Let's call it the curse of newspaper deadlines. I wrote this column on thursday afternoon, when the sabre rattling of the Shiv Sainiks was peaking. Dramatic events took place between that time and the compromise that was arrived at a few key hours later, by noon on friday. A compromise that was clearly constructed in Delhi and executed in Mumbai. Whatever deal was struck doesn't matter any more. Unconstitutional conduct was successfully contained, movie goers got the chance to exercise their fundamental right, and nothing else is as important. Not even the backroom machinations that ensured a safe passage to the film. We may never know the real trade- offs, but let us be thankful Mumbai was spared the ignominy of having to cope with wanton violence and senseless destruction. Bollywood's newly established Tweet Factories were in overdrive all of yesterday. This new form of direct communication is likely to jeopardise the jobs of all those p.r.-driven filmi hacks who make a living out of being the mouthpieces and full -time chamchas of their favourite star-patrons.
Sigh! It's Valentine's Day tomorrow. My heart is going dhak -dhak. Any defiant display of the colour red has been banned in some regions of the Middle East. Love is in the air....but it has to remain colourless, tasteless and odourless. I plan to watch a super cheesy movie ( no guesses - 'Valentine's Day', but natch )wearing a bright red outfit. I may hold hands with my husband and daughter - but that's an option.
Hey Bhagwan! I am writing this a few hours before what may turn out to be Black Friday, if not for the city of Mumbai than for SRK. Fingers crossed. Shiv Sena’s legal eagle, Rahul Narvekar, with whom I shared a panel discussion on tv this morning, kept talking about a ‘mass movement’ that is sweeping over the metropolis . “You will get your answer tomorrow,” he said ominously, when asked what plans his party had for disrupting the screening of the film.If that sounded like a pretty nasty threat, Rahul Narvekar wasn’t about to give the game plan away to Karan Thapar. But, the message was loud and clear. Oh dear! There we go again, I said to myself. The same old threats, the wanton destruction of property, the senseless dadagiri – for what?? To prove who is boss??? Or even that the boss is still alive and calling the shots?? Well, after all that drama and hungama, the verdict is out – most theatre owners have ‘postponed’ screenings, claiming they were not prepared to risk damage to their property nor take the chance of patrons getting hurt. I guess Shiv Sainiks will be celebrating this great ‘victory’ tonight.Karan asked me whether I thought the people of Mumbai would actually ‘boycott’ cinemas. No, they won’t , I replied confidently. The word ‘boycott’ implies an active participation in the Shiv Sena’s programme to stop the screening of the film. Most Mumbaikars are entirely indifferent to the arguments being flaunted as the reason for the planned action. If one buys the Shiv Sena theory that citizens are outraged by Srk’s stand on including Pakistani cricketers in the IPL teams, they are certainly not confusing issues and linking his cricket statements to watching his films! They would definitely like to see ‘MNIK’ but not at the risk of losing their lives and limbs. I guess they’ll have to wait indefinitely for that now!!
Look at this absurdity - in order to enjoy ‘Avatar’, viewers were provided 3-D glasses. ‘MNIK’, will require something even more specialized - will Maharashtra’s Chief Minister, Shri Ashok Chavan, give us combat gear and helmets? Since he has gallantly offered full protection to film enthusiasts, and there are more cops guarding theatres and mutiplexes across the city than there were post- 26\11, it has not just raised several eyebrows, but countless questions as well. The sweet irony is that while Srk’s fans are ready to face lathis, stones and God knows what else, to show their undying love and support to their idol, King Khan himself has flown the coop and is attending premieres in Abu Dhabi and Dubai! No security risks for him on those shores. But what about his bechara fans back in India? Are his emotionally charged tweets-by-the-minute enough to inspire their confidence?
Everybody wants a piece of the MNIK action, it appears. The Mumbai Police are at it…. giving interviews on various channels, and discussing the lengths they’ve gone to so that audiences and theatre owners can go ahead with the screening. That reassurance clearly hasn’t worked going by the decision to pull out the film from theatres. Politicians of all hues are equally busy preening and posturing for the cameras. But busiest of all are the overwrought tv anchors themselves, playing kiddish games of one upmanship, each claiming ‘exclusives’, knowing SRK is an expert at playing the media as and when he needs presswallas. Yet, they fall for it every single time, and look totally star struck in his presence, hanging on to every bon mot from the man who sure has the gift of the gab ( undeniable integrity, unquestionable patriotism,) . In all this tamasha of hogging headlines and playing to the galleries, nobody is overly concerned with actual issues. Personal freedoms form such a low priority in India, that it is a wonder we are even aware we have them. The Constitution is invoked almost ritualistically by the usual suspects, knowing all along that lawless elements out to create trouble rarely look for constitutional approval! Sponsored violence has several takers in our country, and the current agitation against an actor, is yet another example of how easy it is to manipulate those who have nothing to lose by taking to the streets and indulging in wanton destruction of public and private property.
Driving through Mumbai on Thursday afternoon, it was impossible to ignore the exaggerated police presence at every junction. But the average Joe and Jane were least bothered and going about their lives like nothing was amiss. Frankly, that is the apt response to the preposterous show of teeth. And yet, why single out the Shiv Sena for attacking a film or an individual? The Congress may well adopt a holier than thou position and condemn the Sena. But its own record has been equally pathetic. From banning Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’, to more recently stalling the filming of the Nehru-Edwina love story, the Congress has not covered itself with liberal glory. The ‘MNIK’ controversy is yet another instance of opportunistic politics going a bit too far. Star anchors egging on Srk by constantly asking , “ So… you refuse to apologise? You won’t apologise?” was setting the scene for an escalation of the conflict. This is one time the media has taken it upon itself to play both judge and hangman. Prominent journos expressing their support and solidarity to SRK were proving to be more loyal than the King! The usual noises about safe guarding the freedom of expression, protecting the future of democracy etc . etc. may have been trotted out, but at the end of the day it had to do with pushing the phenomenon of a personality cult to a new level. Had it been a lesser star, say a Shahid Kapur, would we have been as incensed, as vocal, as supportive? Bollywood’s star system provides easy alibis and forges convenient alliances. This battle is being waged on a personal level and has little to do with ideology.
Balasaheb has far too much riding on popular perception about him and his party, to allow this fight to fizzle out. India is watching an aged tiger deploying every last resource to save face – and hopefully, save his party. There is a great deal at stake, and vultures are already circling the air above his den.It is no longer a childish question of who blinks first, who apologises or who backs off. Not just the film industry but all of India has its eyes on the battle royale – it has all the elements of a mega pot boiler built into it. Intrigue, money, betrayal, victory. SRK clearly has his powerful backers and supporters in place or else his stand would have been different. But it is the silence SRK’s Bollywood colleagues that says a lot. Read the subtext – sitting on the fence has never been more obvious. Scared of the Shiv Sena? Or…. secretely delighted? Is this the beginning of the end? But for whom….? We shall know soon enough.My prediction? Mumbai will win! It is far bigger than any – repeat, any – individual.