I finish my morning run and sit on a bench to catch some breath. As I close my eyes and try to meditate, my phone vibrates. Again. And again.
This is Manish, a young student of Allahabad University. Few months back when I had gone to give a lecture at Allahabad University, Manish was my local guide. Manish is a Bollywood zealot. He just can’t hear anything bad about Bollywood. Period.
Once his classmates made fun of a movie he liked, and he singlehandedly fought with them using classroom chairs, and broke his arm. He loves Bollywood. He breathes Bollywood. And he is not alone.
I am a small town man having roots in Uttar Pradesh so for me it’s very easy to understand such young men. They live in difficult conditions, struggling for everything in life and with little hope of a different future. Their lives revolve around Bollywood, cricket and politics. They fantasize films, find pride in cricket, and use politics to vent all negativity. These are the people who help filmmakers and film stars buy Ferraris. They are the consumers. They are the audience.
I was surprised to see Manish calling me at 10 AM on a Sunday morning. I took his call.
“Why is Anurag Bhaiya saying all this? Is this all true?” his voice starts to choke and then comes a long pause. “Which Anurag Bhaiya?” I try to pacify him and take the conversation forward.
He explains to me that Anurag Kashyap of Gangs Of Wasseypur fame has tweeted that Modi should apologize for meeting Nawaz Sharif in Lahore. In a series of tweets he blames Modi for the boycott of Karan Johar’s upcoming movie ADHM by a regional Single Screen Exhibitor’s Association.
I knew about all these as I’m active on Twitter, but I decided to let him speak and relieve his feelings.
“Bhaiya, what is B… T… W…?” he asks me.
“It means ‘by the way’. It is short form of writing on internet,” I explain him the new written language that is yet to penetrate the hinterland fully. There is a long pause again. “Why do you ask me?” I try to break the silence.
“Bhaiya, itni beizatti to hamari kabhi nahin hui… (I was never humiliated like this before)” he says and then he reads out Anurag’s final tweet in the series ‘Btw Bharat Mata ki Jai Sir @narendramodi’.
“By the way? Ab Bharat Mata ki Jai, by the way ho gaya?” he asks me emphatically, and in the same breath he adds, “Bhaiya, kya aap logon ko koi paise de raha hai ye sab bolne ke liye (is someone giving you guys money to say all this rubbish)?”
He chokes and disconnects.
I kept sitting on the bench for a long time wondering why is he blaming me for someone else’s tweets? Why is he accusing me for being sold out against India? Am I answerable for Anurag Kashyap’s tweets?
People see Bollywood as one entity. They perceive it as one mindset. If one star says something, they tend to believe that everyone in the industry is of the same view. Exactly like when some irrelevant Sadhu or Sadhvi makes a stupid remark and the entire media starts blaming BJP and Modi.
In good times, all Bollywood stars and filmmakers talk about the fraternity as if it’s one big happy family. When everyone tweets exceptionally good things about one bad film or when everyone defends a sin of a member, any outsider would believe that everyone is united in good and bad times. The façade that Bollywood has created around it is taken for the reality.
If a Manish believes that I am answerable for Anurag’s personal tweets, he is not at fault, for the entire industry stood up to support Anurag when Udta Punjab was stuck with censors. Perhaps I was the first person from the industry to tweet in his support.
What Manish doesn’t understand that at that time it was about the freedom of expression – a principle – but this time it’s about India – a nation, an idea. It’s about a latent war that has been unleashed by the enemy. It’s about survival. It’s about morality. It’s about loyalty. And what he fails to understand is that everyone’s idea of morality or loyalty is different, and it evolves from his personal experience and agenda in life.
Therefore, I can’t speak on behalf of Anurag. But what hurts me is that we have collectively brought our morality to such level that a young boy from Allahabad – a Bollywood militant willing to give his life for Bollywood – is questioning our integrity.
For him, it’s impossible to fathom that in this moment of national crisis how can anyone not stand up for the nation’s interest, and instead try to defend Pakistani artists who refused to condemn Uri attack?
Like I said earlier, he loves Bollywood. He breathes Bollywood. For him any word from his heroes is the final word. This is the power of Bollywood.
It’s unfortunate that some heroes undervalue this power. Sometimes one selfish tweet can short-circuit this power. No one can help Bollywood when its own people damage it.
Let’s not forget that like every Ram needs a Hanuman to become Ram, Bollywood needs Manish. We need to understand his sentiments.
He wants his heroes to protect what is dear to him – his country. He wants to put pressure on Pakistan to stop this latent war, but he can’t see Bollywood willing to do that. When he sees us failing to do so, he deduces that we are sold out.
There are some symbols he respects, and in such times he would like his heroes to respect those symbols too. And ‘Bharat Mata’ is one such symbol. If we think Manish is being too sensitive, we can’t communicate to him by disrespecting the symbols he loves and respects, and make him even more sensitive.
