The Bonfire of The Vanities

The Bonfire of The Vanities is a film from the 90s based on a novel by the same name by Tom Wolfe. The plot of the film in essence is a satirical portrayal of a white protagonist’s (Tom Hanks) journey after being wrongly accused in a hit and run case, and how he gets caught in web of politics, racism & greedy pursuit of power.

Two particular characters stand out, one of the District Attorney (Murray Abraham) who  wants to prove that he is not against minorities and in the process willing to sacrifice an innocent white in order to win his re-election bid and second is that of a Reverend who while seeking to represent the minorities actually indulges in race baiting. Morgan Freeman as the judge leaves an indelible impression on the viewers.

More can be read about this movie here:


If you have not watched it, I strongly urge you to do so. Even though the movie was panned by the critics at the time of its release and was a commercial failure, it has over the time got the recognition it should have when it was first released.  Directed by Brian De Palma, it remains a film that has stayed with me over the years and more so in the recent past when I came across minority appeasement and the blatant display of selective outrage that our regressive and opportunistic media, intellectuals and politicians indulge in regularly.

The recent and unfortunate suicide of a student in HCU has all the trapping of “The Bonfire of The Vanities”. The hurry to label his caste, political visits of national politicians who otherwise keep quiet when Hindus are attacked, or army officers are martyred protecting our nation; when politicians from other states whose states are burning in communal induced violence stopping by Hyderabad instead of going to their own; when a callous CM of a state who himself a passive witness to an unfortunate suicide engaging in rants not befitting his position; when journalists tweeting in glee and drawing illogical conclusions, activists making untruthful assertions – we are seeing it all. We had earlier seen it in Dadri; we are seeing it again in HCU.

Vain vultures are feeding on a dead body. Each one of them with an angle. Something to achieve. Somebody to get back at. Some votes to garner. Some communities to pander to. The Hollywood version of the movie may not have made any money, but be sure that the Indian version of this reality show, that is currently playing out is not only making  money for the media in terms of TRPs but strengthening the positions of the power hungry & unscrupulous politicians as they pander to their vote banks. The regressive intellectuals are gleefully falsifying the narrative to suit their prejudices and collecting their retainers from the foreign media with yet another biased Op-Ed.

Of course, missing this discourse is decency. The media and politicians have viewed such episodes always through the caste-lens.The alacrity with which he was labelled, campus speeches, the need to clarify his correct caste by flashing his certificate, the intrusive questioning of the bereaved members of his family about his caste, all this has taken such an ugly and indecent turn making a normal person wonder:how did we ever reach such a nadir in our narrative?

Coming back to the movie, Morgan Freeman as the judge gives a speech that till date resonates with me and something I go back to whenever I see an indian version of “The Bonfire of The Vanities” playing out.

Here is the clip, I watched again this morning:

Politicians are a different class altogether. Something about the nature of that class that we as citizens have stopped expecting any change in their character. They breed cynicism in us. We do not expect to see them change in our life time. But surely one can hope for our intellectuals to stop being biased against the majority community, start being objective and react equally to all incidents in spite of the caste or religion of the victims?  This HCU incident coming just two weeks after the Malda incident has highlighted the deafening silence of our public intellectuals to incidents which do not suit their narrative and the selective outrage they indulge in those that do suit their agenda. They have suddenly rediscovered their voices and back to their high pitch rants – without establishing the facts, without waiting for the truth, without waiting for the bereavement to be over. All because there is an angle they can exploit.

Can we become decent again ? We all can have different ideologies. Different view points. But surely we can indulge in debate and engage with each other with decency? Without having an angle for everything? Is there any hope? Simply for the sake of being decent ?





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