A NEW FILM has brought mayhem to India's cinemas. One of Banyan's colleagues watched it in the southern city of Chennai and could barely hear the dialogue for all the hooting, whistling and dancing in the aisles. 

Outside the hall, fans poured milk over giant cutouts of its lead actor. In Mumbai they arrived with brass bands and banners. Shows start as early as 7.30 am and as late as 11.55 pm. It's a non-stop party.

The film in question is ''Jawan'' [ ''Soldier'' ], which came out on September 7th and raked in 2.87 billion rupees [ $ 34.6 million ] on its first weekend, breaking records for India's highest-grossing opening. Its secret?

It married the financial firepower and appeal of Bollywood, as the Hindi language film industry based in Mumbai is known,  ith the storytelling nous and stylised action of Tamil -language film industry in Chennai.

This alchemy has united the movie going public.

India's north and south are divided along economic and political lines : the south is richer and more stable, while much of the north remains poor and ridden with caste and religious conflict.

The divisions that elicit the greatest passion revolve around social issues. The five states that make up the south are culturally distinct.

Their Dravidian languages are of a different family from the Indo-European ones in the north. Their lingua Franca is English, not Hindi. At mealtimes their plates are piled high with rice rather than roti.

Vegetarianism is rare. The south has long resisted assimilation by northern rulers.

''Jawan'' is a good example. Its lead actor Shah Rukh Khan [ popularly known as SRK], is India's biggest star and loved across the country.

It is also nakedly political. '' Jawan delves into some of the most urgent issues facing India today, including distressed farmers, inadequate public health-care, environmental degradation and crony capitalism.

There are references to recent news stories, from oxygen shortages in public hospitals to massive loan waivers given by state banks to influential businesses.

The film's most famous line. '' Before you lay a finger on the son, speak with the father," alludes to the arrest without bail of SRK's own son on trumped-up drug charges two years ago.

Towards the end of the film, SRK [or, nominally his character] delivers an impassioned, three minute monologue directly into the camera, asking citizens to use their votes in upcoming elections to demand better public services from a government that has been in power for a decade.

VOTE for Education, Health and Jobs, he says, not on the basis of religion, cast or fear. In a country divided not just along lines of north and south but also on religion and politics, this makes the film's pan-Indian success all the more remarkable.

Or as the HINDU, a national daily put it, '' One nation, one emotion, one Shah Rukh Khan''.

The World Students Society thanks Banyan, The Economist.


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