Political drama with Bollywood twist


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Madhusudhana Rao S

If cinema is considered a mirror of society, the recent happenings in Mumbai in general and its mega film industry in particular reflect how politics, commercial interests, artistic freedom and misplaced or pseudo-patriotism have inexorably got mixed to produce a side show.

It’s all about Karan Johar’s film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (ADHM), slated for Diwali release, October 28. Karan Johar, as a producer-director, loves melodrama and romance in his films. He is also known for weaving beautiful celluloid dreams. In a way, his films are a ‘safe’ bet to ring the till at the box office.

But this time, his latest offering was caught in Indo-Pak cross-border firing that spelt doom for ADHM even before the film’s release. The villain of the piece is Pak actor Fawad Khan. Though it’s uncharitable to call the young handsome heartthrob a villain, casting him in the film is seen as ‘unpatriotic’ at a time when Indo-Pak tensions are running high over Uri and Pathankot attacks by Pakistan-based militants and nationalistic feelings are brimming over surgical strikes carried out by the Indian military against some terrorist launch pads along the Line of Control in Occupied Kashmir.

If we look at the scenario post-Uri attack or the precision strikes, it’s all about avenging the terrorist strikes on Indian soil. It’s a political decision executed by the Army and applauded by the public. Actors and artistes are nothing to do with political decisions or Army actions. Still, the film fraternity has found itself embroiled in the controversy that whipped up a national debate. Karan Johar, naturally, is at the receiving end. His pleadings that the Pakistani actor had been booked long before the current tensions spilled over the border and the about-to-be released film (costing crores to produce) could not be mothballed after giving huge publicity had no effect even on sane minds.

In the last couple of weeks, endless debates have been going on in the social and print media as well as on the digital platforms over the film’s release. Reasons cited and offered by self-styled experts vary. However, the most common one is when people watch a Pak actor on the screen, it will hurt their sentiments and feelings. Any sensible person will know that a film can’t be made overnight and decisions to cast actors/actresses would be taken months before a film goes to the production stage. Then, how an actor roped in for a particular role turns an unwanted person overnight, whatever the compelling reasons may be.  

When self-generated anger is at its peak, rational arguments have no place in logical thinking. In other words, our creative people have turned their ire against Pakistan to its artistes working in Mumbai. If that country stands accused of waging a proxy war against this country through ‘non-state actors,’ we are falling into a similar trap in a different way. The issue here is not whether Karan Johar is justified in featuring a Pak actor in his film, but whether some political forces are notching up intolerance levels in the name of teaching a lesson and tit-for-tat actions.

With almost every film celebrity jumping into the fray airing own opinion in the social media, it’s not just the Fawad Khan’s issue that has split the glamour world but the very question of hiring Pak artistes. It’s a different thing whether they come on their own to seek opportunities in the most attractive filmdom or Indian producers and directors offer roles to tap the huge Pak market which is starved of a quality and technically superior Hindi cinema. But the fact remains why they should be hired if one feels so strong about not employing them. We know there is no dearth of talent here. Obviously, profit motives prevail over other considerations.

As the social media war was raging with various party leaders chipping in with measured doses of controversial statements, the Bollywood drama took a new turn. This time it was nothing but a political drama, adroitly enacted by BJP and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) president Raj Thackeray who threatened to stall ADHM’s release. His threat came despite a decision taken by the Film and TV Producers Guild of India not to cast Pakistani artistes in Indian films in future. Apparently, the stand-off between MNS and the filmdom called for mediation and a deal was brokered by none other than the Maharashtra Chief Minister himself.

On Saturday, Raj Thackeray and Karan Johar, accompanied by those associated with the film, had met CM Devendra Fadnavis at his home to “sort out the differences.” Under the deal, Pak artistes will not be cast in future and the current films featuring them will pay Rs 5 crores each as  ‘prayaschit’ to the Army Welfare Fund. So, Karan Johar has to pay Rs 5 crores to the Fund before seeing his film released. Similarly, Raees with Shah Rukh Khan in the lead and Pak actress Mahira Khan and Dear Zindagi being made with Ali Zafar and Alia Bhatt may have to pay Rs 5 crores each to the Army Welfare Fund before they hit the screens. PS to the story is Fadnavis’s suggestion to show a slide offering tributes to the martyrs before screening ADMH has been accepted by Karan Johar.

If all is well that ends well, it is not to be in this film saga. If Karan Johar and his associates are breathing easy and getting ready for ADMH’s Diwali release, opposition and Shiv Sena are breathing out fire. Reason: They allege that the ruling BJP and the Film Producers Guild have given in to ‘MNS blackmail’ and blame Fadnavis for facilitating Raj Thackeray to dictate his terms.

However, the Chief Minister, rejecting the opposition’s claims told Aaj Tak TV channel: “I do not think that what Raj Thackeray was demanding and what the Producers Guild voluntarily offered was something different. The Producers Guild had already said that they had wholehearted support for our Army men and wanted to do something for them.” But not this way, probably.

His words fell flat when Army officials rejected the offer saying, “we only accept funds that are donated voluntarily, not through such coercion and extortion.” The armed forces don’t want to be dragged into such low-level political wrangling,” the Times of India quoted an Army official as saying.

Now, having seen the political drama behind the release of a film and the hullaballoo over Pak artistes, decide who are the winners and losers in the first real life episode. Sure, there will be many sequels to entertain us.

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