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Bollywood mouths patriotic platitudes when it suits it, but when it comes to self-preservation and profits, it shows a different color. When will it stand up for our armed forces and the sacrifices made by them?

By Bikram Vohra

In intrinsically legal terms, you cannot ban a film because an actor in it is from an enemy nation, especially if you have obtained all the requisite permissions and clearances and that person is not an alien.

The Indian Foreigners Act of 1948 Clause 11 says: “Notwithstanding anything contained in the Foreigners (Exemption) Order, 1957, no foreigner shall produce, or attempt to produce, or cause to be produced, any picture or film, including a documentary or feature films for television or the screen, intended for public exhibition, except with the permission in writing of, and subject to such conditions as may be specified in this behalf, by the Central Government.” One assumes the word producer was used as a generic term in 1948 and loosely covers all participants and performers in the arts. And we also assume that the requisite permissions were granted.

The law discusses every aspect of how foreigners can be asked to leave India, including dozens of technicalities like visiting restricted places, meeting certain people and not reporting presence. But there is nothing about being escorted out for one’s safety or because your nation and ours are in a state of tension. However, if a state of war is declared, all foreigners can be asked to depart the shores of a country to be safe.

Consequently, Karan Johar has not broken any law in taking the services of Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in his latest film, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.

But there is de jure and de facto.

TRIBE APART

The high moral ground taken by Johar and many of his ilk in supporting Khan’s presence and decrying the demand for his departure underscored two factors. One, that Bollywood has an inflated sense of hubris and believes it is an entity set apart from the rest of the country. By virtue of being artists, the general feeling projected has been that creativity should get a free pass, that by some magical chemistry, film stars are a tribe apart. 

Fawad Khan (left) and Karan Johar
Fawad Khan (left) and Karan Johar

Secondly, while tweeting support for the Indian armed forces and making emotionally charged and clichéd remarks that seemed poured out of a can, stars such as Johar offered a shabby defense by hiding behind their crew who would ostensibly suffer the consequences of a film banned from release. Not much of a sacrifice as compared to what our men are doing fighting on the borders.

Even so, the Johar stance would have been admirable if it had more bone in it. The moment he came under pressure from the MNS and realized his film may not be released or would trigger protests, he cheerfully threw Fawad Khan under the bus and exchanged the volte-face for police protection ostensibly to get his film on screen.

Bollywood has an inflated sense of hubris and believes it is a separate entity. By virtue of being artists, the feeling projected has been that creativity should get a free pass.

That he used the “blood, sweat and tears” of his crew’s efforts in the making of the film as an excuse for caving in after grandstanding again only underscored the complete absence of morality and conviction in these stars.

There was nothing Churchillian about it and when on October 18 he came out waving flags and mouthing patriotic platitudes in direct and stark contrast to his initial stand, it was clear that self-preservation and profit had won the day.

AMBIVALENT STAND

Whether it is Karan Johar or Om Puri making a fool of himself on TV, the ambivalence in Bollywood in the post Uri phase past the surgical strikes and into the current frost between India and Pakistan, is an indictment at several levels.

One, these people are placed on high pedestals and given a benediction way beyond their stature. We have taken cinema’s rank and file to a height where they are all-consuming. Two, they have been anointed in a wicked audio-visual conspiracy and arbitrarily bestowed with a philosophical wisdom that makes Plato and Socrates pale in comparison. Three, they, ironically, have a massive impact on the public and that is why what they say cannot be dismissed as the dross it is because within it carries the seed of the poisoned tree.

Big B greeting fans on his 72nd birthday at his office in Mumbai
Big B greeting fans on his 72nd birthday at his office in Mumbai. Photo: UNI

When the utterances of Bollywood and a possible military conflict between India and its neighbor share the media space equally and the commentary of the first upon the second becomes a statement of intent, it is time to ask if this professional genre is not doing a disservice to the country by standing apart and acting as judge and jury.

