Vivek Agnihotri’s Buddha in a Traffic Jam severely lacks artistic merit, but it will forever be entrenched in memory as one of the zeitgeist films of the Modi era.
Though the film was completed in 2012, it was never actually released in theatres. But the protests at educational institutions such as Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University and Kolkata’s Jadavpur University have offered Agnihotri the perfect opportunity to reheat his rather-insipid product.
An advertising filmmaker who has previously made the deeply ordinary Chocolate and Goal, Vivek Agnihotri has been working hard to package his narrative as a polemical tract about India’s present and future. He has also done his bit to contribute to the troubles at Jadavpur and other campuses: he has gone out of his way to claim that his film is “controversial” and then, when screenings at colleges have faced protests, has screamed himself hoarse about the attacks on his freedom of expression.
A girl (Anchal Dwivedi), who has clearly been instructed to act like a vamp (but with a heart of gold), is now drunk and starts talking about the concept of souls in human beings and animals. After proclaiming that her ‘spirit animal’ is a ‘bitch’, she proceeds to sing a song called ‘I’m A Bitch’, during which she climbs up on the bar top and strips down to her bra. Meanwhile, everyone around her, instead of looking at her funnily, sings along with her like they’re all having a moment and she’s their messiah.
The characters played by Mahie Gill and Anupam Kher (who has like Agnihotri, reinvented himself in real life as an ultra-nationalist) are meant to serve as warnings that, when we weren’t looking, leftists invaded the campuses and the non-profit sector. The scene in which Vikram dreams that he is surrounded by zombie-like waves of leftists is truly special. “Anybody can be a Naxal,” he says. “Are you a Naxal?”