I am sad to acknowledge that we have failed to respect Manish who helps us make our movies. And mansions. And cricket teams. He is Bharat.
Therefore, Anurag when you say “BTW, Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, you are insulting his symbols, you are insulting him. You are insulting your own audience.
Today is the election day for my housing society. Once in 5 years all residents chose a managing committee, followed by lunch. The general profile is that of frequent flyers, upward mobile, aware and rational people. The mood is relaxed, a lot of jokes are exchanged, politics is discussed and sumptuous lunch is devoured.
I am a little late. Almost everyone is there. As soon as I enter, everyone turns towards me as if I have committed a sin and entered a convent. “Sir, yeh sab kyon kar rahe ho aap log (why are you guys doing this)?” one of the most aware members asks me. “When the film industry has boycotted the film why are you blaming the PM?” another member shoots.
I realize Anurag Kashyap is trending everywhere. If Manish is on one end of supposedly unaware India, these people are on the other end. But their sentiments about Bollywood are the same. At both ends of this spectrum, people doubt Bollywood’s integrity.
I live with these people. They should know that I am an outcast after making an anti-left film in ‘Buddha In A Traffic Jam’. They should know that when my film was boycotted at JNU, when I was attacked at Jadavpur University, when my film wasn’t getting a release, when critics were killing the film without even seeing it, when friends of Indie champions were conspiring to kill the film before its release, nobody from the industry stood up to support the film. Despite that, they blame me for Anurag’s tweets.
“Why are you guys defending Pakistani actors instead of supporting our soldiers? Why can’t you people say that you stand for India? Why can’t KJo ask his actors to condemn terrorism? Why are they dragging PM in it? Why are you asking Modi to apologize for Lahore visit? Do you have any idea about diplomacy? Foreign policy? Do you think soldiers are our servants? Can’t your industry give a simple statement in the respect of our soldiers? On one hand you guys say that artists have nothing to do with the politics and on the other hand you play dirty politics with these tweets? Is money everything? Will you stoop so low for money that you start hating India?”
All kind of questions flow from all directions. They are blinded by anger. And frustration. And disgust. For Bollywood’s lack of patriotism.
I try to to explain to them and cool the tempers down by saying that IMPAA has banned Pakistani artists for patriotic reasons. That Exhibitors association has refused to screen films with Pakistani artists for patriotic reasons.
“No, that’s not true!” a disgruntled member says, “Bollywood is not buckling under ‘patriotic’ pressure, but it’s pure business decision. They fear damage to their property from gunda elements of Raj Thackrey’s MNS.”
I see logic in his argument. It’s not just MNS, and it’ not just Mumbai. And it’s not just the risk of physical injury. It’s the power of economic boycott, which has been being used by a new breed of evocative young Indians of late. They have called for boycott of movies and brands earlier, and recently their call for boycott of Chinese goods has shown impact on markets.
Ironically, this power of boycott was shown by the same elite class that now looks down upon this new breed. Their own strategy has been copied, only that the style and subtlety is missing a bit. Just like a Literature Festival used to keep away from some authors in order to not anger ‘liberal’ authors, distributors are now keeping away from certain kinds of films in order to not anger this new breed?
I am further forced to see the hypocrisy and opportunism of Bollywood. When big multiplex chains refuse to screen small films (which is as good as a boycott or ban) why isn’t there such hullabaloo? Because they fear the ‘Gangs of Bollywood’.
Do they love cinema or just ‘their’ cinema? The gang has systematically crushed talent and promoted mediocrity. What is the reason that some of our best directors and writers are sitting at home with no work? Is it possible in any other industry for such immense talent with amazing work record to remain unemployed? And then we are getting people from Pakistan.
The gang has systematically eliminated Indian talent from Indian cinema. The gang has killed the common man from the common man’s medium. The gang has corrupted the industry beyond words and siphoned off the monies by creating coteries and writing RIP on many studios and individual producer’s graves.
Everyone fears their unreasonable might. Everyone wants to please them. Either by remaining silent or by tweeting in the gang’s interest – in their film’s praise. They have their own brand of politics. For them to say that artists should be kept away from politics is like a pickpocket saying that he should be kept away from wallets.
The reason the gang doesn’t stand in support of India is that it doesn’t know what is India. It doesn’t know who are these ‘so called’ Indians. What they want? What they feel? Manish is an alien to them. A troll to them.
But whenever a gang has reached this point of limbo, the doom is certain. Boycott, either by an association or the audience, is just the beginning of a certain end.
I sit alone in a dark room, all alone, wondering if I ever wanted to belong to an industry which says ‘BTW, Bharat Mata Ki Jai’.
An old song of Rajesh Khanna plays in the background ‘Yeh public hai, yeh sab janti hai.’
(Vivek Agnihotri is a filmmaker, columnist, and a motivational speaker. He tweets @vivekagnihotri)