Last week, the film fraternity celebrated 100 years of Indian cinema. On May 3, 1913, the first Indian film, Raja Harishchandra, made its debut. The city has since evolved into the film hub of India. Today, 60 per cent of the approximately 1,000 films made in India are produced in the city, and 30 per cent of them rely on amenities at Film City, a 500-acre studio set up by the state government.
In a democratic country like India, no field can prosper without the support of the government. Film City was set up in 1977, and 36 years after its inception, a majority of films and serials are shot and produced in the studio named after Dadasaheb Phalke.
The give-and-take between the state government and Bollywood dates back to the days of late Y B Chavan, the first CM of the state and also a connoisseur of arts and culture. Albeit, politicians of his generation were closer to the world of Marathi cinema than to the Hindi film industry. But there was the notable exception of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, who always enjoyed excellent relations with well-known Bollywood personalities, right from Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan to the Mangeshkar sisters. Even the stalwarts of the Marathi film world were very close to him.
Sadly and surprisingly, the state politicos have failed to make the most of the film industry’s thriving presence in Mumbai. This is evident from the fact that no icon from the celluloid screen is ready to endorse the state as its brand ambassador, even though an icon like Big B is happy to endorse tourism for the state of Gujarat.
It’s not like they didn’t try. Recently, actress Madhuri Dixit demanded a whopping sum as well as a plot in the city in exchange for her services. The deal fell through. No other face has yet expressed willingness to be the state’s brand ambassador.
Film industries in other state capitals like Kolkata and Chennai have a close rapport with their respective state governments. Some of the popular faces of Bengali and South Indian cinema are now notable political leaders with considerable clout. In fact, local film stars dominate politics in states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
In Mumbai, notable faces such as Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna, Raj Babbar, Jaya Bachchan and Dharmendra have all chosen to represent other states in the parliament. Hema Malini was earlier nominated to Rajya Sabha from Gujarat, and recently from Karnataka. Even though their permanent residences are in Mumbai, they have rarely contributed to state politics. The only exception is perhaps the late Sunil Dutt, who represented a part of the city in the Lok Sabha and also toured the state as part of his political expeditions. Despite making staggering fortunes in Mumbai, rarely has any star expressed his commitment to the state or its culture. In stark contrast, think of Rajnikanth’s contribution to Tamil culture.
In these troubled times, when a large part of the state is facing draught and severe water shortage, no stalwart from the film industry have come forward to offer their support. This apathy is a recent trend, for in the past, Bollywood has played a crucial role by generating large funds through exhibition matches and stage shows.
Today, with the exception of Salman Khan, Nana Patekar and Asha Bhosle, no celebrity has taken any initiative. The state needs to make a concerted effort to rope in big stars who can use their goodwill and influence to generate money for good causes. Except the late Bal Thackeray, no prominent politician in the state has ever tried to build bridges with Bollywood bigwigs. Another reason could be state’s wary approach towards ‘outsiders’. Parties like Shiv Sena and MNS have harped on this agenda, and their existence in state politics has always been met with tacit support from the Congress.
It’s not like the political and showbiz communities have been divorced from each other in the state. To some extent, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde inspired the confidence of Bollywood personalities when he held the state’s department of cultural affairs. Even late leaders like Vilasrao Deshmukh and Nashikrao Tirpude had excellent contacts in Bollywood, but rarely used these close ties to benefit the state. The state’s politicians need to remember that many Bollywood personalities, in spite of taking prime government plots in and around the city at extremely concessional rates, have scarcely felt the need to give something back to the state.
Maybe the 100th year of Indian cinema is a good time to establish a new trend, in which the state makes use of the many icons to promote its schemes and propagate messages for public welfare. It’s only fair, considering the industry has grown deep roots in the state and the attempts of many other states to woo the industry into their territories have failed thoroughly.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY