In Las Vegas, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) finds his brother, Fredo (John Cazale), committed to the flamboyant mobster, Moe Greene (Alex Rocco). When Michael offers to buy Greene’s casino, the latter (based on Bugsy Siegel) loses his temper and storms out of the meeting. A distraught Fredo, who had been provided a safe harbour by Greene away from the gang wars in New York, tells his brother: “Mike! You don’t come to Las Vegas and talk to a man like Moe Greene like that!” In a cold voice, Michael tells him: “Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.”
The developments in the topsy-turvy political landscape of Maharashtra last week reminded me of this electric scene — one among many — in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 eponymous adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novel, The Godfather.
There was one picture in particular that prompted this: Of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Supriya Sule, the daughter of party chief Sharad Pawar, hugging her elder cousin brother Ajit Pawar. This picture started doing the round on Wednesday, when the nascent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Devendra Fadnavis — which was sworn in, in an almost clandestine manner last Saturday (November 23) — fell after Ajit Pawar, who had been appointed deputy chief minister, withdrew support.
This picture was also a complete anti-thesis of Sule and Ajit Pawar’s actions on Saturday. When news had emerged of the swearing-in, she had put up a WhatsApp status: “Party and family split.” This had promoted several political commentators to speculate that differences between Sule — apparently being groomed by her father as an heir to his political capital — Ajit Pawar had led to the split. The quick turncoat by Ajit Pawar, however, belied all such speculations, and when the picture of the cousins hugging emerged, it became obvious that the family at the helm of the NCP might have pulled a fast one on the BJP and its wily leader, Amit Shah.
One of the most startling scenes in the Godfather trilogy is the one where Michael kisses Fredo at a New Year’s Eve party, full on the mouth, and reveals that he knows that his brother has betrayed him. In Christian mythology, a kiss has a close relation with betrayal — Judas betrayed Jesus to his enemies with a kiss. Coppola reverses the image — the betrayer (Fredo) is kissed by the betrayed (Michael), on the discovery of the betrayal. Fredo had taken sides against the family, and he should now be prepared to pay the price. He makes a run for his life as Havana erupts into chaos around them.
The party at which Michael and Fredo are is being hosted by US-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, who — unknown to anyone — will abdicate the next day, 1 January 1959, as rebel forces led by Fidel Castro advance on his capital. This is of great significance — the civil war in Cuba mirrors the civil war in the Corleone Family. Michael is fighting not only his rivals outside, but also his business partner Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg). The microcosm of the family is after all the most basic unit of the macrocosm of the state. Chaos in one leads to chaos in another.
The narrative of the Godfather, chronologically goes from the arrival of Vito Corleone — Oscar-winning roles for Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro in the two films — as a nine-year-old boy, escaping the mafia in Sicily, in the US. His entire family has been killed and as he looks out from the window of his room at the Statue of Liberty in 1901, he looks small and vulnerable. It is no surprise that he places such great store by family values — he has four sons (one of them adopted) and a daughter. We meet all of them in one of the final scenes of The Godfather Part II, when they are all gathered around the table waiting for Vito to arrive for his birthday party.
At the end of the scene, as his siblings got out to greet their father, Michael sits alone at the table. He has just told them that he is going to enlist with the US Army for World War II. His loneliness in this scene mirrors the loneliness in the next one, where he sits alone. All his brothers are dead — Sonny Corleone (James Caan) killed by a rival gang and Fredo murdered at his orders as vengeance for the betrayal. His sister, Connie Corleone (Talia Shire), is estranged because Michael also got her husband, Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo) murdered in The Godfather, for betraying Sonny. His wife Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) has divorced him. “Don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Family again,” Michael had warned Fredo — but all his efforts to keep his family together seem to have led to its disintegration.