With the Ganpati aarti in Sarkar 3, Ram Gopal Varma has turned to the tradition of using Ganesh visarjan as the backdrop for a film's climactic moment. From Amitabh Bachchan's Agneepath (1990) to the Hrithik Roshan remake of the same name, the elephant god has done more than bless heroes. He has presided over their Godfather moment.
Why the Ganesh aarti marks Hindi cinema's Godfather moment
Mumbai - 04 May 2017 9:00 IST
Updated : 23:54 IST
In the crowded Hindu pantheon of gods, about 33 crore of them, Ganesh holds a special place. The elephant-headed deity is the remover of obstacles to success in life. He is the 'delete' button to any hurdle. It was no coincidence that freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak found him the perfect symbol to begin a movement against British rule. It was Tilak's decision to hold community celebration of Ganeshotsav that started what is now a popular celebration.
But it is not just political obstacles that the god has succeeded in eliminating. Without his festival, a number of scriptwriters in Hindi cinema would have struggled.
In what has become a tradition in Hindi cinema, the Ganesh visarjan sequence often arrives at an ominous time in the plot. It is the moment of extreme danger for the protagonist, and marks the beginning of battle. Quite appropriate, in some ways, as Ganesh is the god to be worshipped before the beginning of a climactic battle. From Hum Se Badhkar Kaun (1981) to Agneepath (1990) and Sarkar 3 (2017), the visarjan, or immersion, has become the moment when good meets evil head-on.
To be fair, it was not always Ganesh on whom this responsibility fell. Songs have often preceded climactic moments in films. Take the iconic 'Shirdiwale Sai Baba' from Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), where the saint Sai Baba presided over a 'deus ex machina' in the plot.
This slowly changed in the early 1980s with films like Hum Se Badhkar Kaun. One of the earliest films to tap into the frenzy that was the Ganesh visarjan, it had Raam Laxman compose a brilliant track that went on to become a mandatory addition to Ganesh mandals across Mumbai.
The song also set the template that Hindi cinema has followed religiously. The song, though celebratory in its ambience, had the hero (Mithun Chakraborty) and friends (Amjad Khan, Danny Denzongpa) taking part in the celebrations, aware of the lurking villainy waiting to arrive on the scene. Soon this style became a common element in films, Dard Ka Rishta (1982) and Marte Dum Tak (1987) being prominent examples.
The most memorable usage of this festival emerged in the 1990s. In Agneepath (1990), the crowded Ganesh visarjan sequence is the culmination of Vijay Chauhan's determined walk towards Kancha Cheena's evil empire. It is during the immersion that the pitched battle of the climax begins. Though Mukul Anand's film was a direct take-off on Scarface (1983), the song reflected the Godfather moment for Bachchan's character.
To call the Ganesh visarjan Indian cinema's Godfather moment is only apt. One of the most iconic films in world cinema, The Godfather (1972) shocked audiences with its use of religious symbolism as a contrast to its violence. The baptism of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) as his nephew's godfather is also the moment he chooses to eliminate all rivals to his throne. The scene repeats itself in the sequel, The Godfather 2 (1974), with Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) this time.
Francis Ford Coppola's use of 'god' as a metaphor for his anti-heroes finds repetition in his Indian proteges like Mahesh Manjrekar and, famously, Ram Gopal Varma. Varma's Satya (1998) shares many similarities with Coppola's masterclass, including the assasination during the visarjan.
Manjrekar's Vaastav (1999) connects the elephant-headed god with a gangster again, except this time praying does not help. The Ganesh aarti concludes with the beginning of the downfall of Raghu (Sanjay Dutt), leading to his eventual death.
It is not that Ganesh has always preceded death and destruction in cinema. The deity has also overseen some joyous occasions. In Don (2006), the Remover of Obstacles marks the entrance of the protagonist, Shah Rukh Khan.
He does the same for the other Khan, Salman, in Wanted (2009). Throw in a dance performance by Prabhu Deva, and it is a mandal worth visiting.
Over the past decade, the Ganesh aarti has become a frequent presence in films. In addition to the boost it can give to the soundtrack, the festival allows for larger-than-life depictions, stunning choreography, and marquee entrances of the lead artistes. It has even transcended the boundaries of Hindi cinema to feature regularly in Tamil and Telugu films. Ajith, in his upcoming Vedhalam, is set to perform to a Ganesh festival song.
Back in Mumbai, Varma has released the 'Ganpati Aarti' in Amitabh Bachchan's voice in his film, Sarkar 3. The Sarkar franchise borrows several idioms from Coppola's Godfather franchise. In Sarkar 3, Bachchan's baritone delivers the aarti that precedes the iconic moment where he chooses to remove his obstacles. This is his 'Godfather' moment. Few know it better than Bachchan.