17.4.14

Politics is Bollywood's Business


Should Bollywood interfere in the elections? Asking such a question is not only disingenuous and ignorant, it also reveals the nature of hierarchy.

If activists, academics, even mohalla groups, not to speak of the media, can take sides, why should the Indian film fraternity be denied the right to exercise its choice and promote it?

The yawn-worthy assertion that Bollywood has always been secular makes no sense, for it comes at a time when a group of film folks have decided to sign up for secularism. Bollywood stars have always campaigned for candidates, either out of choice or compulsion. They contest elections. They are called upon to join various causes – be it to promote tourism in Gujarat or for AIDS, against drugs, for the girl child, for eye donation, for toilets, for cleaning up the streets (where they even land up with brooms), and by the election commission too. The armed forces conscript them in the Territorial Army, and decades ago the Ajanta troupe run by Nargis and Sunil Dutt would go to the border areas to perform for the jawans.


3 parties, 3 Bollywood canditaes

We have discussions about how films impact society. Can they influence us and yet be apolitical? What, then, is wrong if a group of them decides to appeal to the public, when they are as much citizens as the goon who can knock on your door or the college punk who has suddenly transformed into a common man?

Here is the complete text:


Dear Fellow-Indians,

The best thing about our country is its cultural diversity, its pluralism - the co-existence of a number of religions and ethnicities over centuries, and hence the blooming of multiple streams of intellectual and artistic thought. And, this has been possible only because Indian society has prided itself on being essentially secular in character, rejecting communal hatred, embracing tolerance.

Today, that very sense of India is vulnerable. The need of the hour is to protect our country's secular foundation. Undoubtedly, corruption and governance are important issues, but we will have to vigilantly work out ways of holding our government accountable to that. However, one thing is clear: India's secular character is not negotiable! Not now, not ever.

As Indian citizens who love our motherland, we appeal to you to vote for the secular party, which is most likely to win in your constituency.

Jai Hind!

While there are a few well-known names, the biggies are missing. It is of course their choice, but these same biggies will promote anything that gets them attention, whether it is Salman Khan flying a kite with Narendra Modi or Aamir Khan getting cosy with the Congress (or is it AAP)?

I watched the segment of The News Hour last night discussing the issue. Why was Arnab Goswami demanding that some of the panellists who had signed the appeal should name names? Why did one person from the other side ask, “Why are you scared?” My point is all they want to hear is Modi’s name and add to his cult status. Hansal Mehta did concede that he personally did not support Modi. The show was all about bulldozing. Has anybody bothered to ask why the Bollywood stars perform for cops, even when so many cases are not filed, crimes are committed in broad daylight?

I ask these channels that want one man to be ‘targeted’ (many of who will then play up his victimisation): will you agree then that he and the BJP are not considered secular openly? Will you promote the cause of heavily censored if not banned films?

Ashoke Pandit was screeching about Anand Patwardhan’s stand. The latter said at one point – obviously you can’t talk about the Gujarat riots without somebody raking it up – that in 1984 it was not only the Congress that was responsible; there were Hindutva goons involved too. 

Here, I do take exception. Goons are goons, but one party was in power. I expect Modi to take responsibility for Gujarat, and I expect the Congress party to do so for the anti-Sikh pogrom. The leaders of the latter have apologised. (Just read a report that Modi in one more TV interview said that he will not apologise; instead, if it is proved that he is guilty, he should be hanged in public. Bollywood should hire him. He dramatically announces that he is now in the people’s court. Strange, for the Supreme Court has not found any evidence against him, so why is he still feeling guilty? Well, people’s court means only one thing: get me elected first. Smart man. He will project himself in any manner.)

Anupam Kher asked Patwardhan, “What is more important – secularism or nationalism?” A question like this is so divisive. I mean, is there competition between the two? That if you are secular you cannot be a nationalist? Ergo, the latter belongs to one section of society that flaunts its unapologetic non-secularism? Patwardhan said, “I only believe in humanism.” For a moment, I was put off, until I heard Kher state, “We are all human beings.” If we are animalistic that would make us animals? Capiche! 

Patwardhan became the focal point also because he is not mainstream Bollywood, and has made what are considered anti-rightwing films. I do not agree with some of his views and the way in which he chooses to highlight a few aspects, but he has been vocal against any establishment politics. A studio anchor with a limited agenda, and a panel comprising of at least two hardcore Sangh supporters, is not likely to comprehend nuance.

By the same token, I do not believe that we have any business to object when writer Salim Khan chooses to inaugurate the Urdu edition of Modi’s website. However, has the Hindutva lobby made a noise against this Bollywood intervention, although he did endorse Modi’s leadership?

When politicians censor films, those films are dragged into the political sphere. This is apart from movies with obvious socio-political messages. It includes mainstream films. The recent Youngistan was obviously political, as were Rajneeti, Sarkar, Rang De Basanti. Films with messages have a long history, and one can easily include Mother India, Bandini and Do Ankhein, Baarah Haath even though they were made when art house cinema was in its infancy.




