Rejected by the studios. Abandoned by the producers. Resisted by the elite
gatekeepers. After being canned for 5 years, Buddha in A Traffic Jam,
turned out to be a prophetic cult film.
Losing hope to release the film in a hostile industry, Agnihotri decides to
take it on a roadshow, screening it across India’s top 45 universities and °
institutes. Thus begins a journey of resistance, opposition, humiliation,
sabotage, threats and physical attacks. Urban Naxals is the riveting saga
of a filmmaker’s struggle and conviction, the behind -the- scenes story
of the making of the award-winning film.
India’s Naxal "Maoists" are listed among one of the top terror groups in
the world. Earlier considered only active in jungles and remote places,
Agnihotri unmasks the vast urban network, including leftist academia,
media, NGOs and intellectuals, which supports and fuels this terror
starting from his own professor in college days. These are the Urban
Naxals, a topic rarely explored—in film, or in a book.
Vivek is an award-winning filmmaker and writer. An
ex-advertising man, Vivek is a very popular public
speaker on socio-political issues and lectures on
‘Creative Thinking’ and ‘Innovation’ in top global
His prophetic film, ‘Buddha In A Traffic Jam’ dealt
with the theme of Urban Naxalism and exposed the
sinister nexus between the Naxals, Media, NGOs
and academia. The film faced extreme resistance
from the Left and was stuck for five years before
Vivek travelled all across India to show his film,
facing violent attempts to curb his freedom of
speech. Vivek is an avid traveler,
columnist and a social media
influencer. He is married to
national award-winning actor
Pallavi Joshi and has two
I don’t believe in Forewords. A book should stand on its own, speak
for itself. But this book is an exception. A "Bloody Fascist Brahmin"
penned it, who was stopped from screening his film, Buddha in a
Traffic Jam, at Jadavpur University. His car was gheraoed and
damaged. He himself was injured. An angry mob of Leftist students
and activists bayed for his blood.
Why such hatred? Why so much intolerance? What was Vivek
Agnihotri saying or showing in his film which was so dangerous or
destabilising? Why was he such a blatantly marked target of
"intellectual terrorism?" Vivek is right when he says, "In India,
people fight with all their might to kill an idea."
First they nearly stopped him from making his film. Then they
tried to prevent him from screening it. When he took his exquisite
and excruciating creation literally to the streets and to the campuses,
showing it directly to target audiences, again he was heckled and
I thought to myself, whether we love or hate the film, we cannot
allow this in India. In my own university, JNU, another Leftist
bastion, it was blocked by the Dean of the School of Arts &
Aesthetics, in whose auditorium it was originally to be screened.
Instead, the students arranged an outdoor screening, which was
attended by over five thousand. The film had a rousing, almost
delirious reception. When I saw it, I was moved, disturbed, provoked.
It was one of the most original and unusual movies I had
encountered in a long time. A political thriller, with great acting,
music, and a theme of national importance. I loved it. Instantly, I
became one of the "hundred owners" of the film.
What is it, I asked myself, which makes both this book, and the
film whose making it recounts, exceptional?
The answer is simple and obvious. This book is a triple triumph.
It not only tells the story of how this extraordinary film got to be
made, but also how its auteur, Vivek Agnihotri, healed his broken
spirit, snatching victory from the very brink of disaster, despair, and
depression. "This film is making me reinvent myself," he realizes
during the shooting, "Every day. Every moment." In addition, it is a
profound reflection on the condition of India, especially on the
Maoist insurgency that is gnawing at the innards of our democratic
We all fail in our lives. But few of us actually recover to tell the
story. Vivek is one of them.
In fact, as he confesses, Vivek "had failed four times. Like a
manglik girl." In a cut-throat industry, where you're only as good as
the money your last film makes, what is the future of a director who
wants to tell the truth? This is every creative artist’s dilemma. There is,
besides, "a mindset in Bollywood that doesn't let Indic ideas flourish."
When Vivek decides to speak out against the Bollywood
campaign against Narendra Modi in 2014, he finds that he has
overnight become a pariah in his fraternity: "I was discriminated
against by almost all my Bollywood friends, whom I used to hang
around with because, like them, I also believed in a certain ideology
but found it fake and alienated from reality, and elitist." ‘Irying to
make Buddha in a Traffic Jam only makes it worse. But Vivek
succeeds in breaking the Bollywood’s dominant code.
How does he do that? He discovers that "Within each of us,
there is a seeker who is hungry for knowledge and wisdom. After
working in the film industry for over six years, this is the first time
I can feel this seeker."
Right in the midst of the near-impossible ordeal of trying to
make an off-beat, politically incorrect feature film on a ridiculously
low budget of 2 crores in an industry where a single star for a single
movie may demand and get upwards of 50 crores, Vivek has an
epiphany. "Can I, as a filmmaker," he asks himself, "tell the truth?"
Then he answers the question with utter and unequivocal conviction:
"My answer is clear. Yes."
It is a tremendous realisation; Vivek has found his purpose. As
he strives to articulate it, he understands:
People seek the truth. In media. In art. In cinema. Since nobody
tells the truth, and it is acceptable, we succumb to the apparent
emotional needs of an audience like feeling happy or feeling sad; the
truth remains the least priority for the artists of Bollywood.
It is this truth of a filmmaker and human being that this book
chronicles for the world. A truth that we Indians must pay special
heed to. For what is India, what is Sanatana Dharma, itself if not for
truth? Satyameva Jayate Naanritam. This Rg Vedic injunction and
prophecy could well be the theme of the book.
But in addition to the record of making a film, which is also the
tale of his own reawakening, this book also tells the story of India.
The story of India which, in a sense, is our own story — the story of
each one of us. This is the story we all live through.
As Vivek puts it, "Everyone in India has a story for their failures,
stagnation or decay." We know, as Vivek reminds us, that our
country is so "full of problems." Imagine what would happen "If we
solve even a fraction of our problems." We would, he says, "become
a solution-rich country." A book like this inspires us to be "problem
solvers, instead of being buck-passers."
Urban Naxal is packed with analyses, reflections, and solutions.
It is a thinking woman's and man’s book. It is also brimming with
compassion, consideration, and passionate concern for our poor,
"suffering, conflicted, mediocre India." How to turn our society
from its addiction to mediocrity to a land of hope and possibilities?
This is also one of the themes of the book.
As Vivek puts it, "After poverty, inefficiency is the second
biggest curse of Indian society." In addition, there is corruption.
Unrelenting. Endemic. As Suresh, one of his producers puts it
pensively, "Forget Naxal areas, even in cities it’s not easy. It's very
difficult to do business in India. We have become an extortionist
country." From being broke, "Financially. Emotionally. Mentally,"
from the point "where most people give up,’ Vivek overcomes
impossible odds to make his film.
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