Bhalan dada, dada re, bhalan dada
(Oh brother, come on, come on, wake up!)
His words reverberate. The crowd thickens. This could well have been a scene from Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court. In the film, which won the National Award for Best Film this year, another lokshahir Narayan Kamble walks up to the makeshift stage in the middle of a slum. But it isn’t the setting alone. Kamble’s character is heavily inspired by Bhagat, who also composed, wrote and recorded the powada in the film.
In court, Nagpur-based Vira Sathidar plays Kamble, a lokshahir thrown into prison on a rather unexpected charge: his songs, say the police, drove a sanitation worker into committing suicide. As the judicial system closes in on Kamble, through a long-drawn Kafkaesque process, the film looks at the prejudices that leach into the process of law and how the state and its machinery work against the marginalised. It does this through the story of Kamble’s predicament as well as that of a man we never see on screen: the sanitation worker, who drinks himself senseless every time he needs to plunge into a putrid sewer without any protective equipment.
Par inko vote naa dena re bhai!
(Do accept the notes from them/But don’t give them your vote)
Koi Asaram ke bhakt hain bhai…
While Bhagat knows the pulse of his audience, it’s been years since he delivered an impromptu performance in a slum. He marched into the Pune slum today when volunteers told him that few have turned up from Gandhinagar. By the time Bhagat is halfway through the powada, the amused smiles have been replaced by nods of agreement. But just as the people begin to warm up to the presence of this lokshahir in their midst, he chooses to walk away. The curious ones are informed that Bhagat’s performance at the nearby ground will soon begin.