Aamir Khan and the Intolerance Debate

III

When two movies of King Khan (as Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan is sometimes called) flopped (less successful than expected at the very least - Dilwale in 2015 and Fan in 2016), in succession, it sent shockwaves around Bollywood and beyond. While the poor box-office receipts could be attributed to the movies themselves, many nonetheless attributed at least part of the failures to a boycott of Shahrukh Khan that originated in social media.

Manufacturing controversies to drum up interest in movies before their launch is nothing new to Bollywood. Whilst in the past the favoured vehicles for such controversies was the link-up, or tiff, between the leading stars of the movie, in recent times the trajectory has turned more political. A case in point, again, is Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, who made statements criticizing the Narmada Dam project to drum up a controversy, and therefore interest, in his movie Fanaa, in 2006. In an interview to a news portal, he made several statements which were at best irresponsible: “I want the people of India to see that here is a political party (BJP) that does not believe in democracy. Here is a party that does not believe in the rights of poor people.” [link

The success of the protests against Bollywood stars and their handlers (“publicists”, to use a polite word) misusing their popularity to further divisive social agendas was somewhat unprecedented. This was a case where the government of the day was keeping a studiously neutral stance and refusing to intervene or be seen as intervening. This was a big change from the past, where the government in power - most often led by the Congress party - had censored and clamped down on Bollywood whenever it stepped out of line.

Bollywood legends Dev AnandAmitabh BachchanKishore Kumar, and others all had faced the brunt of an oppressive regime. This time was different. It was the common man, mostly, congregating around a collective voice provided by social media, led by the so-called right-wing, who rose against the tyranny of the Bollywood cabal. That this was successful meant it was no longer business as usual.

Coming off the successful manufacturing of controversies like “intolerance” and “award wapsi” in 2014 and 2015, mainstream media could be forgiven if they went into a state of shock. For the incestuous cabal of mainstream media, self-proclaimed intellectuals, and Lutyens fixers, who had become accustomed to life-as-usual, this was a rude wake-up call. Control over Bollywood is not just about money, or only about influence, or only about fame.

It’s a combination of all three. Money comes in from criminals, terrorists, religious bigots, and meets warped ideologies of liberals who see nothing good in Indian culture and nothing bad in imported mores; all this is amplified manifold through Bollywood. Movies have been the favoured vehicle for dispensation of propaganda for decades - whether it was Walt Disney Productions making propaganda movies for the US government (link), or perpetuating feminine stereotypes (link), or Hollywood studios’ collaboration with the Nazis (see Ben Urwand’s ‘The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler‘), movies are the most scalable, most effective, and most easily disguised medium of indoctrination.

Bollywood has been no different, and its unholy alliance with western ideologies, terrorists, and the mafia is well-known but rarely written about - mainstream media is complicit in this conspiracy of silence. ‘PK’ was another such movie, that ridiculed Hinduism, which was rumoured to be financed by Pakistan’s ISI (link), and yet went on to make more than Rs 700 crore, most of which came from the very same Hindus the movie ridiculed. 

How is that even possible? For a people to pay huge sums of money to someone who insults and ridicules them and their faith? To understand this better, assume if a group of people were to tell the public - ‘we want to portray Hinduism in an ugly light, ridicule its gods, traditions, and culture, promote pre-marital sex, promiscuity, glorify stalking, impose foreign social values, and help launder drug money on a massive scale. For that we need the very same people and culture and nation we seek to destroy to pay us thousands of crores of rupees.’ Needless to say, neither those people nor their appeal for money would go very far.

On the other hand, if those people were to make movies which do every single thing just highlighted, package them in a wrapper of sex, violence, and glamour, not only would no one question them, but their intended victims would willingly spend thousands of crores of rupees to watch these very movies, in essence funding their would-be destroyers. Furthermore, the very same people would go out of their way to defend this group from any criticism. This is what happened with the movie PK, and that is what happens with countless other movies.

In a nutshell, this describes the modus operandi of the cabal whose one face is Bollywood. This is also why ceding control or allowing its voice to become any less potent is unacceptable to the cabal.

A movie, “Aye Dil Hai Mushkil,” was about to be released in 2016, featuring a Pakistani actor (for no good reason; unsubstantiated rumours floated that there was some element of collaboration between Pakistan’s notorious ISI and the cabal). Then came the September 2016 terrorist attacks on the Indian Army brigade headquarters in Uri, near the Line of Control, in which 17 Indian army soldiers were killed.

The Indian Army’s response, via surgical strikes across the Line of Control, less than two weeks later, changed the mood of the nation. There was a new assertiveness that would brook no collaboration with a suspected terrorist nation. Bollywood, on the other hand, wanted to pretend like nothing had happened and that the arts and reality needed to be kept apart. The very vocal protests said different.

Bollywood, to its credit, adapted with lightning speed.

Karan Johar, the movie’s director, made a much-ridiculed video, where he appealed to people to come watch his movie, and not mix the terrorist attacks sponsored by a country whose actor he had paid huge sums of money. Others jumped in to denounce terrorism, profess their patriotism, and usually ended with appeals to let their commercial interests be unaffected. 

The net result was that the movie was a commercial success. It made its actors, its producer, its funders a lot of money. The lessons were obvious. Bollywood needed to make no material change in its outlook or behaviour; no introspection was required. All it needed to do was cloak its agenda with a patina of fashionable nationalism. The spectacle of the people exercising their power via boycotts seemed like a distant, and bad, nightmare. 

One movie had run and cleared the ‘boycott’ gauntlet. A second movie, this time from Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan, released almost without fanfare, became a commercial hit (never mind that it was a trite rehash of countless Hollywood flicks that showcase pop-psychology via a young, nubile, confused starlet taking in vacuous platitudes doled out by a cynical, way-past-middle-age hero trying desperately to look twenty years younger). This was further evidence of the famous short memory of the so-called right-wing in the country.

The third silver bullet in the cabal’s armoury was faux nationalism. The very same actor who thought little before appending his signature to a petition from a communal, anti-national group thought equally nothing before mouthing off a statement like this - “Country matters more than film’s business - Aamir Khan on PM Modi’s demonetisation move” (link) That he made this statement on the eve of the release of his upcoming movie, ‘Dangal’, was entirely coincidental.

The movie had an ample dose of nationalism injected in it, including the unfurling of the tricolour and a rendition of the national anthem. The Indian right-wing is famous for many things, but a coherence of strategy and long-term memory isn’t one of them. It lapped up this faux nationalism, shed tears of nationalistic joy, tears that forgot and forgave Aamir Khan for all sins committed and yet to be committed. The result is that Dangal is on its way to becoming the highest grossing movie in Indian cinema. 

The money that Dangal will make, a substantial portion of which will go to the movie’s leading actor and producer - both of which are one and the same person - will be funnelled back into making other India-bashing and Hindu-phobic movies, funding groups to hack away at India’s cultural limbs; but the Indian right-wing couldn’t care less. It had its moment of glory with the successful boycott of Shahrukh Khan’s two movies and the storm-in-a-teacup over ‘Aye Dil Hai Mushkil’ and was content with those non-victories. It lacks the stomach or possibly the intellect to develop any cohesive or long-term strategy for countering the breaking India forces that are extremely strong and entrenched in Bollywood; while the cabal is almost infinitely more capable, resourceful, and better organised. When faced with a crisis, the cabal responded with the greater suppleness, alacrity, and co-ordination.

The portents are ominous.

Disclaimer: views expressed are personal.

Courtesy and first published
1. http://vijayvaani.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?aid=4177
2. http://vijayvaani.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?aid=4178
3. http://vijayvaani.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?aid=4179

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