Chakravyuh: A Flawed but Relevant Film on the Maoist Revolution in India

I was able to watch the film Chakravyuh, but minus the subtitles. Without the dialogue, I did not understand the minute details and nuances. But the scenes and the action were enough to give you an idea of what it is all about in general. I have to give the people behind the film the credit for the attempt at portraying one of the most important revolutionary movements in the world today, the Indian Maoists. More popularly known by the name Naxalites from the town Naxalbari in West Bengal where the first Maoist-inspired peasant revolt flared up in1967, they have been declared by the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the single most serious internal threat to national security.

Applying Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to the concrete conditions of the Indian social condition, they contend that the Indian people has no choice but to wage a new democratic revolution with the strategic line of protracted people’s war. This is in response to the semi-colonial and semi-feudal character of Indian society, which is ruled over by several imperialist powers through the conduit of the big comprador, landlord and bureaucrat capitalist classes. Because the ruling 1 percent use repressive violence to preserve their wealth and power, the masses must wield revolutionary violence against them.

There are over 30 groups that have been waging people’s war in various parts of India. In 2004, two of the largest Maoist groups, the Maoist Communist Centre of India and the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) [People’s War Group] merged to become the CPI (Maoist). They are said to be active in over 200 districts in ten states of India. Called the “red corridor,” this region in the east of India with significant Maoist presence includes parts of the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal.

Unlike most other stories where the socio-historical element simply occupies the backdrop to the main family drama, romance, or personal vendetta, in Chakravyuh social reality is directly intertwined to the focal narrative of its protagonists.

In broad strokes, the plot centers on the friendship of Adil and Kabir. Adil is a police officer assigned to an outlying province where the Maoists are active. He launches search and destroy operations against the revolutionaries but ends up getting ambushed and almost dead. Then Kabir comes and promises to help Adil by infiltrating the Maoists for intelligence. He gets the trust and confidence of the revolutionaries, but just as he was already succeeding, reaching the top hierarchy of the movement, he gets a change of heart.

The brutality of the Indian state against the peasants and avidasis, who are forcibly displaced from their homes to make way for large-scale mines and export processing zones of foreign corporations, leads him to decide to fully embrace the revolution. The film concludes with a dramatic confrontation between Adil and Kabir and ends with a note on the continuing armed struggle of the Indian Maoists.

The usual melodrama, as expressed in the typical Cain versus Abel best friend fights best friend plot, in this mainstream Indian film is expected. But the twist in Chakravyuh is its providing the perfect example of class love trumping over personal friendship for in the end Kabir chose to serve the masses rather than be subservient to a friend who is a tool of the class enemies.

But despite the stark presentation of Indian realities, from the viciousness of the fighting, the plight of the adivasis and the rural poor, the doing of government officials and the police forces of the bidding of big business, and so on, there are significant misconceptions of the internal dynamics and organizational principles of the Indian Maoists that seriously hamper the film’s realism.

We see this in the way, for example, the Naxalites immediately recruited Kabir to their group, without adequate background check. This disregards the discipline of revolutionary groups that throughout history have been particularly strict about letting in undesirable elements. But strictly following real life would have made the film’s story in its present form simply untenable. A more realistic version would have been to make Kabir a radical from the very beginning. Then again, that would pose the problem of why would a revolutionary cooperate with the police chief, even if he were his childhood best friend?

Anyhow, it is interesting to note how reactionary governments have always used this method of infiltration to try to sow confusion and defeat revolutionaries. One amusing case for example is that of Roman Malinkovsky who joined Lenin’s inner circle and represented the Bolsheviks in the Duma while at the same time receiving pay checks from the Czar as a government spy.

Another problem in the film is its sensational depiction of revolutionary violence. An informer captured by the guerrillas has his ear cut off before being chopped off with an axe. A Maoist official who is caught pilfering the movement’s finances is executed by firing squad using excessive rounds of AK-47 fire. Excesses are bound to happen in any revolutionary mass movement whose constituents have been the victims of centuries of accumulated structural violence. But revolutionaries are also bound by rules of conduct in their waging of armed struggle, and this is expressed in the following of the rules of war and international humanitarian law and respect for human rights.

This is a given in a just war waged for the oppressed and downtrodden masses as is reflected in Mao’s Three Main Rules of Discipline and Eight Points of Attention which govern the bearing of revolutionary soldiers. The Three Main Rules of Discipline are as follows: “(1) Obey orders in all your actions.(2) Don’t take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses. (3) Turn in everything captured.” The Eight Points for Attention are as follows: “(1) Speak politely. (2) Pay fairly for what you buy. (3) Return everything you borrow. (4) Pay for anything you damage. (5) Don’t hit or swear at people. (6) Don’t damage crops. (7) Don’t take liberties with women. (8) Don’t ill-treat captives.”

One more amusing part appears near the end when police suddenly appeared in a village where Juhi and her comrades were hiding. When the police started to take the children hostage, Juhi surrendered herself to them in exchange for the children’s freedom. Even more comical is Kabir’s reaction when he learned of Juhi’s arrest, running madly across forests from the village to the police station and single-handedly killing the police guards and freeing her. What is so ludicrous in these scenes is the individualist solution shown by revolutionaries steeled in the guerrilla struggle. Mao’s injunction against unnecessary sacrifices, exhortation for militant collective solution to people’s problems, and the strategy of letting a stronger enemy force punch into thin air (retreating as the enemy advances and harassing them when they rest) are forgotten.

Nevertheless, all in all, Chakravyuh is a very good film. I wonder why Filipino mainstream or indie film makers can’t produce something similar with the Communist Party of the Philippines-led revolutionary armed struggle as the primary context? While there are Filipino films that touch on the matter, they either focus on legal mass struggles (Sister Stella L), human rights abuses (Orapronobis, Dukot), or the Martial Law experience (Dekada 70, Ka Oryang, Sigwa). Being a Bollywood film, Chakravyuh has the added come on of having all those singing and dancing. It’s refreshing to see a Maoist propaganda team, complete with a hammer and sickle flag, going among the masses and explaining the revolution to them with all the festive dancing and singing.

Chakravyuh also refers to a defensive military formation in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Shaped like a blooming lotus when viewed from the air, the formation aims to lure attackers into penetrating inside where they find it difficult to break out. Like the military formation from which the film is named after, this is a conflict that no social force in India can escape. Despite the film creator’s limited knowledge of the Maoist movement and need to play along with mainstream sensibilities hampering the film’s realism, it ultimately succeeds in portraying the glaring injustices and inequality of Indian society that necessitates the waging of armed revolution.


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