Bollywood Hails the Emperor




[dropcap]A[/dropcap]LIA Bhat is barely out of her teens and is just one-film old in Bollywood parlance.  The star was recently in news with bigwigs such as superstar Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit for performing at the now infamous Saifai festival in Uttar Pradesh, hosted by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and his father Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The father- son duo were compared to a famous Roman emperor for enjoying song and dance while hungry, homeless Muzaffarnagar riot victims battled a bitter winter out in the open.

Now Alia says she genuinely feels bad for not being aware of the tragedy in UP: “I do feel bad for not being aware. I was aware of the riots… But I was not aware of the circumstances few days prior to the event. I feel bad about that and I genuinely believe I should be more aware of the happenings.”

You do not expect such maturity from a newcomer in an industry seldom known for showing its spine. As far as Bollywood is concerned, life is a song wherein hard realities of life do not intrude.

But then maybe Alia is different because of her background. She is the daughter of veteran filmmaker Mahesh Bhat, who is known to speak his mind, especially on behalf of those too weak to do so.  It may also have something to do with the fact that Aalia’s grandmother was a Muslim after whom the actress was apparently named.

But then there are so many Muslim superstars out there in Bollywood.  Indeed, they are said to rule the industry that includes biggies like Salman Khan whose movies belong in the so-called 100-crore club.  Salman, old enough to be Alia’s dad, was the chief attraction at the SP’s Saifai circus.  It came as a surprise to many considering the actor is known for his humanitarian causes and runs a charity called ‘Being Human.’

More recently, the actor also attended a colorful kite festival in Ahmedabad, Gujarat where he tested his considerable kite-flying skills with our friend Modi.  Following the photo ops, the actor praised the BJP leader as a ‘good man’ saying the next prime minister should be a ‘good man.’ Now the Muslim superstar has gone a step further to declare that Modi need not apologize for the 2002 pogrom that killed more than 2000 Muslims since courts have given him a clean chit.

No wonder the statement, made in a television interview soon after his meeting with the Gujarat chief minister, has incensed Muslims.  Some Ulema have even called for boycotting the star and his movies, sparking furious and familiar debate in Indian media about the community and its ‘orthodox’ leadership.

Now Salman is not just another matinee idol. He is one of India’s biggest superstars with massive fan following in a country in which majority of Muslims remain woefully marginalized and dispossessed in every sense.

And everyone, including Modi’s growing legion of apologists, knows full well what happened in 2002 and who planned and executed it. We also know how he got that ‘clean chit’ from courts.

Or how successive judicial inquiries were ‘managed’ by the state government and how a special investigation team, appointed by Supreme Court and headed by a former CBI director no less, ignored all the hard evidence to conclude there is no case against Modi. It is the same evidence that was enough to send his minister and other cohorts to prison for life.

But I guess all this matters little to Salman or other Bollywood stars who have been queuing up to endorse Modi–from Ajay Devgan to Sunil Shetty to Anupam Kher to writer Chetan Bhagat.  Even Lata Mangeshkar, the nightingale of India, who has regaled generations of music lovers in India, Pakistan and around the world with her truly gifted voice now pines to see ‘Narendra bhai’ in Delhi.

The most disappointing of the lot of course has been the role of the legend called Amitabh Bachchan.  Although Indian cinema’s most popular star and an actor nonpareil is yet to formally endorse Modi and acts only as a brand ambassador of Gujarat, it is nonetheless not easy to stomach.

It is personally distressing because millions of us grew up watching and adoring Bachchan as the ultimate symbol of protest against injustice, oppression and tyranny.  As the angry young man of a series of iconic movies conceived by Salim Javed, he took up the cudgel on behalf of the weak and vulnerable and took on forces far more powerful.

His portrayal of a grim, unsmiling dock worker who, repelled by injustice against his family, crosses over to the underworld of crime in ‘Deewar’ or a son out to avenge his wronged mother in ‘Trishul’ still brings out goose bumps. “My blood boils when I see injustice anywhere,” he says in one of his landmark movies.

