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Punishing a ‘collective art’ like a movie for one artist’s politics – why this seemingly unfair practice gets support

We all live with the choices we make and hence so should the artists, with displaced sense of entitlement and importance that they are 'prominent citizens' singlehandedly responsible to uphold the value of democracy by playing their religion card while offending other religions.

Whether we like it or not, politics is everywhere. And with social media, an average Indian is now way more politically aware than he might have been say a decade ago. Also, 2014 changed the rules of the game.

In the film industry, those who were covertly political decided to ‘have a voice’ and ‘talk about intolerance’ and ‘rising Islamophobia’ while continuing to make movies that mock the Hindu faith. Except, amid the normalisation of ‘sar tan se juda’ chants and increased awareness about rampant forced religious conversion, an average Indian is not shying away from calling out their bullsh*t of glorifying these on the silver screen.

Art is never apolitical. Critics have also said how when someone is not making a political statement through their art, even then it is a political statement. So when a film based on real life incident, changes religion of perpetrator from Muslim to a Hindu and calls it ‘artistic expression’, it is a political statement too other than it ceasing to be a film based on true incidents. When a film tries to humanise terrorists or give context to why the terrorist picked up arms other than the fact that he was brainwashed by The Book, it is a political statement. All art is essentially political.

Bollywood entertainers like Naseeruddin Shah, Farhan Akhtar, Aamir Khan have regularly taken a political stand. Farhan Akhtar joined the anti-CAA protests, which fast-tracked Indian citizenship of non-Muslims who have come to India from three neighbouring Islamic countries fearing and facing persecution because of their faith. The Muslims from these countries who seek Indian citizenship could do so as per the existing provisions. This Act had no impact on the lives of Indians, including Indian Muslims. Akhtar still decided to protest against the Act and justified by claiming if so many people have turned out for protest, it must be right. Well, many people also came and set a train in Godhra on fire on 27 February 2002. Surely that was not right, no?

Certain movies over the years had portrayed Hinduphobic content which got mostly unnoticed. Or if people did notice, they didn’t voice it out for fear of being termed ‘bigoted’ thanks to our ‘secular’ schooling where everything except Hinduism is sacred. Which is why when Aamir Khan’s PK was released where he can be seen mocking Hinduism and people protested, Supreme Court of India asked those protesting against it to ‘not watch’ if ‘you don’t like it’.

Supreme Court on PK in 2014

Aamir Khan did not mock the faith where blasphemy leads to beheading because everyone likes their head attached to their torso. Judiciary, which now cites Sharia in secular courts, too would likely not make such comments on films which depict other faiths in bad light because here, even ordering or sanctioning videography of disputed structures built after destroying Hindu temples result in death threats.

So years later when people call for boycott of films, the ‘liberals’ from the stable of so-called Nehruvian secularism come to guilt trip cine goers by claiming how a film is not only of the actor but has hundreds others associated with the film.

People like Singhvi then try to guilt trip people by saying how there are hundreds others associated with the film other than the actor people are unhappy with. Now, as an individual I am not obligated to help anyone financially – whether it is Aamir Khan, who makes Hinduphobic movies, Kareena Kapoor Khan, who throws attitude at critics and tells those who say she is product of nepotism (daughter, granddaughter, great granddaughter and sister, cousin of multiple film actors) to ‘not watch the film’ or Atul Kulkarni, who joined hands with Medha Patkar and protested against Sardar Sarovar Dam that would keep Gujaratis water deprived for years.

Let me make one thing clear upfront. I am pro economy and generally against boycott calls in principle. Having said that, just as the actors, filmmakers associated with the film had their freedom of expression to take a political stand or make films that hurt sentiments of crores of people, the crores of people have a right to voice their opposition. We are taught in school that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi protested against the British rule by calling for a boycott of foreign products and called for Swadeshi movement. So, boycott calls are not a new phenomena in India. And if people think boycotting the films of those who have hurt them gives them satisfaction, so be it. Last I checked India is a democracy and protests keep democracy vibrant.

An individual or a bunch of individuals calling for boycott of film is not the same as State banning a film, like how Congress government banned political satire film Kissa Kursi Ka that was based on Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency. Calls for boycotting films are not wrong as those who want to watch the film are free to do so.

So while boycott calls for films may appear counterintuitive for those who fall on the ‘non-left’ spectrum of politics, as they are usually pro economy and pro business, they are getting immense support. Because if Aamir Khan or the likes of him cared so much about the rest of the crew, he could have been responsible himself and not tried to offend audience. The onus should be on artists if they want their art acceptable. And just as they have freedom of expression and speech, as do audience. It is entirely okay to be pro market, pro economy and still not be against boycott calls raised by people as long as the State does not ban the movies.

We all live with the choices we make and hence so should the artists, with displaced sense of entitlement and importance that they are ‘prominent citizens’ singlehandedly responsible to uphold the value of democracy by playing their religion card while offending other religions.

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Nirwa Mehta
Nirwa Mehta
Politically incorrect. Author, Flawed But Fabulous.

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