Written by Nirupama Subramanian
, Alaka Sahani
| Mumbai |
Updated: October 11, 2020 12:28:09 pm

Picture abhi baaki hai: In Bollywood, a plot twist under BJP?The selfie taken by Ranveer Singh and tweeted by Karan Johar in Jan 2019.

On October 2, Karan Johar introduced on Twitter that he and another filmmakers have been planning to make “content about the valour, values and culture of India” to mark 75 years of Independence, tagging and thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his “guidance”.

Just days earlier, Johar had made one other announcement on Twitter, after one in every of his staff was arrested as a part of an offshoot investigation arising out of the inflating Sushant Singh Rajput dying case. He declared he had by no means consumed medicine, and that he didn’t know the arrested individual. He additionally threatened authorized motion towards “slanderous” statements.

Read | Sushant case: Is it media’s job to advise investigating company on learn how to conduct probe, asks HC

The worker is now one in every of 20 held —4 are out on bail, together with Rajput’s buddy Rhea Chakraborty — as a part of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) probe into “the citadel of drugs in Bollywood”.

Johar’s October 2nd tweet was hashtagged #ChangeWithin, a slogan that first began circulating inside the movie trade final yr, when the federal government kicked off the 150th start anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Last October, it appeared on the finish of a video on Gandhi by Rajkumar Hirani (whose Munnabhai collection was impressed by the Mahatma). The slogan was additionally the theme of a assembly of Bollywood’s crème de la crème — together with Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Kangana Ranaut and Sonam Kapoor —with the PM in Delhi within the third week of October 2019, the place they thanked the possibility to take part in “nation building”.

A yr later, Bollywood is battered by Covid-19, with work at nearly a full standstill. But the Rajput case hangs over it as a bigger shadow.

This is just not the primary time the movie trade has handled blunt devices of the federal government — from bans in the course of the Emergency to the Censors, and from Income Tax to Customs. However, it’s the first time that it finds itself the goal of a number of businesses — the CBI, Enforcement Directorate, and NCB — on the identical time. And the primary time public sentiments are being whipped up towards a few of their hottest stars, by TV channels to politicians.

Deepika Padukone on the NCB workplace.

It may additionally be the primary time that Bollywood itself is so sharply divided, on largely “pro-government” and “anti-government” strains. One of the extra outspoken ones within the latter nook, Anurag Kashyap, is going through sexual assault prices, with the alleged sufferer on Wednesday getting an viewers with Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy.

Insiders discuss of a sense of siege, a query hanging within the air: “Who’s next?”

“It’s an attack on all fronts. Then you know that anything, the Censor Board, everything, is going to work towards pushing you down,” says a filmmaker with a number of hits under his belt. “We all have slip-ups, especially when making films. Crores go through banks… some accounting mistake. That’s what they’ll use.”

At that assembly with the PM nearly precisely a yr in the past, an actor stated in regards to the #ChangeWithin initiative. “Asar dikhega aapko, eik saal, do saal mein (You will see the impact, in one or two years)”. No one knew then it could prove like this.


But, few wish to articulate the considerations overtly. With the tremors from the Rajput case being felt from Bihar to Delhi to Mumbai, fewer wish to go on document.

A filmmaker, who says he “dodged” invites for that assembly with Modi in addition to for a perform in Mumbai to fulfill Amit Shah, factors to “so, so many layers” to what’s going on. “It’s happening as part of discrediting Maharashtra, attempts to bring down the Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP coalition, for the Bihar polls, and to distract you from other crises in the country.”

Rhea Chakraborty earlier than her arrest.

The filmmaker says it’s additionally occurring “because a five-year programme of trying to rein in Bollywood has not shown much results”. “There’s no stronger platform in this country than mainstream cinema… And this has been the rule book of the right wing down the ages.”

Bollywood was shocked by the eye the Modi authorities lavished on them in end-2018, 2019. The first such assembly was in December 2018 in Mumbai, with Modi, and Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Johar, Siddharth Roy Kapur, Ronnie Screwvala and Prasoon Joshi in attendance. They introduced up considerations equivalent to the very best GST slab on ticket costs.

