They loved to call themselves the most secular industry in India. You could be a Hindu, Muslim, Parsi, Sikh or a Pakistani too, they would happily hand you an all-access pass if you could manage that rare thing: theatres full of fans, ready to pay good money to watch you on screen.
Yes, we are talking about Bollywood where people of all hues and affinities worked together to weave magic that had an entire country enthralled. You could be a Kumar or a Khan or a Roshan or a Kapoor, your surname was not important, what you can get at box office was.
That ended this year. The climate of intolerance which has intelligentsia worried and returning their awards in droves has found its way to the famous secular bastion of the country.
Bollywood, which has held onto its own when a leading star was implicated for owning weapons illegally or a superstar was convicted for mowing down people, has finally given up and become a part of the raging intolerance debate. The industry which believed in having each other’s back when their films were banned, when political goons went about throwing stones at theatres screening their films or setting the posters afire has given up on secular fabric and jumped headlong into intolerance.
Alas, Bollywood is now a house in chaos. Whether they like it or not, it is us versus them and that’s a sad day indeed for the Indian fan who prays at their altar every Friday. For him, or her, Shah Rukh Khan is Rahul and Salman is Prem. Aamir is the alien from the planet with no name where clothes are strangely out of fashion. Akshay Kumar is the always affable Happy Singh, the Sikh man who will give you both action and laughs.
And nothing brings out the chasm in the industry better than what happened post Aamir’s comments on how his family contemplated moving abroad due to a spate of violent communal incidents. A war of words followed a day after the popular artist joined a raging debate on rising intolerance, saying the spike in sectarian tensions sowed a sense of “insecurity and fear” in the society and even in his family. Strangely, adding to the usual political noises – BJP against and the opposition in favour of Aamir – there was a lot of sound and fury from his Bollywood colleagues as well.
Anupam Kher, who recently organized a march insisting the entire intolerance debate is stuff worth a Bollywood script, was the first to burn Aamir. “Dear @aamir_khan. Did you ask Kiran which country would she like to move out to? Did you tell her that this country has made you AAMIR KHAN,” was one of the many questions he posed to Aamir on Twitter.
Raveena Tandon, who has worked with Aamir in a number of films, appeared to be livid. While she didn’t name Aamir, this is what she had to say, “Wonder why they didn’t feel fear when bombs ripped the heart of mumbai.. Or our security was breached #26/11-gosh!no point same argument… Let’s cut the BS-why can’t these people openly say that they weren’t happy since d day Modi became PM..instead of shaming the whole country.”
Rishi Kapoor, actor and Twitter sensation, also had some advice, “Mr.&Mrs. Amir Khan. When things are going wrong and the system needs correction,repair it,mend it.Don’t run away from it. That is Heroism!”
Ram Gopal Varma, famed for his ability to light little fires via his Twitter account, had this to say, “It’s the celebs need for creating drawing room debates to increase their popularity which flares up non existent negativity btwn communities. Some celebs complaining about Intolerance should be the last ones to complain becos they became celebs in a so called intolerant country.”
Paresh Rawal reiterated through a series of tweets to explain how India was tolerant and ironically cited Aamir’s PK as example. The film which earned over Rs 600 crore at the box office faced a slew of court cases and protests because it took on blind faith and the babas. Paresh wrote, “Intolerance !PK did rattle the belief of Hindus but Aamir dint face the wrath of Hindu or THE MAJORITY n but was super hit n made crores!”
Irony aside, what happened to the long-established Bollywood tradition of burying the hatchet over the script narration of the next blockbuster? Will the divide be the next worst kept secret of the industry or will it percolate down to how the audience perceives them? While these are the questions for the future, Bollywood secular credentials are lost for now.