You would say those are mere movies and cannot be taken too seriously.  Yet there’s something called artistic integrity.   I can’t help but wonder how someone like Vijay, the persona played by Bachchan in all those defining dramas, can bring himself to represent someone like Modi and what he stands for  I know that the actor is merely a brand ambassador of Gujarat and not that of its chief minister.  But then Modi is Gujarat and Gujarat is Modi.

Artists–along with writers, poets, scholars and intellectuals–form the cream of humanity.  They are expected to be more sensitive and acute in their consciousness than others and thus more alive to pain, suffering and injustice around them. They are supposed to stand up and speak up for the little guy.

This is not the first time artists have allowed themselves to go with the tide or have sold their conscience for the right price though.  While Hollywood is known for its love of Democrats, there was no dearth of stars like Clint Eastwood rooting for George W Bush overlooking all that happened under him.

Thousands of artists, painters and musicians including Jewish ones supported Hitler.  The Fuhrer personally determined what good art was and what, in his considered view, was degenerate, un-German trash. At least 42,000 of them were members of the Nazi art establishment called the Reich Chamber of Visual Arts.  But they had little choice given the nature of the Nazi regime and Fuhrer’s feverish, cockeyed worldview.

The same can’t be said of Gandhi’s India, can it? For all its warts and all and the saffron surge that threatens to envelope Delhi in less than three months, this still remains a secular, democratic republic with a constitution that promises equal rights to all.

So it’s not as if all those rushing to endorse the BJP’s PM hopeful and the exclusivist, fascist worldview that he represents and has successfully enforced in Gujarat are faced with gas chambers or firing squads, as artists were under the Third Reich.

Bachchan’s batting for the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ and his sermon about the “foreign invaders who destroyed our culture” in the adverts may be purely commercial. And Salman, embroiled in endless legal battles, perhaps figures a prime minister Modi could rescue him for the right price of course.

In the end though what counts is who stands on the side of justice, truth and humanity and who like everyone else joins the crowd to hail the Emperor’s clothes.  If not in this life, it certainly will in the next.  Right and wrong and good and evil cannot be the same. It’s not enough to proclaim your humanity by sporting ‘Being Human’ t-shirts. You have to actually act as one.

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  1. A telling comment on the frivolous loyalties of Bollywood personalities. But what else could one expect? The actors are merely human and not the best specimens of humanity. Their artistic talent and in some csses their looks are their best and sometimes their only assets. We are wrong to place so much faith in them. We must remember that the vast majority of them hail from middle-class backgrounds and had they been any smarter, they would have had more integrity. Amitab Bachan, the screen idol started off in the film industry with almost nothing to endorse his being there, for example looks, charisma, etc. Rajesh Khanna and Jeetender, the chocolate heros of the golden 70’s held far more sway over the hearts of their generation. Today, Bachan is praised for his baritones and acute business sense.He speaks Hindi with acstrong dialect reflecting his association with the far right factions of the country. While he may be an icon to many, he is a disappointment in many respects too. His flagrant flirtation with Rekha is still mired in controversy upsetting the moral applecart of cultural mores. This legend has set the precedence for andendorsed the weakness of the flesh and demonstrated how far one can go to protect his interests. We used to watch actors on the screen with sympathy and almost apologetically knowing that many of them belonged to the seamier side of life and where the theatre was a lifeline. However, we have been taken for a ride:Bollywood has blatantly flouted our values in our face and made us immune to sensitive issues such as modesty. The sandoz innerwear has become the in thing in fashion circles; Salman Khan has succeeded in brain washing a whole generation of youth into believing that it is okay to undress in public while the blouses of the modest saree have evolved into sequined entrapments which barely hold together.. If Bollywood is now teaming up with and supporting Modi, it is no surprise. After all Modi must have offered them business opportunities (looks can’t last)and of course immunity from punitive action. One may excuse these entertainers but what about people whose lives have been synonymous with integrity and being the voice of the underdog? Is Kiran Bedi listening?


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