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:
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.
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
Note: A couple of points have been added since I posted this.
Images: Tripadvisor, NDTV, Zee Films