Then, in January 2019, Johar together with small-time producer Mahaveer Jain flew a set of younger B-city A listers in a chartered aircraft to fulfill Modi in Delhi. This time the dialogue was on “nation-building”. Ranveer Singh, whose spouse Deepika Padukone is amongst these questioned by the NCB, captured that well-known selfie of the PM surrounded by beaming stars. It was 4 months earlier than the election, and Johar’s Instagram publish of the identical selfie gushed reward for the PM, and at being invited to contribute to a nationwide challenge.

The filmmaker says when the Modi invite got here, individuals have been scared to say no, however factors out that going didn’t assist. “A lot of the people being hit now were a part of that selfie… You can’t pick up the phone and tell Modiji, I was in the selfie, why is my wife being targeted.”

Among the vocal ones is Hansal Mehta, whose critically acclaimed movies embrace Shahid, on the lawyer of the Mumbai riots accused who was killed. He attributes the concern to the movie trade’s intuition of “self-preservation”. “We don’t own anything. We make a film and it’s gone. There is an overarching insecurity.”

However, Mehta provides, the assumption that in case you don’t take sides, you’re protected has been damaged. “That pretense that we are friends with all… all those who claimed they are apolitical are being targeted… They allow themselves to be used all around. That malleability has led us to where we are today.”

Another filmmaker fumes that large names are “just waiting for an opportunity, ‘to prove ourselves more loyal to the king’, get a CBFC or NSD posting”.


A flashback to 2014. The Modi authorities’s first appointments to movie our bodies have been each controversial — Gajendra Chauhan, the Yudhisthira of Mahabharat TV collection, was made director of the FTII, whereas Pahlaj Nihalani, with amongst different movies Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi behind him, was appointed Censor Board head. As each selections bumped into uproar, did the Modi authorities realise the dearth of prime Bollywood names by its aspect?

The state of affairs has not modified a lot, regardless of some recognisable names like Kangana Ranaut, and the 2 Viveks (Oberoi and Agnihotri, who each make extra information off-display than on) attaching themselves to the federal government’s coat-tails. Akshay Kumar has lent his title to a lot of Modi’s tasks, and the PM gave a uncommon interview to him forward of the 2019 polls.

“Fact of the matter is, you cannot manufacture superstars and you cannot manufacture hits. Or Modi’s biopic (in 2019, with Oberoi in the lead) would have been the highest grossing film… They need the stars, the big directors,” a filmmaker says.

According to this filmmaker, the “armtwisting” isn’t just to get the large names over to their aspect, but in addition to make sure a sure sort of cinema. He factors to the spree of current movies with the villain a Muslim invader. The newest push is to nook the “liberal voices” that stay. “They are not falling in line with the BJP/RSS narrative. So this is the first direct onslaught… They’re doing it intelligently, because (those targeted) can’t say publicly, ‘Guys, it’s just a joint’. Bharatiya sanskriti mein toh nahin ho sakta hai (This doesn’t happen at least in so-called Indian tradition).”


Though the ‘Justice for Sushant Singh’ posters are a part of its Bihar marketing campaign, the BJP distances itself from the drug and different prices being thrown on the movie trade. “The BJP has no aim to rule Bollywood,” says Maharashtra BJP common secretary Shrikant Bharatiya, whereas referring to “long-standing political, cultural and ideological associations” with veteran names. “The demand for a CBI probe was made by Rajput’s father. When the drug angle was unearthed, the NCB had to step in. Allegations regarding Rajput’s bank accounts led to the ED probing the matter… Why would the BJP use a sad incident like the death of an actor to seek votes?”

The BJP’s cultural mentor, the RSS, admits it has an “interest” in Bollywood. “Whatever the industry makes, they make for the people of India, and the RSS is interested in whatever is being done for the people of India. But we do not have any intention to control it,” says Pramod Bapat, the RSS in-cost of media relations in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa.

Bapat provides, “Vidya aur kala (knowledge and the arts) are meant to open the mind. No one can control it.” However, he says, “It is our expectation, and of the people, that if you are going out into the world as an Indian film, it should carry the fragrance of Indian values.” He insists that whereas the Sangh helps such movies, it couldn’t guarantee these are made.

