It’s time MNS moved on from politics of protest
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It’s time MNS moved on from politics of protest

mumbai Updated: Dec 20, 2017 19:39 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times

MNS chief Raj Thackeray.(HT File)

If the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has perfected an art in its nearly 12 years of existence, it is the art of protesting. It has, at different times, protested against north Indians, Gujaratis and Jains, comedy groups, the meat ban, and hawkers. But of all that it opposes, films seem to be a favourite. This may have something to do with the preferred hobby or entertainment of its chief, Raj Thackeray.

This week, the MNS opposed the release of a big-budget Hindi film “Tiger Zinda Hai” starring Bollywood’s brat-star Salman Khan on the grounds that multiplex owners and theatre managers did not accept Marathi film “Deva” for prime time release as screens were allotted to the Hindi film. Typically, the MNS threatened to take to the streets, block the release of the Salman Khan film this Friday, and use its “special language” to talk to multiplex and theatre owners.

This is, of course, was a veiled threat to unleash a round of vandalism in and around cinema halls or to other entities involved with the Hindi film -- and to stay in the news cycle. Multiplex and theatre owners are adamant on screening the Salman Khan-starrer in multiple slots given that his films fetch high earnings. This, they point out, would be a big relief after the near-drought of collections in the last few months.

The Maharashtra Cinema Regulation Act requires multiplex and theatre owners to screen Marathi films at prime time which the state government, in April 2015, clarified as any slot between 12 noon and 9pm. The law also makes it mandatory for the multiplexes to screen at least 124 shows of Marathi films in a year in this slot. Moreover, a four-member committee – two members each from the associations of Marathi film producers and multiplexes – mutually decide when a particular film should be screened.

The law existed earlier but it began to be strictly enforced in Devendra Fadnavis government, after culture minister Vinod Tawde clarified and amended sections of it. Independent of this, the Marathi film industry has seen a welcome expansion in content and revenues in the last few years as new filmmakers experimented with subjects and stories. It cannot be the MNS’ case that the industry is in doldrums.

There is no beef with the government or any other organisation promoting films – or theatre, music or any performing art – in the state’s language. Such support becomes necessary and significant in a market economy which puts a premium on profit above all else. That’s why that law exists.

If multiplex owners violate the law and do not screen Marathi films at prime time, the MNS is free to bring this to the notice of the state government which will then take necessary action. But within the ambit of the law, multiplex owners should be free to decide to slot films across screens. This, after all, is the business they do. The MNS cannot arm-twist or threaten them to assign screens and slots to Marathi films. And worse, threaten vandalism if their demand is not heeded to.

Such threats are not new. They present issues of law and order, and must be dealt with by law enforcement agencies in the appropriate manner. If the government and police are firm about putting out such threats, they can do it. But in the last few instances, the MNS was allowed to get away. When it threatened filmmakers Karan Johar over “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” and Shah Rukh Khan over “Raees”, both for employing Pakistani actors, the filmmakers were forced to agree with the MNS’ demands. This emboldened the party.

That the MNS is selective about its targets is known. For instance, Marathi schools are shutting down but the MNS has offered no counter to this. Its continued relevance – perhaps its politics itself – revolves around violent protests against big banners or personalities. But this hardly resolves issues. It’s time the MNS offered Mumbai something positive and concrete, a narrative of development, politics of purpose and engagement.

First Published: Dec 20, 2017 19:34 IST