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The actor and the activist

Aamir Khan's support to the Narmada Bachao Andolan kicks up a political storm, reveals disunity within the film ranks and makes 'Fanaa' a hit.

ISSUE: 'Fanaa' may have set new box office records across the country. Its first week collections have been as high as 95 per cent in some pockets. But it has exposed the dark underbelly of the Hindi film industry.

Bollywood, which prides itself on its secular credentials, it torn down the middle on the issue supporting Aamir Khan, whose film has been prevented from being screened in Gujarat for his espousal of the cause of the Sardar Sarovar dam oustees.


Aamir Khan: Caught in a controversy

Predictably, the likes of Mahesh Bhatt, Boney Kapoor, Javed Akhtar, Govind Nihalani and Hrithik Roshan have raised their voices in his favour. Others, notably MPs Hema Malini, Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra, Jayaprada and Govinda are locked in a conspiracy of silence.

And Shatrughan Sinha has gone as far as asking Aamir Khan to apologise to the people of Gujarat for his alleged anti-Gujarat remarks. "If he wants to join politics, he should come to the front," Sinha has been reported as saying.

Filmmakers, distributors ad exhibitors have either mouthed platitudes or refrained from showing solidarity altogether. Yash Chopra, with a few films in various stages of production, met the State Chief Minister Narendra Modi before the film's countrywide release, but has not said a word about the State's complicity in preventing its release.

Economics govern their stand, principles take a back seat. With the film fraternity refusing to close ranks behind the one-time poster boy, Aamir Khan is fighting to have his film screened in Gujarat. Obviously, some elements in the polity cannot distinguish between Aamir the actor and Aamir the activist.

Kunal Kohli, director of 'Fanaa', claims: "Three youths from Baroda who came to Mumbai (to watch the film) are not being allowed to go back home by the BJP Yuva Morcha. The question is no longer about Aamir or 'Fanaa'. The question is: Does one have (democratic) rights?" Says Veteran filmmaker Govind Nihalani: "It is a shame that Aamir's personal convictions are being politicised. They are penalising the film for Aamir's support to his own countrymen."

Closing ranks with Aamir is seasoned actor Anil Kapoor. "Today, it is him. Tomorrow it can be any one of us. We stand united." However, unity is a rarity in an industry where filmmakers have never really come together to face attacks.

A few years ago, when filmmaker Rakesh Sharma had his car's windscreen smashed because he dared to film the hooligans in Gujarat following the 2002 genocide, nobody protested Films continued to be made, distributed, shown and seen. Sharma's 'Final Solution,' was also not cleared by the censors for a long time.

Much the same happened when 'Chand Bujh Gaya,' was not allowed to be shown in the State. Nobody from Bollywood sat on a dharna, and the exhibitors screened films that contained slogans of tolerance and secularism.

"You can never be certain with people nursing a constricted mindset," says Boney Kapoor, chief of the Film Federation of India.

"The so-called custodians of Gujarat are making it impossible to release the film despite the fact that there is no official ban. It is doing more harm to the Gujarat film brethren than they realise. 'Fanaa' is a runaway hit across the country and Gujarat's six-chequer has probably lost about Rs. 1,500,000. The film's exhibitors and ancillary units have incurred losses. If somebody wants to oppose Aamir Khan for his support to the Narmada Bachao Andolan, there is a different platform for debate. (Why twist arms like this) in the name of Gujarati asmita (pride)?"

Bhatt reiterates the same. "The sad truth is if you are a big star and a Muslim you have to watch your step. To be accepted by a certain section, you have to divest yourself of all attributes of your community. It is profitable for the Right-wing Hindutva party elements to use a Muslim male as a whipping boy and score some brownie points."

Pleads Kohli, "I appeal to the media, to all right-minded citizens of this country to please come forward and lend their support. Yes, the exhibitors have probably lost nearly two crore rupees in Gujarat, but the issue is no longer about money.

It is no longer about Aamir or 'Fanaa' either. The issue is bigger than any individual. It is about democracy and its end in Gujarat. Our star MPs may keep quiet because most of them belong to the BJP, and others (may choose to be silent).

It is their democratic right, just as (much as) it is our right to show the film... But democracy (must) not be throttled..." Meanwhile, the crumbs of support may just add to a sizeable loaf. Mahesh Bhatt has joined hands with the NGO Jan Sangharsh Manch to file a PIL for the release of the film in Gujarat. "What is happening is outrageous," he says.

Now, if only the film industry were to stand united, the way Anil Kapoor would have us believe!

Courtesy: the Hindu

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