Karan Johar’s capitulation

BY GEETA SESHU| IN Media Freedom | 25/10/2016
It all comes round again - political thugs dictating what film, play, or concert can go ahead. Karan Johar is just the latest to surrender to threats.
GEETA SESHU on the dubious settlement

Should CM Fadnavis have held firm?  Pix credit, CNN news 18 

 

Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray’s ‘Yeh toh hona hi tha’ comment was perhaps the funniest take on the Ai Dil Hai Mushkil non-row, as the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) withdrew its objection to the release of the film after a deal brokered by Maharashtra’s Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis with the film’s producer Karan Johar.

It was such a ‘been there, done that’ comment. After all, Bal Thackeray’s son and heir to the Shiv Sena’s legacy of bans against Pakistani cricketers, theatre performances, musicians and now, actors in Bollywood films, should know. 

The Shiv Sena had perfected this art of threats and bans and symbolic acts of digging up cricket pitches and blackening faces and burning film posters and whatnot. As they played to the gallery and threatened violence, successive Congress-I and BJP governments willingly caved in and, amidst dire prognostications of violence and threat to security, the event in question was either not permitted to go ahead or permitted under duress.

This time, the Shiv Sena kept away from all the drama and Uddhav Thackeray told reporters in Goa yesterday that it was clear the three protagonists - Fadnavis, Raj Thackeray and Karan Johar - would be coming together soon to produce a film titled ‘Yeh toh hona hi tha’.

 

"For the BJP, the MNS was a convenient replacement for the Shiv Sena - its very rebellious alliance partner in the Maharashtra government."

 

For the BJP, the MNS was a convenient replacement for  the Shiv Sena - its very rebellious alliance partner in the Maharashtra government. Perhaps Fadnavis thought he could get the MNS to come to an agreement over the film’s release and send a message across to its alliance partner that it can just as well deal with other chips off the old block.

But for those who have seen the way the MNS functions, the withdrawal of its opposition comes as no surprise. So, clearly, it is the BJP that comes across as the sorriest figure in this sorry episode. It heads an elected government that is committed to uphold the rule of law. And yet it put together a deal that ended up being exposed as quite a hollow one, with reports that the Army has rejected any donations to its welfare fund that seemed to come from extortion.

While the government and televisions studios raised the temperature on the Uri attacks, various film industry worthies conducted their own brand of sabre-rattling on Twitter. Soon, the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association (IMPPA) and the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India (COAEI) jumped in and decided to ban Pakistani artistes from appearing in Indian films.

Initially, it seemed like a lot of hot air until a concrete ‘enemy’ this side of the border emerged from the smokescreens: the imminent release of Ai Dil Hai Mushkil in which popular Pakistani actor Fawad Khan played a cameo role. After a few days of silence, Johar capitulated and gave groveling assurances in a video statement that he would not cast Pakistani actors in his films and would insert a slate with a message honouring Indian soldiers.

Johar could have stuck to his guns and demanded protection from the Fadnavis government for the safe release of his film. It has been done before, as Johar will definitely remember. In 2010, when the Shiv Sena protested against the release of his film My name is Khan, the Congress-I was in power in Maharashtra.

 

"When the Congress-I government decided to defend the film’s release and deployed massive police security, film-goers thronged the theatres, rendering the Shiv Sena’s protests useless."

 

Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and Deputy Chief Minister in charge of Home, the late R.R. Patil, were in power. Johar had directed the film and his mother Hiroo Johar and actor Shah Rukh Khan’s wife, Gauri Khan co-produced it. When the Congress-I government decided to defend the film’s release and deployed massive police security, film-goers thronged the theatres, rendering the Shiv Sena’s protests useless.

A chagrined Bal Thackeray withdrew his opposition to the film, as also to the involvement of Australian players in the IPL tournaments and even complained that no one seemed to have any sense of patriotism left!

The Shiv Sena’s record in this circus of threats and bans, protests and intimidation of media and culture are well documented. Pakistan, the enemy across the border, has been a very useful creature for the Shiv Sena since it first dug up the cricket pitch at the Wankhede Stadium in Bombay in 1991 and followed suit with the cricket pitch in Ferozeshah Kotla in Delhi in 1999.

For those who keep forgetting their history, here’s a quick list of other instances of intimidation and violence:

  • Marathi newspaper Mahanagar attacked for its critical stance on the issue of Marathi identity (1991, 2004);
  • Protests over Deepa Mehta’s film Fire on the theme of lesbianism (1998);
  • The hounding of artist M. F. Husain for his depiction of Hindu goddesses (2005, 2007);
  • The ransacking and protests against Zee television channel over a skit 'Kaka Mala Vachva' (Marathi for 'Uncle, protect me') satirising the power struggle in the party (2006);
  • Attacks on the offices of television channel CNN-IBN over its critical comments on Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray (2009);
  • And, last year, threats against the performance of Pakistani ghazal artiste Ghulam Ali and the blackening of the face of Observer Research Foundation chairman Sudheendra Kulkarni for organizing former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s book launch.

 

In the last two instances, Fadnavis gave a number of assurances that he would not allow law and order to be disturbed. What about assurances on the security and safety of film producers who obtain certificates of exhibition according to all the laws of the land?

While it is true that the atmosphere in the country has been totally vitiated by sharp divisions on who or what is ‘anti-national’ and ‘patriotic’, the fact is that the principal actors in this drama ended up coming to a dubious agreement. It’s back to business as usual.

It’s an old game and everyone, from the leaders of so-called ultra-nationalist political parties, the film producers and the government, are involved. It’s time the public called their bluff. 

 

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