Me First, My Film Later, Country Nowhere: Skewed Priorities In Bollywood 

by Sudip Kar Purkayastha - Oct 4, 2016 08:31 PM +05:30 IST
Me First, My Film Later, Country Nowhere: Skewed Priorities In Bollywood Karan Johar (L), Om Puri (centre), Mahesh Bhatt (R) 
Snapshot
  • Bollywood gives Pakistani artists an opportunity to reach the mind space of numerous Indians, and that is why this is not just a question of ‘art having no boundaries’.

To begin with, it may be clarified that ‘art’ and ‘artists’ are two different entities. Mixing them seamlessly may be either out of ignorance or acts of purposive mischief. ‘Art’ is borderless, but artists are not. They are citizens of nation states and are products of respective societies reflecting the latter’s accumulated thoughts, philosophies and value systems.

There are of course rare cases where great artists get so merged with their art forms that they overcome their narrow social identities. But they are exceptions and rarities. On the other extreme we know about Visha Kanyas who were adept at music, dances and other art forms but allowed themselves to be used to kill political adversaries of their masters. A recent example drawn from celluloid could be that of Gulfam Hassan, the famed Ghazal Singer in the Hindi movie Sarfarosh. It would be appreciated that as a general rule the integrity of the artists is an important consideration. An artist can pursue his art form with absolute dedication or leverage it for selfish or ulterior motives. This is not to pre-judge the issue of the Pakistani artists, but examine it objectively, keeping in view the big picture. It will be sensible to err on the side of caution, if that becomes necessary, than to throw away safeguard and compromise with national security.

As the debate over Pakistani artists working in India rages on, froths of hypocrisy are bubbling up. It has therefore become necessary to do some cold fact checking. As per the chief ideologue of ‘Pakistan’, poet-philosopher Mohamed Iqbal and its prime architect Jinnah, the very rationale of a separate homeland for Muslims of the sub-continent was that they had both a distinct and separate culture and religion. Since it was created in 1947 till date, the Pakistani society has done nothing to show that it has been able to shift from that position.

When one sees the attitude of the Pakistani artists to the Uri incident, one only gets a deafening endorsement of the presumption that they are the carriers of the very mindset of the mainstream Pakistani society. In Uri’s aftermath they not only remained silent, but refused to decry the terrorists involved in that dastardly act. Thereby, they indirectly supported the stand of their Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, who had recently in his UN ‘address’ glorified terrorists operating in Kashmir as freedom fighters. The actions or inactions of these artists on the Uri issue therefore became political by implication. What adds to one’s concern is the fact that Bollywood gives them an opportunity to reach the mind space of numerous Indians through their reel lives and therefore this section of artists can potentially act contrary to India’s national interests going forward. The question of their continuation or otherwise in the country has to be examined from this angle.

Bollywood is divided over the issue. Several voices of sanity and reason have understood the inherent danger in having these artists work here. Simultaneously, a section has become vocal in their support. This group has got a boost from some so-called liberals including politicians, journalists and other intellectuals in India. Their specious arguments are once again ‘art is borderless’, and ‘art should be kept above politics’, without conceding the fact that ‘art’ and ‘artist’ are not one and the same thing. They must also realise that the defence forces that safeguard our borders are members of Indian society. And to do their duty successfully their morale must be kept high. Adulation and adoration by their own countrymen of the very people who, by their actions or silence endorse terrorist actions can damage their morale and forfeit their motivation to fight their treacherous adversaries. After behaving in such cavalier and irresponsible manner, these apologists would have to blame themselves if real disasters strike the nation.

Leaving these cynics aside, if the country does not still adopt a studied and consistent policy in this regard, the moral of the defence forces can become a casualty. It is necessary to recognise that our defence forces are human beings and their morale cannot be switched on and off like an electric bulb.

It is easy for sections of intellectuals to appreciate the beauty of art work as depicted in films unmindful of the bigger picture that affect the life of the nation. Since universal conscription is not a requirement in the country, some privileged and so-called elite sections (without obligations to send their children to defend borders) can indulge into intellectual banalities while there are others to take care of that hazardous task and lose their lives. Probably a system of conscription, if introduced in the country, can bring more reasonableness and balance in their views!

Last but not the least, some observations are necessary with respect to Bollywood. It is widely believed that the industry has been financed to a considerable extent by unaccounted money. This had made the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) to conduct a serious study of the industry and suggest ways and means to corporatize the film industry. Bollywood was given industry status at the fag end of 1990s by the extant government. Post year 2000 bank finance began to trickle in. Unfortunately the progress has not been satisfactory till now and the industry remains quite opaque in terms of sources of finance, expenditure and revenues generated film wise. Though Bollywood has managed to reach a wide range of audience in India and overseas, it is widely believed that there is a nexus between forces operating in and outside the industry that can make and mar careers of directors, actors, singers and others.

What however is important in this context is the fact that irrespective of all its strength and weaknesses, Bollywood’s capacity, thanks to its glamour, vast reach and the gullibility of masses, to influence public opinion is much more than any other film industry in the country. We have also seen that the national media has lent the bigwigs of Bollywood undue importance by running to them for their opinions on numerous issues (including those critical for the country) and telecasting it loud across the country. Though there have been some sane and strong voices that have emanated from that industry identifying with national interests, more often than that one has seen strange selfishness and sectarian voices coming out from it couched in specious liberal arguments and intellectual hypocrisy. Many would feel it is time to restore balance to the undue prominence accorded to Bollywood. Probably the present debate over Pakistani artists and the manner in which several bigwigs of Bollywood have begun to flex muscle has again pointed to such a necessity.

Hindi is the main or quasi-main language in at least one dozen provinces and it is well understood in every part of the country except one or two provinces and in few pockets. However unlike all regional language films like Bengali, Kannada, Tamil, Telegu, etc each of which has production facilities in respective capital cities, mind-boggling numbers of Hindi films are made only in Mumbai. Bollywood has the widest reach and its power derives from that fact. Since, its functioning has been opaque and it seems to be in the grip of some vested interests which have their selfish goals and political agenda, it is time to decentralise making of Hindi films outside Mumbai. Historically speaking, Hindi films were once made out of Mumbai and successfully so. For instance, Calcutta happened to be the place where the first Hindi film was made. Talking of recent times, amazing success of some regional films like Bahubali dubbed in Hindi point to the feasibility of such an endeavour. It is time that Bollywood be exposed to competition.

Government cannot underestimate the soft power of Hindi films in influencing public mind. If Bollywood has long departed from projecting the real India to the world and begun to corrupt young mind, the correctives must be applied without delay. This is an urgent imperative and the government should be able to assist in building up necessary infrastructure in a couple of other states. Edifice of a transparent corporatised well funded Hindi film studio may be laid down thus. This may be an incidental gain in an otherwise grim scenario!

Sudip Kar Purkayastha is an author. His latest book ‘On the Road to Freedom: Footprints on Indian History’ is a two volume work. A former banker and consultant Purkayastha was also the founding editor of ‘Indian Journal of Bank Marketing’. He had written articles in several national dailies & journals.

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