In a pre-recorded video film-maker Karan Johar has vowed not to engage with talent from across the border, has reiterated his patriotism and has appealed that the release of his movie not be disrupted.
Johar tries his best to reflect a sombre mood by wearing black and stands in front of a black background. He even speaks about how the country comes first for him. Maybe because Johar is from Bollywood, it does not have the desired effect. The point is: In any other situation it is a video that is worth laughing at. But not now.
People in the know of how Bollywood works attribute various reasons for the current tension: Some say this could be a war between the various “camps” in the film industry, others say there are political undertones to the controversy, and some say it’s nothing more than a response to some groups who specialise in intimidating and making a quick buck.
Whatever the reasons, this video is a reflection of the pitiable state to which our society has been reduced to. Videos where citizens profess their patriotism are stuff that emerge from nations that have a totalitarian regime, where citizens have to constantly remind the leader that they “love” the country and him.
India is a vibrant democracy that was built and continues to flourish by accommodating differing viewpoints and informed debate. India should not be defined by the limited spectrum of understanding professed by groups that rely on strong-arm tactics. It’s a pity when a citizen is forced to profess his/her love for the nation.
Leading the charge is Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a party whose nuisance quotient is disproportionally higher than its political representation anywhere in the state. Given this, the Devendra Fadnavis government’s refusal to take action against the MNS’ threats gives the impression that the government is either incapable or agrees with what is being done. Otherwise how can a statement by Ameya Khopkar, president, MNS Cine Workers Association, that “we will ransack multiplexes if they go ahead with the release”and that multiplexes that screen the movie “better remember that they are decorated with expensive glass sheets” not catch the attention of the police? The protection offered by the Mumbai Police to multiplexes comes late in the day after passions have been fanned.
There’s an important line in Johar’s message which the MNS and other “nationalistic” attack groups have missed. He says that while he was making the movie “there were efforts by our government for peaceful relations with the neighbour”. So can it be argued that by accommodating Pakistani talent Johar was following what the government at that time was doing?
I feel sorry for Karan Johar not because I think he makes films that are stellar works of cinematic genius — he prefers the tear-jerker variety stuffed with songs and dance (which, by the way, is purely Indian and thus“nationalistic”). I feel sorry because an individual has been pushed to a corner and threatened by a mob using “nationalistic sentiments” as an excuse to browbeat him into professing his patriotism — as though Pakistan-bashing is the meter to measure an Indian’s patriotism.
That a film-maker had to explain and make a xenophobic declaration in a desperate attempt to ensure the smooth release of his film is a slap on the face of the Fadnavis government. It is a pity that the State reduces its role to a mute spectator when fringe groups and political outfits fan nationalistic passions on false arguments and threaten to disrupt law and order.
The ruling BJP is doubly at fault because not only has it failed in checking threats from fringe groups, but it has also failed to rein in its youth wing which has joined those groups threatening to block the screening of movies with Pakistani artistes.