Marathi flick ‘Dharmaveer’ puts spotlight on Eknath Shinde’s rising say in Shiv Sena politics

After days of political turmoil, the dust has finally settled in Maharashtra. Rebel leader Eknath Shinde was sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Maharashtra on 30 June 2022, deposing Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray. The political drama scene continued to shift from Guwahati to Vadodara to Goa and finally Mumbai. Shinde, a ‘Shivsainik’ of Thane, who rose through the ranks under his mentor ‘Anand Dighe’ finally seized the seat of power with the support of the BJP and 50 rebel MLAs who jumped in with him.

But what surprised everyone was the starring role of Eknath Shinde in the Marathi film Dharmaveer: Mukkam Post Thane released in May which is more than autobiographical about the late Shiv Sena leader Anand Dighe who dedicated his life for the welfare of the Thane people. Two months after its release, the film is in the spotlight in the wake of the escalating political chart of Shiv Sena’s influential leader Eknath Shinde, who was a trusted lieutenant of Dighe.

As questions about Eknath Shinde’s past grow, so do discussions about his mentor Dighe, the “Dharmaveer” in the Marathi movie.

A bearded messiah, brother to thousands of women in Thane, listening to the pleas of the neglected, settling family disputes, signing work recommendations for people, punishing corrupt people, slandering fools, and protector of Thane’s “Marathi Manos”, Anand Degi shines as an eccentric, determined but people-loving leader.

Prasad Oak plays the titular role in “Dharmaveer”, produced by Mangesh Desai and directed by Praveen Tarde. The film depicts the life of Anand Dighe, Sena’s strongman in Thane and one of Balasaheb’s close aides.

In what may seem like an ode to the true spirit of ‘Shivsainik’, the film delves into tracing Dighe’s journey from the righteous Shivsainik in Thane (when Shiv Sena didn’t even have seats at the Thane Municipal Corporation) to running a parallel court in Tembhe as the ‘jyancha Sarkar tyanchach mhashi police’ rakhnar” (“the police were under the control of those in power”).

Anand Dighe is the main focus of the film, as well as its followers, especially Shinde.

By connecting Shinde with all the ideals represented by his mentor Dighe, the film introduces viewers to the legacy of the “Shivsainiks” and their struggles, while at the same time not indulging in self-glorification. It attempts to generate sympathy and respect for all soldiers of the Shiv Sena movement (especially Shinde), thus paving the way for the actual events that unfolded.

No one can miss the crisp orange shivsina plastered across nearly every frame in the movie and the tiger roaring periodically. Dialogues like ‘Jyachya angala marathi maaticha vaas, to shivsainik (the one who holds the essence of our Marathi soil, is a true Shivsainik)’ lead to the point that Dighe and Shiv Sena represent the Marathi middle class. The film zooms into the interior of Palghar as Dighe assists the Adivasi while planting the Sena flag before each house, and opens party regional offices (shakhas) in prominent Brahmin communities after helping residents. Detailing Dighe’s efforts to promote the party and help “everyone” to fight for their rights and achieve justice.

The film celebrates the teacher-disciple relationship between party founder Balasaheb Thackeray and Dighe, often accompanied by images of Krishna and Arjuna. In a clear and precise way to prove that Dighe and his assistant Shinde are supposed to be closest to Balasaheb and Shiv Sena, images of Krishna (Balasaheb) are woven to guide Arjuna (Dighe) who cleverly executes his commands into the story.

Shinde is the real “Shivsainik” who can take on important positions only because of the “teachings imparted by his teacher”. Eknath Shinde was introduced as he beat the Dighe dance bar owners in Mumbai and is present in almost every frame of the movie – from working in Shiv Sena’s office to washing Dighe’s feet on Guru Purnima. However, the film takes a slight turn to show the tragedy in Shinde’s life as he lost two children in an accident, and how Dighe helps him recover from the loss. It highlights Dighe’s strong support for Shinde in the event of his own personal tragedies.

Interestingly, apart from Balasaheb Thackeray, no other member of the family appears so prominently, except for a scene near the end when Dighe is seen recovering in the hospital after an accident and Raj Thackeray comes to visit him. Raj wishes Dighe a speedy recovery as he is the “past, present and future” of the Hindutva faith, which the party upholds, while Uddhav Thackeray marks an entry at the end of the film when Dighe has already passed away.

Dighe can be seen fighting for the Hindus and asking them to unite if they want to survive. Very cleverly in one of the last scenes, the director painted a “secular” color on Dighe, which would help “good” Muslims, explaining that he hates religion only jihadists.

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