As I was stepping out of a screening of MSG: The Messenger of God – as opposed to, you know, MSG: Do You Really Need It In Your Kitchen? – a man who was in the audience came up and asked how I’d liked the movie. I’d have told him the truth, but then telling a total stranger “Are you freakin’ kidding me?” didn’t seem terribly polite. So I said I liked it. He said he was from Haryana, and a disciple of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the film’s hero and, to quote Wikipedia, “social reformer, preacher, spiritual leader and the head of the India-based socio-spiritual organisation Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) since 23 September 1990.” He’d come to Chennai to gauge audience response. He’d already been to a couple of theatres. He was heading to another one after this screening. At three hours per screening, this, I thought, is some disciple. But he said there were others as well, from U.P. They’d rented a bungalow for a week. He sounded simple, sincere. He said the social reforms shown in this film were real, and that someone in his family had married a prostitute. I must admit I hadn’t heard of this guru until the Censor Board controversy erupted, but he seems to be some good things – again from Wikipedia, “cleanliness campaign, blood drives, tree planting, disaster relief, and support for transgender people, tribal communities, orphans, and rehabilitation of sex workers.” Unfortunately, this cannot form the basis of one’s appreciation of MSG as cinema, to which the only logical response can be: bwahahaha.
A major chunk of laughter comes from Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s appearance. It isn’t the way he looks, as such. If anything he looks… normal, a little chubby, unkempt, with fertile skin sprouting hair from every nook. And that’s refreshing these days, when every leading man appears to have spent every waking moment in the gym. Singh, on the other hand, appears to have spent every waking moment raiding Kalpana Iyer’s wardrobe. Fur collars, jackets studded with pearls, sequinned caftans and harem pants – all embellished with jewellery. It’s like peering into a kaleidoscope dusted with Anil Kapoor’s arm hair. That is why we laugh. The plot has to do with people – one of them played by an actress named, I kid you not, Olexandra Semen; she appears in spurts – trying to assassinate Singh with rifles and bombs. You may wonder why they didn’t just lead him to a full-length mirror and induce instant cardiac arrest.
Did I mention that he sings and dances? He’s been blessed, in that department, with Sunny Deol’s genes – only his arms seem capable of movement. And so, in one song, he moves a solitary finger – it looks like he’s either lecturing us or indicating to the crew that he needs to use the facilities. In another song, he keeps tapping his chest and waving goodbye. He fares slightly better in the action scenes. People hurl swords at him – he raises his hand and the weapons turn into rose petals. Then they train machine guns at him – he raises his hand and the bullets become a tiara. It’s like a Mahabharata video game developed by Michael Bay’s dope supplier.
Why did some people want this film banned, given how it – even if only inadvertently – heartens our humdrum lives? Was the objection on artistic grounds? After all, we’ve seen better acting in a Vicco Turmeric commercial. Or was it something more serious? Was it because MSG is a blatant propaganda vehicle, with Singh positioning himself as an avatar? Despite the disclaimer, at the beginning, that “no claim is made of any individual possessing any fabulous power” – but of course; it’s the dresses that are fabulous – we hear a conch shell when the title appears. Later, we are told that God sends his angels to vanquish evil – and lo, here’s one, without wings, but with a beard and rhinestone boots. And with powers. The light emanating from the centre of his forehead reduces villains to a heap. If this isn’t God, it’s at least Rajinikanth. Still, one must acknowledge the work that Singh has put into MSG. Not only has he co-directed it (with Jeetu Arora), he’s either partly or wholly responsible for the action, lyrics, music, cinematography, story, screenplay and dialogue. If nothing else, Hindi cinema finally has its T Rajendar.
- T Rajendar = see here
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