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No Fear No Favour

SRK Begs Raj Thackeray over Raees; Has India Got a new Censor Chief?

For the Shiv Sena , nothing works as a better lightning rod than something which has got anything to do with Pakistan and Muslims. Last Diwali, the Raj Thackeray –led party created a huge ruckus over the release of the Karan Johar film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil because it starred some Pakistani actors. As per news reports, some movie theatres in Mumbai even refused to screen the movie despite its having been cleared by the Censor Board.

The agitators finally relented only when Johar paid a hefty hafta to the Sena. Now it is the turn of Shah Rukh Khan , often billed as the King of Bollywood, to go groveling before Thackeray for his upcoming release Raees, again for the same reason- that it features some actors from across the border. Khan met Thackeray and requested him to ensure that the movie did not face any hurdles. He has also assured Thackeray that Mahira Khan, a leading Pakistani actor who stars in the film, shall have no role in its promotion.

It is a perfect case of déjà vu, being replayed across generations. in In April 1974, M.S. Sathyu’s film Garam Hawa (Hot Wind) — the heartrending tale of the “scorching, simmering and debilitating winds of communalism, political bigotry and intolerance” incurred the Shiv Sena’s wrath. Salim Mirza, the protagonist, was a study in resilience and religious tolerance. Even when everything around him is charred in the communal inferno, he refused to leave India. Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena supremo, was so enraged at this humanistic portrayal of a Muslim that he threatened to raze to ashes every single theatre and screen which showed the film. The premiere at Bombay’s Regal Cinema was stalled because the police played mute bystanders. Only after a special screening was hastily arranged for Thackeray and he was satisfied that a Muslim had to stay back and join the Indian (read “Hindu”) mainstream was the film allowed to go on.

Tamas, a television serial carrying pretty much the same message as Garam Hawa, encountered similar opposition in 1988. It didn’t help that the government of Maharashtra, citing possible law and order problems, effectively played tango with the champions of censorship. It could go on air only after the Supreme Court rejected the government’s apprehensions as unfounded.

According to the Cinematograph Act, the law governing censorship in India, once a film or documentary is cleared by the Censor Board, it ought to be available for uninhibited public screening. And it is incumbent upon the government to ensure that no one creates any law and order problems. But the grim reality, as evident from Johar and Khan’s compulsion-driven actions, is far different. Belligerent political parties- today it is the Shiv Sena, tomorrow it could be another party or fringe group, are the new, more powerful censors, to which even the leading lights of Bolllywood meekly succumb.

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