Newton’s third law states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Going by this law the worldwide unchallenged spread of neoliberal globalization should have by now had an equal and opposite force standing up against it. Unfortunately this has not been the case. The reason why the middle class has failed to come up with a consistent critique of neoliberalism is because the intelligentsia has been badly co-opted into its projects. The film Tum Milo To Sahi is a successful attempt at bringing about a consistent critique to the neoliberal project. It is tightly scripted and deftly edited so that apparently unconnected events and characters are seen to be interwoven into a web of relationships that are sometimes also logically tied up. The film has three sub plots and weaving them together is the story of one of man’s worst lies, namely development through the unbridled forces of the market.
The film tells us of heritage cafes being taken over for coffee chains, custards with raspberry sauces being replaced by muffins and trouffles, and what is even more, private greed being pushed over and above a vast web of human relationships, emotional bonds and social networks, all of which constitute the basic identity of the middle class civil society. The heritage café emerges as the grand tree of Avatar, and the discourse of greedy and mindless profiteers tearing through societies is presented with remarkable punch. What is scary is that in case of this film, the greedy capital does not attack some fictive tribe in a faraway planet in another solar system, or a hoary lost tribe in the thick Dantewada jungles, but our own middle class society that has led the Indian Freedom Movement and in whose image the Indian Constitution emerges as a guarantor of liberty for the world’s largest democracy. It is this middle class that is under the shadow of the global capital, its own members write the script of its own death and destruction.
The middle class is thus destroyed by none other than the middle class itself, by a small set of individuals, who are fallen not with anomie but infused with values of achievement and performance. The CEOs are bought through home loans and the images of homes that are sold are bought with moneys that require the heads of companies to remain slaves of the owners. The middle class that emerged as controllers of capital and who in the aftermath of the Wars had been more powerful than the owners because of their superior knowledge and skills, today find themselves again as mere prefects of capitalists, blindly following them without soul and in bad faith. Loans are at the core of such soul selling and indebtedness is created not by opium or alcohol but by selling ideas of ideal living, namely posh cars, four bedroom apartments and ofcourse café latte. Debt is the chief means for the circulation of the neoliberal capital.
The middle class who cannot be co-opted through loans are first offered bribe and then diminished through dismissals, life threats, court cases and even plain indifference and non-cooperation. The government is bribed through and every letter of the law can be twisted with money that corporates use to burn, pillage, maraude and rape the society which they purportedly call them as their consumers or customers. But middle class resistance is low; they fall to money baits because in the neo-liberal framework of shameless inequality, unknown to themselves, middle class fall in the ladder of relative income because a microscopic minority earns huge incomes pushing prices of essentials into a high inflation zone. Hence savings deplete, old age pensions dwindle in terms of purchasing power, old houses are sold, heritage sites are demolished, and cities lose their memories and the civil society its continuity. In this hugely apolitical and ahistorical times as ours, the film does well to locate its stories in the city of Mumbai plagued by nativism on the one hand and heritage issues on the other, both in their own way trying to stop the onslaught of money that is imposed on the city and inorganic to its life.
The heroes and villains of the story are well laid out; the old typist thorough in his work yet who remains in the background is the hero over the suave and clever younger boss; the simple north Indian who is taking a detour from his military career into mass communication in order to understand his society better is the hero while his father who can only look at the army as an independent constituency is the bad one; the heir apparent to a large property is the villain while the kindly and matronly unwed mother of a young NRI is the hero; the woman who pines for an emotional stability of the home and yearns for a simple respectable life is the hero over her husband who is competitive and ambitious. The rock star who sings for his career and sells his soul to the corporate sponsors is the villain while the child who crashes out because he still has love for a father who does everything to destroy the child’s world is the hero. These oppositions clearly resolve into a coherent thesis – society is based upon cooperation and not competition, on compromise and not achievement, on continuity and not contingency, on compassion and not aggression.
Tum Milo To Sahi is a film in which every bit of the montage has a significance for the frames to follow and the narrative logic. For instance when the wife waits for her husband to return the latter’s mobile rings on a vibration mode indicating that he has left his phone at home because he is in a place in which he does not wish to be contacted. The vibration mode means that he had just been out from his office where mobiles are usually kept this way and headed straight for this place where he would not wish to be seen. The CEO orders for salad at a restaurant indicate the life style of high flying executives who are conscious of their frames and demeanour. His agitation with his son’s reading habit tells us that cultivation of intellectual faculties is no longer a value with the middle classes and surely the way professors and scientists are now being taken into police custody for questioning, it is true that there is a scare for liberal education in the country. Every inch of the frames in the film oozes with symbols, icons and meanings that must be read over and over in order to get a clearer idea of what neo-liberalism is doing to the middle class as social beings.
The film does not fail to note that change must come and in directions in which we would have improved relationships. This is why, elderly men and women can just be friends without the sexual and love angle, there can be a freer public space in which the young and the old can mingle equally without having to attach a affinal category such as uncle or aunty; road rage can be turned into amity and adversaries can be long lasting friends. Society should enhance mechanisms of cooperation, either through a freer mixing among the sexes and/or through relationships without the hierarchy of age. Change is imminent but in which direction? The film asks and answers, any change which increases human interaction is good but any change that creates inequalities, exclusions, dispossessions and appropriations must be resisted and if possible reverted and thus morally puncturing the halo of the unquestionable authority of free markets.