Bollywood Stars prove they are mere celluloids

With IPL questioned by cricket lovers for not having any Pakistani players this coming tournament, it was Sharukh Kahn’s (SRK) right to say he wishes to see Pakistani cricketers play in India. That was given a political or rather a racist twist by Shiv Sena leaders in Mumbai and SRK’s film “My Name is Khan” is being targeted, while it is premièred at the Berlin International Film Festival and set to be screened in many parts of India from 12 Feb, in a few days.

Shiv Sena leader Udhav Thackeray went public, saying SRK should withdraw his statement about seeing Pakistani cricketers and also apologise, or face the consequence of having his film “My Name is Khan” targeted if screened. Sadly, Thackeray does not know that most Bollywood heroes are Hindu, but are often played by a Khan and accepted by filmgoers as their hero without exceptions.

Unfortunately for India, the tide is against all that diversity and therefore democracy, though politicians still prefer to talk ball about rich diversity and a large democracy in India. In practice, racist politics have been allowed its day, with the raising of slogans against “terrorism” across its Pakistani borders, implying they are “Muslim” terrorists. Mumbai 26/11 terror attacks have given this platform of racism a new lease of life, with State governments like in Maharashtra avoiding the use of law against racist incitements.

This has other ramifications too in a country that has a rich and popular entertainment industry spreading across different societies, large and small. Its every one’s knowledge that Bollywood has a bigger budget than Hollywood and is dependent on its huge clientèle, the public. Its comparatively much more dependent on the local filmgoer than the Hollywood industry. Also, Bollywood grew in stature with “Indian” nationalism different to Hollywood which is American sans nationalism and borders.

Therefore, the Bollywood film industry has always played it “safe” when it came to national issues with religious or linguist twists. Whom would Bachans, Kapoors, Khans, or even Kaifs and Shettys chose when the clash is between two religious or linguistic segments that patronise their films and contribute to their stardom ? The film industry has its very personalised aspect with a social capital that is private for the individual which makes it different to other businesses with equally big investments. That in a way is a “selfish” mentality seen often in jibes and wibes in the film industry.

Despite such pettiness in a film industry with much social impact, fortunately for Indian democracy, SRK has decided to stick to his right to express his views in challenging the threat by Shiv Sena.

Yet, unfortunately for India, the extremist Hindutva groups and anti Muslim sentiments keep the divide growing in its society, pushing the Hindu social psyche to suspect all Muslims and the Muslim psyche getting shaped to feel they are being watched with suspicion and is being targeted. This provides crores of votes for racist politicians at elections at the expense of “terrorist” infiltrations into a divided and suspect society.

Indian democracy needs to be strengthened, for which opinion makers, public leaders, creative artistes, social activists and professionals in all disciplines have to stand against racist politics, not only for peaceful diversity in the country, but also to cultivate a culture that accepts dissent and different points of views. That makes the rich and comfortable “stars” from Bollywood responsible too in defending their own right to take positions on national and impportant issues and defend the rights of others.

The naivety of real life Bollywood heroes nevertheless proves they are different to heroes on celluloid,. Sadly, there aren’t Bhuvans (Lagaan) or Veerus and Thakurs (Sholay) in real life India today, it seems.

This cry against freedom of expression by sectarian racist groups in the largest democracy in the world, is yet to be condemned by its democratic leaders and is feared it would not be. SRK thus needs the strength of other responsible citizens and democratic groups, to stand firm as he does and prove Indian democracy does not allow bullying by racists.

Its a test of sincerity of principles and integrity for the big and bright “stars” and a challenge for the ordinary citizens in defending the right to express opinions and views in a democracy.

Kusal Perera

Colombo

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