Right Wing and Boycotts – the Dangal fiasco raises questions for future

One of the universal truths is that our world is not black and white. It has myriad shades of grey and it is often considered a sign of elevated intelligence to understand nuanced differences that life offers us. It is with this knowledge that most people assess others and evaluate their relationships with them.

However, there are certain instances in life when a message is sought to be sent out in no unequivocal terms. A social or financial boycott is one of those.

Social boycotts are more of a rural phenomenon where anti-social and troublesome entities are socially boycotted to teach them a lesson. This however is not the first line of punishment. Typically this is done only after observing a pattern of behaviour over a period of time. Very often these decisions are handed out by the Panchayat and the villagers unquestioningly follow suit. No one then brings up the other desirable qualities that the person may or may not possess.

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Now coming to financial boycott. The most recent example that comes to mind is the Snapdeal boycott because of Aamir Khan’s intolerance utterances. Even then, anti-boycott advocates rightfully questioned the morality of the boycott. They spoke about innocent people who were caught in the cross fire between Aamir Khan and Right Wing (RW) supporters.

Technicians, delivery boys and suppliers who were in no way a part of the intolerance brigade but probably paid a price as thousands boycotted Snapdeal. But RW believed that a message had to be given and in their wisdom this was infinitely better than adopting violent means. This was the Swadeshi moment for Twitter and a message was sent out by peaceful means.

Having tasted blood, it was then decided that Dangal was also to be boycotted. At that point of time, it was well known that Dangal was a biopic about the Phogat sisters but the idea of ‘Boycott Dangal’ was well accepted.

As events unfurled, Dangal was released and it received very good reviews from some prominent RW supporters. This led to outrage among many others. It was seen as a huge let down to the RW cause and transgression by these supporters.

Justifications followed, including a write up by OpIndia. This article justified the support by stating that it was for its nationalist character of the movie and also for providing impetus to the ‘Beti Padhao Beti Bachao’ campaign of Narendra Modi government. However, the explanations seem wanting on many counts.

I will not get into questioning whether Dangal should be boycotted or not. Aamir Khan’s anti-Modi statements and constant flip flops are now well documented and well known. My comments are limited to the call for boycott and the subsequent backtracking by some.

Does this also have implications for future boycott calls? With Raees set to release soon, does it make sense to continue with this strategy or is it time to look for a new one?

Now coming specifically to the OpIndia article, the writer says that “if you take out Aamir Khan and his statement from the equation, this movie is tailor made for RW to embrace”. The thing about boycotts is that they can never be qualified. And certainly not in retrospect. The call for boycott was for Aamir Khan’s intolerance utterances. To measure that in terms of what his movie portrays takes away from the purpose of a boycott call. By that yardstick, the next time a boycott is called, RW must conduct a SWOT analysis of the subject and only then decide on whether to proceed or not.

Secondly, the write up asks us whether we want to send a message to Aamir Khan or to the lakhs of men trapped in their patriarchal mindset. Here I disagree with the writer because watching a movie is not about sending messages. It is remotely possible that making a movie may be about sending a message, but watching one is certainly not about that.

That aside how many of those who watched Dangal would have done so if it was not Aamir Khan but Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the main protagonist? How many of those would go and see a wrestling match with these girls if it were to happen in their city? For that matter how many of those have ever watched a cricket match of our world cup winning Indian woman cricket team?

At the end, movie making, with very few exceptions, is all about money making. Likewise, movie watching is generally about entertainment where altruistic intentions take a back seat. To ascribe any other motives to either of the two actions is to live in a fool’s paradise. And to conflate a movie’s content and message with the call for a boycott is self-defeating.

It probably is a good time for RW to ponder over the usefulness of boycott calls. The ability of RW to embrace the shades of grey in Aamir Khan is a hint in this direction.


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