There is not any communal agenda to this, says Bapat. “This is absent in our way of thinking. An actor’s religion does not speak about his relationship with India.”

Bopat additionally acknowledges casual interactions with the trade. “We meet people, speak to them, they also meet us.”

One such assembly occurred in September 2017, three months earlier than the Ardh Kumbh in Varanasi. An organisation referred to as the Naimisharanya Foundation organised an occasion for the RSS attended by senior Sangh chief Bhaiyyaji Joshi, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, then Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis and movie trade names equivalent to Subhash Ghai, Madhur Bhandarkar, Sonu Nigam, Kailash Kher and Himesh Reshammiya. It was billed as an alternate of concepts on Indianness, a “Sanskritik Kumbh”.


But there’s additionally confidence within the trade that a “takeover of Bollywood” by anyone get together is unattainable — it’s made up of simply too many transferring elements for anybody to hope to carry everybody to heel.

Says the filmmaker who ducked the Modi invites: “It’s not even really an industry. It’s just a bunch of individuals making films where they can. Producers, directors and actors are only 5%, 95% comprise technicians and workers.”

As for communal canine whistles, these “just won’t work”. “Salman, Shah Rukh and Aamir have genuine fans, and it’s not on the basis of religion,” he says.

Rashid Kidwai, journalist and writer of Neta Abhineta — Bollywood Star Power in Indian Politics, says it’s expertise that counts finally. “The industry has been very secular in general. The workforce, musicians, artistes, is an assortment of all kinds of talent from various backgrounds. Even though making the cut is difficult, it is a place for equal opportunities.”

Veteran actor Shabana Azmi questions the nepotism cost levelled at Bollywood following Rajput’s dying — the primary one, as she factors out, adopted by homicide, cash-laundering, and now drug allegations. “Shah Rukh, Ranveer Singh, Vidya Balan, Padukone, Anushka Sharma, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rajkummar Rao, Khurrana… have no roots in the industry but are amongst our most successful stars,” she tells The Sunday Express. As for the medicine cost, Azmi says, “Drug addicts? Film stars have never been as physically fit as they are today.”

Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, who had a social media altercation with Ranaut (one of the vocal proponents of the nepotism claims), dismisses discuss of any get together capturing the trade. “Bollywood does not belong to any party. Some actors become candidates of a party… go with the party of the Prime Minister. During the Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi attempted to take over Bollywood but failed,” he says.


However, if there’s any get together that’s fairly entrenched within the trade, it’s the Shiv Sena. Bal Thackeray’s affiliation with it started earlier than he based the get together, by father ‘Prabodhankar’ Thackeray, who labored briefly as a publicist with Homi Wadia’s movie firm within the 1940s. His brother Shreekant is a music director.

In 1968, when the get together mounted its earliest ‘Marathi manoos’ marketing campaign, it focused Tamil movies in addition to Hindi films shot within the south. One of the early targets was Dilip Kumar’s Aadmi. But it proved to be the beginning of a symbiotic relationship.

Until then, say insiders, movie producers needed to look as much as mafia ganglords equivalent to Karim Lala to kind out issues arising from giant quantities of cash passing arms — particularly at the moment of licence raj. The Shiv Sena made it extra organised, to the extent that its males may paralyse a capturing if their calls for weren’t met.

In 1970, the get together shaped a wing referred to as the Chitrapat Shakha, to make sure that Marathi movies acquired correct theatres for exhibition. It additionally acknowledged a distribution arm for Marathi movies. These days, it has a number of unions within the movie trade, and has over time constructed a relationship with the trade bosses as effectively — manufacturing homes, financiers, administrators and stars. By the mid-’90s, Balasaheb’s elder son Bindhumadhav had turned movie producer. Daughter-in-regulation Smita Thackeray served as president of the Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association from 2001 to 2003.

