Hypocrisy of liberal artists is hurting art in India

Pahlaj Nihalani is back in news. This time for Udta Punjab.

I would not like to discuss Nihalani because it is useless to talk about an incompetent man who has done no good for Indian cinema even after facing enormous internal and external criticism. It will also be futile to delve into roles and responsibilities of Censor because at the end we would be rephrasing same old discourses which we have been doing for years. But this time I want to talk about many of those intelligent cinema artists who can possibly bypass the stupidity of censor and society, but they don’t. First, let us  quickly walk through the post-Censor controversy on Udta Punjab.

The drug-themed Bollywood film Udta Punjab, co-produced by Anurag Kashyap, picked limelight when media reported that The Central Board Of Film Certification (CBFC) has demanded 89 cuts and removal of any references to Punjab politics. Like most of the news stories, this story first ran rife on media and social media, then it was exaggerated with lies and finally fabricated into a political narratives. Not long back, on 28th May 2016, Anurag emphatically mentioned that Udta Punab is not banned, and people should not spread rumours. This was in repsonse to media stories doing the rounds that the film had been completely banned:

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Udta Punjab gathered attention from media and social media. As expected, within no time, Udta Punjab became a BJP-Modi thing. Anurag Kashyap had to again request people not to make it a political tool, but then there are some who wait for such opportunities:

As on today, the war is still on — with theories, conspiracy theories and conspiracy theories behind conspiracy theories.

Back to the discussion of cinema artists in India. Before I talk about status of art in modern India, let us agree to some harsh realities of the Indian society. Non-commercial art has a very small market in India. It is neither very well appreciated nor acknowledged by the majority of the Indians.  Had it not been true, many good artists would not have died penniless. Had it not been true, the decent earning middle class people would not have downloaded TBs of music and movies from pirated sites despite several appeals from artists. Had it not been true, parents and teachers would not have demotivated kids for spending time on music, dance and paintings. Some artists do enjoy adulation and prosperity, but the percentage of such artists is so low that it brings more despair than hope. It directly and indirectly means that most of the artists have to drive art on their own by creating an ecosystem which can stand, struggle and change attitudes of people.

Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. Anurag may be feeling that he is living in a North Korea type censor system today, but the reality is that when voices are suppressed in the entertainment industry, when artists are sexually, mentally and physically exploited in the entertainment industry, when junior artists are discriminated in the entertainment industry, then most of the intelligent artists choose to selfishly stay silent due to fear of future.

But apart from this selfish cocooning for survival, there is a bigger complication within the cinema fraternity. Many of the cinema related artists don’t want other artists to grow. Due to limitations of opportunities, long struggle and inflated egos, many of these artists undergo a Darwinian evolution those-who-doesn’t-agree-are-wrong syndrome. If you talk to these peddlers of Mayanagri, most of them would talk about their works and would not leave a chance to demean and malign other struggling artists.

For my convenience, I will take the recent example of Buddha in a Traffic Jam, written and directed by Vivek Agnihotri. I chose this movie because of couple of reasons a) it is a very recent example b) Vivek Agnihotri is a good friend of mine. When students of JNU and Jadavpur University created a violent ruckus in their campus and opposed the screening of the movie because of ideological differences, not many people involved with film-making stood up to this hooliganism. Even those who did, added disclaimers that it was a bad or a propaganda movie. During an interview of Vivek, Abhinandan from Newslaundry conceded that he was painting the movie as a propaganda movie even without watching it. He also admitted that after watching the movie he agrees that he was wrong. Abhinandan was gracious enough to accept his mistake, others didn’t even care. Sure, the Udta Punjab case is not exactly comparable with what happened to Buddha in a Traffi Jam, but it reveals a mindset.

There are several examples of hypocrisy of liberal artists, but I will pick Varun Grover because I know him from my college days. I know his passion for cinema, I know how after quitting a well paying job, he has struggled for cinema and I also remember that he contributed INR 4,000 for my college play, even when he was struggling to survive.  Another reason why I picked his name is that his platform Aisi Taisi Democracy often talks about hypocrisy of Indians, and during Vivek’s case it did the same what it jokes on.

Varun often talks about independence of art, but when Buddha in a Traffic Jam was under attack, he supposedly supported the FoE with many disclaimers, as if he is doing favour” to art and free speech. He couldn’t even resist himself from slyly mentioning how the movie is getting benefited due to controversy

Varun didn’t stop here. He also shared and promoted tweets which were intended to make personal attacks on Vivek.

Varun Grover

There are several similar examples.

Given the fact that Nihalani is incompetent, people have political biases, and art doesn’t have a strong support in India, here are some points to ponder:

  1. If an artist lampoons other artist, who and what is harmed the most?
  2. If a set of artists declare works of artists with different ideologies as propaganda and inferior form of art, why would they get support from the other sets of artists, when needed?

We can easily figure out the answer.

P.S: It is important to mention here that Vivek Agnihotri completely backed Anurag Kashyap and his movie and Kashyap too acknowledged this in the media.

P.P.S: I am a big fan of Anurag Kashyap

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