Thalaivan – a idol or one to be feared? Does Suniel Shetty’s Dharavi Bank glorify violence?

The seasoned actor believes that it all comes down to individual perception. Co-actor Vivek Oberoi feels that their show strikes a fine balance between the black/grey and white.

Suniel Shetty, Vivek Oberoi at the press conference of Dharavi Bank [2022]

By Mayur Lookhar

Dharavi Bank [2022] – another noir that is set to be unleashed on the digital platform. The show starts streaming on MX Player from 19 November. Yesterday [17 November]., the media was privileged to watch the near hour-long opening episode. It appealed for its visual storytelling, intensity of its characters, the dramatic but not over-the-top introduction of its protagonists. It was disturbing too – courtesy the few violent scenes.

As often with a noir, there comes the usual tension – does it glorify crime?

Suniel Shetty, who plays the larger-than-life Dharavi don Thalaivan, refused to buy into the common criticism.

Suniel Shetty as Thalaivan in Dharavi Bank [2022]

He says, “It is not about glorifying crime. It is about the kind of layering that happens. Black, white and grey. You like to see all these colours. They all blend very beautifully. There are stories to tell. It is not about one individual, but about a family. You’ve seen Narcos [Netflix original], you love it because it is intense. A lot of people don’t belong to that world, and they want to know about it.”

Vivek Oberoi plays the intense cop Jayant Gavaskar who is out to dismantle the world of Thalaivan. He drew the scribe’s attention to the other side.

“I feel in the narrative of Dharavi Bank, the cinema imitates life. We’ve have had characters like Thalaivan before. But why should you see the glorification of crime? You should also see the glorification of the Mumbai police force. Jayant Gavaskar represents that determined man in uniform willing to go to any length, sacrifice anything to achieve that end goal of justice. I think there is balance in the narrative. There is one larger-than-life [Thalaivan] and then there is one guy in the uniform who has just made up his mind.”

Vivek Oberoi as JCP Jayant Gavaskar in Dharavi Bank [2022]

Fine words Vivek but the glorification of crime then gave way to a specific charge of glorification of violence. The first episode sees a man chop a corpse into pieces. Another scribe pointed out while harping on the glorification of violence. There is increasingly a trend of such graphical content, especially on OTTs. Does that impact the society in a big way?

“Somewhere down the line it is not about glorification. If you talk about Dharavi Bank, you’ll see the entire reasoning. For Thalaivan, his family, his people mean a lot to him. Probably what he’s gone through in life, he looks at things from his point of view. There is definitely no glorification. There is balance in everything that has been shown,” asserted Shetty.

Oberoi then smartly turned the tables on the media.

“You are from the news media. We’ve seen over the world that there are people who did violent things, just to be carried by the media. Would you categorise that as glorification of violence? “asked Oberoi

 He enunciates, “It is just a representation of society. You’re doing your job as the media by reporting it. Similarly, we’re trying to bring a mirror to society on the screen. Is there no violence in our society? You can’t sanitise cinema for saying that there should be a moral code. Then that will also apply to the media. You can’t show any crimes on TV. Why are you reporting it?”

Suniel Shetty urged the media to watch the entire ten episodes and then judge whether it glorifies violence or not.

Few minutes later, we asked Shetty how he perceives Thalaivan as a character. Is he a hero or one to be feared?

“He believes he is a messiah, Robinhood,” the seasoned actor said nonchalantly  

“Probably he may have been wronged. At the end of it, he seeks that love and affection from his people, [he wants] them believe to that he is on the right path. He knows what he is controlling, is probably what controls the entire city. It’s difficult for me to tell you, because then there will be lot of revealing,” remarked Shetty.

But can one idolize this character?

“Yes, from the grey and black side of it. But no from the white side of it. It depends upon how you see it. It is a good question but I can’t answer it,” replied the veteran.

One of the lasting images of a slum like Dharavi is how on one side you have the slums, then facing it is the high rises. Those in the sky rises perhaps don’t even look down at the slums. If no society, how does then one achieve a parity in viewing? We asked director Samit Kakkad.

Kakkad slightly disagrees in saying, “Mumbai is a place where the rich and the poor are immediate neighbours. Step out of a high rise, take a left turn and you are likely to see a slum. I have lot of friends, family who stay in high rises in Mumbai. Be it Dharavi, Mahalaxmi recourse, or even London, if the content is good, people will be inclined to watch. We’ve tried to create that. They [rich] may have heard of Thalaivan-like characters. I feel our content is a great mix of class and mass.”

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