Speaking of which, why is it assumed that cinema of conscience is essentially left-wing? Were Mehboob Khan, Bimal Roy, V. Shantaram Communists? Is Gulzar who directed Aandhi leftwing? What about Mahesh Bhatt for making Zakhm on the Bombay riots? Are Ramgopal Verma’s films on the underworld Marxist? Think about the wonderful spin on Mahabharata by Shyam Benegal in Kalyug. I know Madhur Bhandarkar supports a rightwing party, and so does Mahesh Manjrekar, but both have made films about contemporary ‘political’ reality, about the underbelly, be it Vaastav (which I thought was better than Satya) or Chandni Bar, Page 3, Fashion. There is much to disagree about the subtexts in the last three films but they did expose some facets that are brushed under the carpet. We also have Vishal Bhardwaj who takes Shakespeare and transforms his works into Indian political statements. Is he leftwing? What about Gangs of Wasseypur or the two series on Sahib, Biwi aur Gangster? Or the dry humour of Tere Bin Laden, Khosla ka Ghosla, Jolly LLB?

Bollywood is right there, and while we can question the artistic or cultural merit of how it projects reality, we cannot demand that some of the filmmakers stay away from active participation as citizens.

In the end all fiction is what we expect reality to be. Ask some politicians!

© Farzana Versey

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Note: A couple of points have been added since I posted this.

Images: Tripadvisor, NDTV, Zee Films


8 comments:

  1. I will tell you what exactly is wrong with the appeal. but first let me clarify that no one is denying them their right to speak out. If that had been the case it would not have been covered by mainstream media. What is however pretty much visible is the intellectual bankruptcy shown by the so called "liberals". True secularism and pluralism is what makes this country a thriving and bustling pot-pouri of diverse culture. Has anyone denied that? No. But is India standing on the verge of collapse when it comes to fracturing the secular fabric of the nation? No. Then why such appeal at a time when the "perceived" (mind the quotes) communal party is slated to come to power? Anyone in his/her right mind can see through the gimmicks and antics of the neo-liberals who sit in their ivory towers and not know what hunger pangs can cause to a human being. Remember that dialogue from the dark Knight? "then we will see how faithful a hungry dog is".

    While one is technically completely alright in making such an appeal, it is an unnecessary creation of fear mongering among the minority. Just tell me how the secularism of this country was ruptured when NDA came to power? Tell me why the Muslims have flourished in the state of Gujarat in the last 10 years. Tell me why MP has been pretty much peaceful in the last 12-13 years?

    You must be remembering the hue and cry created over Wendy Donigners book when Penguin decided to burn the copies of the book by these liberals (Mahesh Bhatt, Shabana Azmi were the ones who condemned it with all the might they had). Pray tell me why was D'Cruz's book whose release has been banned because of the pro-Modi stand it takes hasn't seen any protest from the people who are the champions of pluralism? Double standards much? Why does one of the signers of the appeal remembers only riots in which one particular minority was the victim and forgets about 1984, Kashmiri Pandits, burning of Ram Sevaks in Godhra.

    These intellectuals are the biggest bane our country has.

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  2. FV,

    1. Filmmakers have as much right to have opinions and express them as any other citizen. However, they are financially more vulnarable, films being a soft and perishable product (hence easy to target, at least in India).

    2. Hansal Mehta is married to a Muslim. I am not surprised by his convenient secularism. Same goes for Anjum Rajabali who has a Hindu wife. These individuals are already wearing tinted glasses. Unless they prove otherwise, I will not be inclined to seriously weigh their "vision". They are elites. And elitist.

    3. I have noted that no film personality (Muslim or non Muslim) has appealed for saving the country from dynasty or anarchism. They could have done it without taking names too. :)

    4. Finally, this appeal only shows the rotten mindset that passes for secularism in India. - Whatever is acceptable to Muslim community is secular. Whatever is not acceptable to Muslim community is communal.

    No wonder rabid right wing has a strong following here. They may lose a poll or two. But they always live to fight another battle, another day.

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  3. Fightamonkey:

    The mainstream media covers a lot of things, and is therefore as elitist as you accuse filmmakers of being. I have issues with certain liberals too, but then we do have supporters of the rightwing parties in Bollywood who do push for their candidates. Why is an appeal any worse than bludgeoning in the social media or via sms and emails?

    There is no question about anybody denying secularism, unless some want votes on that basis. Why does the rightwing get antsy when the secular question is raised, if it truly believes in secularism? It is not an enemy they have to fight. Or is it?

    When I wrote this piece, I did not think about the hunger pangs of the poor; I assume you did not either. Do politicians who spend crores on their posters and rallies give a damn about hunger pangs? Get real. They are as gimmicky as anybody else.

