Political drama over intolerance, starring Karan Johar, Congress, BJP
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Political drama over intolerance, starring Karan Johar, Congress, BJP

“The talk about freedom of expression is the biggest joke I believe in the world. Democracy is the second biggest joke I think.” Johar had said at the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival on Thursday.

Jaipur Literature Festival 2016 Updated: Jan 22, 2016 20:59 IST
Karan Johar,Shobhaa De,Poonam Saxena
Karan Johar, Shobhaa De and Poonam Saxena during the session "An Unsuitable Boy" at Jaipur Literary Festival 2016 on Thursday. (Sanjeev Verma/HT Photo)

Filmmaker Karan Johar’s remarks on intolerance started a politicial fight on Friday with the Congress accusing the Narendra Modi government of stifling freedom of expression and the BJP dismissing such criticism.

“The talk about freedom of expression is the biggest joke I believe in the world. Democracy is the second biggest joke I think.” Johar had said at the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival on Thursday.

“I really wonder how are we really democratic? How is there freedom of expression? As a filmmaker, I feel bound at every level be it what I put out on celluloid or what I say in print,” he added.

Attacking the NDA government, Congress leader Manish Tewari said, “This goverment of Modi is against intellectuals. They are against liberal voices. The tension is increasing from everywhere. Other than Anupam Kher, who is a pawn for the government, all other artists, painters, filmmakers are saying that this government is against intellectuals.”

Read | Freedom of expression is the biggest joke in the world: Karan Johar

Union minister Mahesh Sharma retaliated saying, “The whole world is seeing that India is the most tolerant country.”

Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, too, rejected Johar’s statement. “Those who are raising questions on India’s tolerance have no knowledge about the country’s culture and traditions. They are illiterate. It is true that issues of intolerance crop up the moment elections are announced,” said Naqvi.

Rubbishing their claims, Tewari said, “It is against every such behaviour that wants to take the liberal and all encompassing ideologies forward.”

“If all other artists and actors and filmmakers and writers are saying that this government is against intellectuals and is trying to curb the freedom of expression, then it must be true. Truth does not need any evidence,” he said.

In his conversation with Poonam Saxena who has penned his biography ‘An Unsuitable Boy’ and author-columnist Shobhaa De, Johar said he felt he was living in a “tough country” where speaking about one’s personal life can land people behind the bars.

Recently Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan found themselves in a controversy for speaking up against the “growing intolerance” in the country.

Johar who has made films on issues such as homosexuality (”Dostana”) and relationships outside wedlock (”Kabhi Alvida Na Kehana”), said, “I feel like there is always some kind of a legal notice awaiting me everywhere I go.”

“I’ve become some kind of an FIR king,” Johar said referring to the controversy over the AIB roast, staged in Mumbai in 2015 which involved the western concept of insult comedy.

The Bombay high court recently asked Mumbai police not to file charge sheet against the filmmaker and others facing a criminal case for allegedly using obscene language on the show.

Read | JLF 2016: Don’t have extramarital relationships, says Karan Johar

Johar said he did not want to fight the “governance” by speaking out on “intolerance” like his colleagues in Bollywood industry did last year.

“Look what happened as a result of anyone who said anything on it. I make movies, I’m fighting megalomaniac movie stars everyday. Do I need to fight the governance?

“We’re fighting the censor with every film. You write anything, you can’t say anything. How are we democratic then?” he posed.

Johar also said that he is “always looking for scandal” as that keeps him in the news, something he loves about the business of showbiz.

“This keeps me in the news. I have no extramarital affair to talk about...so I think I’m looking for scandal,” the filmmaker said.

Congress spokesperson Amiben Yagnik asked why one cannot speak freely in public, a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution.

Backing Johar, actor Raza Murad said, “Whatever Karan has said has come straight from his heart and it should be introspected upon.”

“When Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir spoke about it, they faced a lot of flak. Their films were stopped and their posters and effigies were burnt. And now when Karan, who is not related to any political party and has never given any such statements before, has said this that means somewhere down his heart he is afraid.”

“People from film industry also have the right to speak their mind. Our honourable PM Modi Ji, does ‘Mann Ki Baat’ on radio and people listen to him very carefully. All of us in the country have the right to say our ‘Mann Ki Baat’ and we cannot be ignored.”

Filmmaker and censor board member Ashoke Pandit tweeted, “What is @karanjohar’s reaction on the #Intolerance of #ISIS, that the govt. is successfully cracking on?”

First Published: Jan 22, 2016 20:23 IST