Home minister Rajnath Singh’s assurance that his movie will definitely be released next week will have come as a huge relief in one way for Karan Johar. But in another, it will leave him despondent: as it should all those who believe that the law of the land is paramount.
Caught in the middle of the current anti-Pakistan sentiment, the title of his movie, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, would have acquired greater meaning personally for Johar than just a film on romance he had canned.
Johar had to virtually aplogise for using Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in the movie, ‘prove’ his patriotism by putting out a public video message and finally also appeal to the Union home minister as an inane issue snowballed into a national controversy.
Johar’s tragedy of course is that events beyond his control transpired around the time that Ae Dil Hai Mushkil was to be released. The spotlight suddenly was on his film (and him) as chest-thumping guardians of nationalism swooped down to make political capital of the situation.
It is pertinent to remember that Johar had made the film when India and Pakistan were in the throes of seemingly happy friendship after the BJP-led NDA government came to power at the Centre.
Just over two years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony. A sari was famously gifted to PM Modi’s mother. A while later, the Indian Prime Minister also dropped in to Lahore unscheduled for Nawaz Sharif’s birthday.
These were hailed as acts of bold diplomacy to improve relations between the two countries. Since the attacks on the army camp at Uri (following the one at Pathankot) the sentiment in India has quite understandably changed.
Anger over the frequency and impunity of terror attacks at the LoC (and 26/11 hasn’t been forgotten or forgiven) runs across the length and breadth of the country.
Yet, in the mood that is being whipped up now, surgical strikes at terror camps and the government’s other efforts do not appear to be enough for self-proclaimed patriots.
The crux of the matter is that there is no official boycott on Pakistani people or goods by the Government of India. All questions should have been directed therefore at the government, not people who were well within the law, as Johar was.
He did not hire a Pakistani actor clandestinely, or in defiance of national mood after the Uri attacks. If anything, as an Indian citizen he should be protected from assault and abuse for being caught in a situation not of his making.
Instead, people and associations with vested interests are imposing themselves, picking on soft and vulnerable targets. Johar is one, organisers of the Mami film festival which had to scrap the screening of an old Pakistani classic, Jago Savera Hua, another.
Hapless Johar caved in after some initial resistance, but MAMI threw in the towel immediately not wanting any confrontation, though connection with the current controversy was tenuous. Such has been the extent of fear created.
This mood of vengeful anger has also manifest itself differently -- and viciously -- elsewhere was evident when a physically challenged man in Goa was assaulted for not standing up when the national anthem was being played in a cinema hall.
In Mumbai, and where Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is concerned, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, has been at the forefront of the protests, threatening to damage theatres which screen the film.
Seeking attention and political mileage as the BMC elections approach, the opportunistic undertone in the MNC’s harassment of Johar and open threats of violence are unmistakable, although surely this should should have been directed at the central government.
The online onslaught has been no less than expected. Social media platforms allow open, unfettered discourse on any issue -- which is good -- but it can also reach ridiculous levels.
But it is the high-decibel rants of some estimable TV anchors that have been most incendiary. They’ve sadly cast aside any vestige of noble journalistic practices and simply stoked the fire.
Patriotism of this sort, however, is a very easily usable and available commodity. But is it the kind that really helps in nation building is the question.