    The “fear mongering” is among the political class and some of their crass supporters. This appeal is not for one community. I should assume everybody is interested in secularism, with or without Bollywood help.

    My views on Wendy Doniger go against popular liberal thought:

    http://farzana-versey.blogspot.in/2014/03/freedoms-wardens-why-i-did-not-write.html

    “These intellectuals are the biggest bane our country has.”

    Absolutely. I reckon you are referring to Dr. Subramanian Swamy of Harvard and abuses fame.

    PS: You are new here. Just to inform that I won’t be engaging in specific political arguments for some time. This is an exception, because it is about films and Bollywood, both of which I love.

    ReplyDelete
  4. F&F:

    1.Yes. Filmmakers are prey to extortion and other forces. But they are also capable of having their political views.

    2. {Hansal Mehta is married to a Muslim. I am not surprised by his convenient secularism. Same goes for Anjum Rajabali who has a Hindu wife. These individuals are already wearing tinted glasses. Unless they prove otherwise, I will not be inclined to seriously weigh their "vision". They are elites. And elitist.}

    I did not know cross-cultural marriages were elite. I wonder what you think about hybrid mangoes.

    And about Hansal Mehta, you do recall I did not like his ‘Shahid’:

    http://farzana-versey.blogspot.in/2013/10/blog-post_23.html

    3. {I have noted that no film personality (Muslim or non Muslim) has appealed for saving the country from dynasty or anarchism. They could have done it without taking names too. :)}

    There have been films on the subject. And by dynasty, I assume you also mean the Thackerays and Yadavs?

    4. {Finally, this appeal only shows the rotten mindset that passes for secularism in India. - Whatever is acceptable to Muslim community is secular. Whatever is not acceptable to Muslim community is communal.}

    Have they taken this appeal to Bhendi Bazaar? To the mohallas? Are they addressing clerics? You do not have to agree with them, but why assume that all the ‘others’ do? I am sure, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, BJP’s showpiece, does not. There, you scored a goal!

    {No wonder rabid right wing has a strong following here. They may lose a poll or two. But they always live to fight another battle, another day.}

    Funny, isn’t it, that despite a strong following it has to fight battles? Or, perhaps the following is a problem :-)

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  5. I have already said this but will say it again nevertheless. There is nothing wrong with voicing ones opinion. And then again there is nothing wrong with people who don't subscribe to the view of influencing people to vote en-masse. Technically it all sounds pretty correct.

    When I wrote this piece, I did not think about the hunger pangs of the poor; I assume you did not either. Do politicians who spend crores on their posters and rallies give a damn about hunger pangs? Get real. They are as gimmicky as anybody else.

    Yes I did, and yes I know a lot of politicians on a personal level who do give a damn about people who haven't had 2 square meals a day. you can stereotype all you want but the fact remains that not all fingers are equal. So painting everyone with the same brush might not exactly be a very wise thing to do.

    The mainstream media covers a lot of things, and is therefore as elitist as you accuse filmmakers of being.

    Errr...what exactly do you mean by that? May be my comprehension fails me at this point in time.

    Why is an appeal any worse than bludgeoning in the social media or via sms and emails?

    am glad you acknowledged it as being more wrong than right.

    Absolutely. I reckon you are referring to Dr. Subramanian Swamy of Harvard and abuses fame.

    As much as the man is hated and as much as he is hateful in his speeches, you have to give the credit where its due. He is single handedly responsible for unearthing numerous scams. He may be acerbic and downright insulting and I don't subscribe to his views always but this nation owes a lot to him, whether you agree with me or not.

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  6. void *Al {return NULL;}17/04/2014, 19:48

    FV, the question is not whether politics is bollywood's business, but whether bollywood wants to explicitly affect its business by playing politics, in terms of losing markets or viewers due to explicit politicking, but on the other hand, it is their money to lose if they want to mix business and politics in a way that affects their bottomline. On that topic, why do they call it bollywood, can't they thing of something that sounds less like hollywood? Such a lack of imagination.
    -Al

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  7. Al:

    I do not see how it becomes politicking now when film stars have been actively involved, and other examples I cited. Unlike industrialists, they do not have political patronage.

    Re the term Bollywood, I suppose the West borrows a few things too. The word may be uninspiring, but it is the largest industry and contributes a lot, some quality questionable notwithstanding.

    ---

    Now back to 'work'...

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  8. void *Al {return NULL;}17/04/2014, 22:47

    FV:" Unlike industrialists, they do not have political patronage. "

    FV, but aren't movie producers just industrialists of a different kind, "a rose by any other name etc.", since politicians do invest in movies too, don't they? (was under the impression that was so, even if not explicitly). But I guess your point is about the political patronage that favours industrialists.

    It ought to be that way in other sectors too, but it isn't -- but India as a developed country would require things to work that way, industrialists who survive their competition rather than via political favours like it is today, thanks to decrepit economic ideas that still pervade the Indian "intellectual" scene.

    ReplyDelete

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