“Producers will have to given in writing that they will not take Pakistani actors in their films in future.” These words from Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray seem to have struck such fear into the hearts of not just filmmakers but also Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. Instead of telling him that he has no business dictating terms to filmmakers or threatening to disrupt the screening of Karan Johar’s Ae Dil hai Mushkil which stars among others a Pakistani actor, Fadnavis allowed things to drift and today the thuggish MNS has added to its demands by saying that the filmmakers who use Pakistani artistes should pay Rs 5 crore to the army welfare fund. The army should not be dragged into this ugly politics. A senior army officer has said anyone is free to contribute to the army welfare fund provided it is voluntary. Donations which have been literally extorted are unacceptable to the army according to another officer and they would not be accepted.
The army does not need the likes of Thackeray to speak up for it. If the Fadnavis government had made it clear that it would not tolerate any threat to the screening of the film, chances are that the MNS would have backed off. He instead dragged things along and also accepted assurances from the Producers’ Guild that no filmmaker would work with Pakistani artistes again. This is unacceptable conduct from an elected leader who is bound to uphold law and order and the Constitutional right of the filmmaker to freedom of expression. .
Johar has had to promise to run tributes to martyred jawans at the beginning of the film to ensure its smooth release. Raj Thackeray has no right whatsoever to make any of demand for money for the army or for filmmakers to shun anyone. This is illegal. Indian actors get roles in Hollywood. So the Indian film industry should take pride in being able to attract talent from other countries. The army, of course, will reject this proposal for filmmakers to contribute money to its welfare fund outright.
Fadnavis’s failure to act in time is in direct contrast with that of former chief minister Ashok Chavan when a similar controversy arose over the film My Name is Khan. In that case, it was a remark by the lead actor Shahrukh Khan that there were no Pakistanis in the premier league that created a huge kerfuffle. The Sena’s fragile sensibilities were offended and it went on the rampage against this film. The chief minister gave the film protection and the bullies had to back off. This is what should have been done this time.
People like Thackeray, once they taste victory, will not stop at this. He will up the ante. No one has gained from this and no one has come out smelling of roses apart from the army which has correctly distanced itself from all this. The state now has the duty to ensure that such a situation is not repeated and that filmmakers can work in peace without these extraneous pulls and pressures.