The Sena’s ties with Bollywood, nonetheless, have been transactional somewhat than ideological. So Bal Thackeray may assault Shabana Azmi and A Okay Hangal for wanting higher relations with Pakistan, however by no means stated a phrase towards Sanjay Dutt, named within the 1993 Mumbai blasts. Dilip Kumar himself went on to develop into nice mates with Balasaheb, until they fell out once more, over the Nishan-e-Pakistan honour to the thespian. Shah Rukh’s My Name is Khan confronted protests after he spoke about together with Pakistani cricketers within the IPL, whereas Salman Khan’s Tiger Zinda Hai got here under its highlight for leaving only a few screens for Marathi releases.

Says Raut: “Balasaheb had very good relationships with all… Rajesh Khanna, Dev Anand, Amitabh Bachchan.” In one well-known case, a famous yesteryear actor requested him to assist after his daughter began relationship a married musician.

In the Rajput case too, the Sena has stated there is no such thing as a foul play, and accused the BJP of politicising his dying.


The BJP doesn’t draw back from any such political aspirations in terms of Bollywood. The Modi reign has coincided with films uncannily aligned with its politics — PM Narendra Modi starring Oberoi (on October 10, the producer introduced he would re-launch the movie when theatres open subsequent week); The Tashkent Files by Agnihotri on Lal Bahadur Shastri’s dying; The Accidental Prime Minister exhibiting Manmohan Singh in a poor mild; and Uri: The Surgical Strike. 2017 noticed Akshay Kumar’s Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, devoted to Swachh Bharat.

In the social media tirade within the wake of Rajput’s dying, one object of insinuations has been Shiv Sena inheritor obvious Aaditya Thackeray, and his B-city friendships. An unnerved Aaditya put out a assertion that he had no reference to the Rajput case.

The Sena sees the whole episode, together with the BJP’s questioning of the Mumbai Police investigation into Rajput’s dying, as an try and destabilise its authorities, and tarnish the Thackeray title.

“Maybe if Maharashtra had continued to be with the BJP, this would not have happened the way it has. It would have been done more slowly, like earlier, pulling them in, entertaining them, a little bit of pressure,” says the filmmaker.


With Johar’s tweet a sign to these exterior in addition to inside that Bollywood has no abdomen for a combat, the criticism that the trade’s greatest should not the boldest has acquired louder. However, a filmmaker defends: “Right now, how does anyone speak? There’s a witch hunt on… The other thing is, what used to give citizens a certain courage, that whatever happens, the media will protect us, where is it today? The media is part of the lynch mob.”

The filmmaker factors to an “open letter” by the Producers’ Guild of India on September four, decrying the “relentless attacks” on the movie trade. “It was a very important statement, a very well-worded statement. Did anybody report it?”

Azmi additionally says Bollywood is getting used to distract from the actual crises going through the nation. “Like Urmila Matondkar said, if the industry is as awful as is being projected, why did the PM ask it to make films on Mahatma Gandhi’s ideology?”

The filmmaker factors out that even stars like Aamir and Shah Rukh have been focused after they spoke up about intolerance. “Why is Aamir choosing to keep quiet? He knows that if speaks, nobody’s going to be standing by him. Few people tweeting in support makes no difference.”

Mehta says social media has had a reductive impact. “If Sushant’s death had been debated with greater nuance, politicians could not have used it to divert us from other issues. But we are not open to nuance… The government has realised we want a yes or no. We don’t want a maybe.”

However, Azmi believes, none of this dims Bollywood shine for the a whole lot headed to it with stars of their eyes. “Not a chance. The fact is we have never witnessed the inflow of talent we see today… people from small towns, theatre.”

One of them, what now appears a lengthy, very long time in the past, was Rajput.

Annus horribilis

If 2019 was Bollywood’s finest yr, with collections in extra of Rs four,000 crore, and the liberating digital area, this yr will go down as its worst. If the pandemic-induced lockdown delivered the primary intestine punch, the tentacles of the Sushant Singh Rajput dying investigation have hovered on a few of its large names. With three central businesses a part of the probe, the message, many concern, is evident.

Inputs by Zeeshan Shaikh, Vishwas Waghmode, Shubhangi Khapre

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