When you are given the right to set trends and form opinion, then the sense of responsibility must rise in commensurate fashion. In this grotesque equation, the third factor is you and I who give so much credence to these people. Why would cinema actors be granted the special privilege of passing judgment on national security?

The “we are special” element in the Bollywood mindset has begun to irk, especially in the current context. Even when the support is offered, it has such a tinny sound to it. The time has come to let Bollywood know in no uncertain terms that it is not a tribe apart.

For the main part, India has come together on this issue and accepted the export of terrorism from across the border as a given. And we do not have that mega stage to make the impact. These people do but are now victims of their own imaging to the extent they do not even register it.

INFLATED ENTITLEMENT

Why so many people in Bollywood feel that they spew pearls is predicated directly to their sense for importance and inflated entitlement. Adulation is heady wine and they sip off it with great enthusiasm. The public has also become a willing participant in this contract and sees them as
demi-gods.

It would have been a lot more upfront and in-your-face to stand up for your beliefs regardless of the pressure or, failing that impractical Olympian commitment, at least shut up when you have to surrender. To come out of the starting gate making mewling sounds of fervor is plain embarrassing and Mr Johar’s conduct was most unbecoming. It seems to bring into play the nexus between film land and the more progressive political entities where threat seems to be the currency and fear the key.

The Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association’s ban on Pakistani artists has found negative echo in some intellectual circles where the preaching is centered round the core argument that the arts should be spared any attack by the dogs of war. By that token, why not the judiciary, why not the research scientists, the media itself, sportspeople, business communities, chefs, tourist industry reps, airline pilots, singers, painters, lyricists? Why does only the film industry believe it constitutes art and creativity?

If anything, the surgical strikes showed that Bollywood has no togetherness. The schism between the ones who screamed foul and those who chose to wrap themselves in the flag, however clichéd and clumsily, was vivid.

If anything, the surgical strikes showed that Bollywood has no togetherness. The schism between the ones who screamed foul and those who chose to wrap themselves in the flag, however clichéd and clumsily, was vivid.

PATEKAR’S PATRIOTISM

For every Om Puri, there was a Nana Patekar who said: “This is not the right time for them (Pakistani artists) to work in the country. Country comes first, then artists.” Patekar, who has spent two-and-a-half years in the Indian Army, has also said: “First stands my country, I don’t know anyone beyond my country neither would I want to know. An artist is very small in front of the country.” Truly said, except that an artist gilded by fame and propelled at breakneck speed by the media does not have a small role.

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The three Khans in themselves make a Roman triumvirate of national opinion to the point of absurdity. A psychological study done in South Africa of which I was a part indicated that the lower the self-esteem and the higher the quantum of quiet despair, the more the grasping of color and the need to look vicariously upwards.

It takes some while to assimilate the premise but as most of us lead drab, grey mouse-on-a-wheel lives, the need for excitement has a finer edge to it. The Khans deliver glamour, flair and style into homes and become larger than life, a ballooning that overwhelms and pins us down like an airbag. We want to be like them and live like them but since we cannot, we want to live through them. Hence, their actions and their pretensions and what they say grow third dimensions.

The Uri scenario is a perfect example where ignorance of military matters in the cinema world does not stop them from catapulting opinions they believe are marinated in knowledge. These words are then dissected, interpreted and processed to millions through social platforms and coalesce into ideology.

If anything has been revealed in this hurtle for Bollywood’s take on the armed forces actions or Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decisions, it is that the world of cinema is fractured and thrives on a thinly veiled hostility. You would think that dog wouldn’t eat dog but it hasn’t needed much prompting for stars to walk into the night of the long knives and do one of their own in. Et tu Brute. That code of ethics where you stayed silent if you did not agree with a colleague has cracked up and Bollywood’s seamier side exposed. These guys don’t even like each other. Even now, they don’t miss a chance to display their angst and their loathing for their cinematic colleagues.

What price their opinions?

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