Subscribe to South Asia Citizens Wire | feeds from | @sacw
Home > Special Dossiers / Compilations > In Defence of Freedom of Expression, Public Space in / on South (...) > India: The Culture of Fear - film-making in the Thackeray years

India: The Culture of Fear - film-making in the Thackeray years

3 December 2012

print version of this article print version

It still feels like yesterday to filmmaker Hansal Mehta. In 2000, at the time of the release of his film Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar, he was viciously thrashed, his office vandalized and face blackened by Shiv Sena youth leaders. Later, he was summoned to Khar Danda and made to apologize in front of over 20,000 local people and politicians. All for an innocuous dialogue in the film that they thought was disrespectful towards their community. The incident is the closest that Mehta came to experiencing the power of Bal Thackeray. “He created this culture of fear and his entire cadre came to thrive on it,” he says.

Filmmaker Govind Nihalani never met Thackeray but recalls how the Shiv Sena had initially disapproved of his 1987 TV film Tamas. “It was perceived as anti-Hindu, as though I had suggested that the riots had been engineered by the Hindus. They supported several PILs against it,” says Nihalani. However, unlike Mehta, things eventually turned out amicably for him. Thackeray saw Tamas and liked it, specially Om Puri’s searing performance. The PILs then ceased to matter. 

There’s a long laundry list of such incidents in Bollywood. Thackeray’s unwritten authority and clout have run deep in the industry. No wonder they whisper his name and Godfather in the same hushed breath yet refuse to be openly quoted on him. Even when he is no more. Understandable, considering some of the most influential names in the film industry have been at the receiving end of the Sena offensive. Deepa Mehta’s Fire was stalled for denigrating Hinduism—because its lesbian heroines happened to be called Radha and Seeta. Dilip Kumar was berated for refusing to return Pakistan’s highest civilian award, Nishan-e-Imtiaz and A.K.Hangal was labelled a traitor for attending Pakistan Day celebrations at the Mumbai Consulate. SRK’s My Name Is Khan was threatened with a ban. All for the superstar’s criticism of the teams not bidding for Pakistani cricketers in the 2010 Indian Premier League. 

“They have been the extra-constitutional authority in the state,” says Mehta. So, many have had to knock on Thackeray’s door voluntarily. Mani Ratnam had to incorporate cuts suggested by Thackeray to get a clean chit for Bombay. Ram Gopal Verma had to organize a preview ofSarkar for him, that fortunately, met with his whole-hearted approval and endorsement. “People in the industry are respectful and cautious of not being on their wrong side,” says Nihalani. “It has always been a good thing to be in the good books of Balasaheb,” says veteran journalist Rauf Ahmed. It all boils down to survival strategies and market compulsions. “They have been exerting coercion and Bollywood hasn’t had the spine to stand up to them. Everyone chooses to be reverential because of their tremendous nuisance value,” says an insider. Last decade the clout has been on a relative decline and has, in fact, got transferred to Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. So Karan Johar had to apologise to Raj for the use of Bombay instead of Mumbai in Wake Up Sid... Read more:

Also see: 
Hitler’s Strange Afterlife in India “If you take Mein Kampf and if you remove the word Jew and put in the word Muslim, that is what I believe in.” Bal Thackeray in 1992..  “There is nothing wrong, if [Indian] Muslims are treated as Jews were in Nazi Germany.” Interview to Time magazine, 1993

View online : From Dilip Simeon’s Blog