‘Destroy all traces of red!’ Why ‘Hun Hunshi Hunshilal’ still matters (Scroll)
thanks to Agyaat
Sanjiv Shah’s 1992 Gujarati satire feels strikingly prescient of the current situation
“When Jeb Bush recently tweeted a picture of a gun with his name engraved on it captioned “America,” it spawned a flurry of sarcastic tweets in which the caption was used with images from films. One included an iconic image from Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, an anarchic rejection of the American society of the 1970s; another was a poster for the acerbic Pain & Gain, in which Michael Bay critiques his own brand of indulgence.
The concept of encapsulating the idea of an entire country in one single image, or even in one single movie, feels like trying to bite off more than one can chew. Two Indian films made four years apart come close, Kamal Swaroop’s Om Dar-Ba-Dar (1988) and Sanjiv Shah’s 1992 Gujarati musical satire Hun Hunshi Hunshilal (English title: Love in the Time of Malaria). Both employ deliberately outlandish narratives with freewheeling structures to paint a comprehensive portrait of India in all its oddity and multiplicity. The most striking thing about Hun Hunshi Hunshilal is how contemporary it feels by today’s standards, almost as it was prescient of the current political scenario.
Hun Hunshi Hunshilal transposes a folklore-like tale to the India of the ’90s, set in the mythical kingdom of Khojpuri ruled by King Bhadrabhoop II (Mohan Gokhale). His sovereignty is threatened by the growing menace of the mosquitoes, a metaphor for the marginalised communities that is as idiosyncratic as it is on-the-nose. In his speeches in which passages about the importance of the youth abound, the King alludes to “the land of the sacred river being polluted by the immoral influence of the mosquitoes”. A roadside barber tells the protagonist Hunshilal (Dilip Joshi) that contrary to the news, the red creatures aren’t so bad after all.”