law enforcement officials. Thus, if the police play its role and counter the criminals, chaos cannot hold for long.

Yet, here lies the tragedy of Tezpur in Gangaajal. The Yadavs play their role very well as criminals. However, the police don’t play their role to counter the criminals. This creates a dissonance within society and lays the foundations for chaos. The public starts believing that the police is either ineffective or in cahoots with the criminals. While they don’t immediately revolt, they wait for an opening.

This opening comes in the form on Amit Kumar.

How Stoicism and Stoics Counter Chaotic Systems?

As a philosophy, stoicism is simply about enduring pain without complaint. As the SSP of Tezpur, Kumar performs the same function in taking on the Yadavs.

At no point during the film does Kumar call for bravery and honor. For him, taking on the hegemony of the Yadavs is a simple job. Like most stoics, Kumar recognizes the imbalance of societal roles in Tezpur and simply counters the Yadavs. As SSP, he has some amount of power in Tezpur. At every turn, he uses this power to fulfill his role in society.

Thus, little by little, he tries to end the dissonance of Tezpur as a microcosm of society.

Kumar is implacable, like a glacier. He doesn’t have an obvious weakness the Yadavs can exploit. His stoic attitude even inspires other officers in the force. Bacha Yadav joins Kumar in his crusade against the criminal class. Other officers in the force also join in after spending years in service as morally ambivalent participants.

There are many lessons one can learn from Kumar’s rise. It is important to remember the competence of Kumar. He is not just a naïve and idealistic officer. In addition, he is an effective counterweight to the force of the Yadavs. He is not afraid to step outside the law sometimes to make a point. However, he more or less tries to remain within the confines of a social and moral system.

Kumar’s Weakness in Gangaajal

As a player fighting for control over Tezpur, SSP Amit Kumar is by far the most competent. He is neither arrogant and foolhardy like the Yadavs or lazy and lost like the police force.

Yet, Kumar does have a fatal flaw. During the course of his fight against Sadhu and Sundar Yadav, Kumar makes two big mistakes.

Number one, Kumar fails to build an alliance with a powerful force in Tezpur. Despite being an admired figure, he rarely tries to use his social capital to build an alliance with other powerful forces in Tezpur. The police force joins him in his fight, but he never really solidifies their inner moral compass. One obvious thing he could have done was to make the local media a powerful ally to shape the perception of the public.

However, Kumar always prefers to stand alone. If he was a vigilante operating outside the law, this would make sense. However, since Kumar sought justice within the system itself, he should have focused on building powerful alliances.

Number two, Kumar grossly underestimates the anger in the Tezpur public. After seeing their societal structure imbalanced for so long, the public at the end of the film doesn’t want to follow and normal procedure. It wants to smash the system to pieces and mete out street justice to the Yadavs.

These character flaws ultimately prove fatal and push everyone into opposition against Amit Kumar.

Gangaajal – Final Words

Very rarely does a movie approach societal imbalance as Gangaajal does. It is a very effective study of how a society reacts when some institutions don’t play their role as designated.

Gangaajal is available on Hotstar for streaming.

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