In a First, Failure of a Movie to be the True Test of Patriotism

Karan Johar, the movie poster and Maharashtra chief minister  Devendra Fadnavis. - Sakshi Post

Mahesh Vijapurkar

Karan Johar’s 'Ae Dil Hai Mushkil' is now ready to be released for screening on October 28. That is, from his end, after Devendra Fadnavis brokered peace between Johar, the movie industry, and MNS’s Raj Thackeray. There is a dispute if Johar agreed to donate Rs 5 cr to Army Welfare Fund as Thackeray demanded. But some unspecified contribution as atonement seems to have been settled.

But the story gets its twist at this point, because the climax isn’t over but is ahead. Will the movie-goers who are ‘patriotic’ or ‘nationalistic’ – depending on where one stands – buy the tickets and watch it despite the Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in it? It is normal for producers to raise a controversy to promote a film. These days they patiently go to TV studios – I suspect deals there – to promote them.

The movie’s box-office success would be the true test of the opponents of the trend of casting Pakistani artists, or having them perform at events. Whether the public opinion they generated turned even the fence sitters away from the theatres exhibiting it remains to be seen. The single-screen theatres have not backed out from the MNS decision to ‘allow’ the movie while the multiplexes hope the government would protect their properties when they screen it.

The former speak of “prevailing public sentiment” against Pakistan and in guarded manner whisper about the fears of damage to their properties. Which could be abundant caution, or an apprehension that the hot heads from among the confrontational party cadre could still pose risks. Over and above, MNS is not the only grouping which wears its ‘patriotism’ or ‘nationalism’ on its sleeves. Lot of imponderables there.

Reverting to the likelihood of the box office success or failure on the strength of sentiment, we have some indicators about how strong public opinion can determine some trends. The case in point is the call to boycott Chinese products because China has been supportive of Pakistan. It has cited ‘technical issues’ in getting the UN to put Pakistani terrorists on the UN list. That has hurt the public sentiment and results are seen already.

Karan Johar with the lead pair - Anushka and Ranbir Kapoor

Rajasthan has reported a 40 per cent drop in businesses dealing with Diwali items which are from China – crackers to electric bulb strings – and Delhi’s main firecracker markets have reported somewhat the same trend. The boycott call being circulated on the social media seems to have done the trick to the extent dealers have put up boards saying they don’t have Chinese stuff. Like Bollywood announced they would henceforth not cast Pakistani actors.

However, the country has not yet risen up to boycott all Chinese goods which include most things – cell phones, mobile chargers, computer hardware, and just about anything. These could include international – or more precisely, American brands or even South Korean. But by developing a boycott without an identifiable promoter of the cause, it appears a dent has been made, conveying people’s disapproval of China. The message that people have a voice and an option has been made clear.

Likewise, with the angst against Bollywood use of Pakistani actors. It is not going to crush the movie industry into a crisis though it would the individuals who had cast them in their productions. It is a message that has some significance, because, especially with regard to Pakistan, there is a strong lobby in the civil society and establishment circles that people-to-people contacts matter in establishing a nation-to-nation relationship.

It is a message that has some significance, because, especially with regard to Pakistan, there is a strong lobby in the civil society and establishment circles that people-to-people contacts matter in establishing a nation-to-nation relationship.

Shouldn’t Indian people make their views to the Pakistani people? I suppose they should. That was done partly with regard to Pakistani cricket fixtures with India on a bilateral basis – they are not played here. But fixtures like World Cup etc. are played against Pakistan in third countries which is odd. Opportunities to convey a message without firing a bullet ought not to be missed.

However, what left a very bad taste in mouth is the threatened means toward the end – threat of violence. One MNS functionary who heads the cine cell threatened to “beat up” Johar. He also held out the warning that multiplexes should know that they have easy to vandalise properties where the Johar movie was planned to be screened. That was obnoxious for a political party to do, but the country is unfortunately learning to live with such a political culture.

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