It is stories like “Bangarang” that make us realize that across countries and continents, power and privilege can similarly bring out the worst in people. As a non-Kenyan, it took us a while to understand the conflicts that were being shown in the movie “Bangarang.” But once we did, the way we could relate to that was frightening for us. From the perspective of an Indian citizen, we recognized the partition between the people based on the communities they belong to, and the pride and a false sense of security derived from one of their own community members holding a seat of power.
A huge chunk of Indian politics is caste and religion-based, and when Diana’s brother was laughing with satisfaction at the oppressed communities being subjected to police brutality, we remembered similar scenes that happened in our homes when the news channels turned on. The Luo and Njori communities have been rioting since a member of the Njori was elected. One community is bloated with pride at this achievement, despite the questions of the other as to what benefit they have actually derived from such an election. There is no answer to this except faith that the elected representatives will look out for their own. It was established that there was no tangible benefit, but in a place where only a select few get any rights, they are counted as advantages in whatever way they can be.
The movie is primarily based on Otile, a member of the Luo community. He has a degree in automotive engineering, yet he has been jobless ever since he graduated. His girlfriend is Njori, and she found employment soon after. Her privilege has always been a sore spot in their relationship. She asks him not to make it about their communities, but that is a barrier that Otile finds difficult to cross because of its real-world consequences. His father was shot down right in front of his eyes, and he also lost all his friends that night, the ones he had grown up with, simply because of the suddenly highlighted communal differences. He could not get a proper job or have a proper lifestyle because of where he was from. Background plays into a relationship, and only those with privilege can pretend that it does not exist. But this scene also tells us that sexism will still find its place in class and communal oppression. Otile makes an off-handed remark about not being “domesticated like a woman or a chicken.” Gender disadvantages will never get a pass.
What can we say except that people are mixed bags? They can fight passionately for class equality but never realize that they are treating the women around them as something less than them. Either way, Otile has the good sense to recognize that violence is not the solution to their problems. When a police jeep is stuck in their area, and the residents try to attack the officer inside, Otile protects the man and tells the people to help him instead. He has a point when he says that other than temporarily relieving their anger, it would serve no other purpose, and neither would it solve their problems. He also protects Diana’s brother from the wrath of his community’s members when they collectively attack him. It is these relentless good deeds that pay off for him in the end.
Despite the issues that the movie deals with, there are surprising moments of humor. For example, when Dan’s colleagues ask him to stay back in the office because it is too dangerous outside, he refuses because he has to take milk for his newborn son. His colleague jokes that this is the problem with having only one child. The humor is as dark as it gets. But then again, there is no better-coping mechanism than that. Another scene that was equal parts funny and tragic was when the reporters were interviewing the Chief of police. His flippant answers, refusal to take responsibility, and obvious deflection were as absurd as they were relatable. We have seen such policemen on TV, and what they say has also been parroted by people closer to home. We wonder what causes such a suspension of logic in people, and the answer is quite clear: power. This is the same power that caused the constables to be so reckless that they ended up hurting a 6-month-old baby. They were chasing Otile when he stepped outside during a curfew. He had hidden in Dan’s house by accident. The police found him, and they assumed that Dan had something to do with Otile.
Otile escaped with the help of an officer, Charles, but they kept beating Dan. When his wife tried to intervene, they accidentally hit the baby. We have to ask here: what made the officers act so brutally? In a previous scene, we could see them taking money from people on the bikes as a bribe, making use of their authority. This was the same authority that gave them the arrogance that they could do whatever they wanted and get away with it. When they were beating Dan, they were not teaching him a lesson but gloating over the power vested in them. This was power without responsibility, and it caused a disaster.
Baby Joy passes soon enough, and Otile is forced to go on the run when he learns that the police are looking for him. He assumes that he is being framed instead of the police accepting their own negligence. When he disappears, everyone is worried about him, and Diana vows to look for him, come what may. But when she finds his cap in the ocean, she assumes that he has been killed and his body dumped, as the person in the funeral home suggested might have happened to him. But Otile has just escaped to a safe place. He wants to come back to apologize at Baby Joy’s grave but cannot because of safety reasons. In the meantime, even Charles wants to quit his job. He is a police officer with a conscience, and what has happened to Joy has disillusioned him about the job. Though his Chief tells him to take a vacation and come back, we believe that he goes ahead and quits his job anyway. The Chief is also forced to take a hard look at the result of his lack of accountability when Dan confronts him about his recklessness that cost a child her life.
At the end of “Bangarang,” Otile comes to know through Charles that the police are looking for him to offer him a job due to his good service in saving the officers’ lives previously. Otile gets the job and settles well in life. He also marries Diana, and we believe he has a happy life going forward. The two police officers who killed Joy are sentenced to life imprisonment by a court, and justice, or at least a semblance of it, is delivered. Protests continue around the country against police brutality. The thing to understand here is that Otile may have gotten his happy ending, but his community did not. An exception may have been made for Otile, but that does not make up for the injustice of the rule itself. There is still a long way to go to ease the communal tensions and make sure that nobody is discriminated against based on community. When the day comes, not just for Kenya but for the entire world, we will achieve world peace.