Filmmaker Karan Johar was among the first voices of dissent against the demands of banning Pakistan artists in Bollywood in the wake of last month’s militant attacks in Uri that killed 19 Indian soldiers. Ever since, several threats have been issued in the country, with right-wing groups seeking a ban on Karan’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil as it features Pakistani actor Fawad Khan. Almost a month after saying that banning artists in films is not solution to the problem, Karan Johar has now said he won’t engage with talent from the neighbouring country: “For me, my country comes first… When I shot Ae Dil Hai Mushkil from September to December last year, the (political) climate was completely different. There were efforts made by our government for peaceful relationships with the neighbouring country…. Going forward, I would like to say that of course I wouldn’t engage with talent from the neighbouring country given the circumstance.”
“Nothing comes first for me, but my country. Of course I won’t engage with talent from the neighbouring country given the situation,” Karan says in the video message issued on Tuesday.
While the ban on Pakistani artists and technicians in Indian cinema makes sense given the tense environment between the two countries, stopping the release of films that have already been made makes little sense. So, it would be logical to allow Ae Dil Hai Mushkil to release on the due date. However, KJo’s sharp U-turn is a matter of concern.
Let us take a close look at the filmmaker’s comments immediately after the demands for ban on Pakistani artists started rising. “There is nothing that can justify this terrible feeling of terror. (But) then you are faced in a situation such as this (asking for ban on Pak artistes). If this was truly a solution, one would take it. But this is not a solution. I don’t believe it is. The larger forces have to come together and sort the situation and this cannot be banning talent or art,” Johar had said.
After having maintained his stand that banning actors is not a solution to solving the issue, Johar suddenly comes up with a video where he says, “Obviously, I won’t engage” with artists from the neighbouring country. And his explanation for a month-long silence? He was “too hurt”, he claims.
What lies beneath the tears and hurt feelings is pure business. When he thought public support for the stars in his movie will be able to win over the demands of ban, he felt sorry for the soldiers but added that banning artists is not the solution. However, with just a few days left for the film’s release ( October 28), Karan Johar suddenly wants everyone to know that his heart bleeds for the Indian army and he won’t work with Pakistani artists given the situation between the two countries.
The 44-year-old also added that he wouldn’t want his crew to suffer. “Over 300 Indian people in my crew have put their blood, sweat and tears into my film. I don’t think it is fair for them to face turbulence on account of other fellow Indians. I respect the Army ... I condemn any form of terrorism,” Johar said in the recent video.
And that is where the crux of the sudden , “nothing else matters to me but my country” statement lies : All the money riding on the fate of the release. While the associations that have announced stalling of screening Ae Dil Hai Mushkil are not effective nationwide, they do cover a major section of the Hindi cinema belt (including Maharashtra, Goa, and Gujarat).
A big budget film from a big production house rides as much on the pre-release deals (satellite rights and endorsements contracts), as it does on the large number of screens it manages to be screened on. If it does not release on time, Johar -- who is also a producer -- will face the financial losses. That is not fair, given the fact that Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (made on an estimated budget of Rs 55 crore) was made when India-Pakistan relations were not as tense as today.
However, for a man who claims to “spread love through his films”, Johar’s recent statements expose him. If you loved him for his candid statements and remarks, it is time you rethink - it might all have been well-calculated, pre-planned ‘candidness’ to win hearts and sell romance onscreen.