Aditya Sinha: State actors and the Bolly factor
No wonder BJP's stormtroopers are baying for Bollywood blood; popular artistes are easily dispensable at the altar of electoral victory
I discovered while watching Bajirao Mastani a few years ago that one way to enjoy a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film is to watch it on a flat screen TV while drinking whiskey. Half of that film was focussed on the callipygian beauty Deepika Padukone's face, which admittedly shines. My daughter and I LOL-ed when she rode into battle with her gorgeous hair open. The conclusion is that Bhansali's films are a celebration of beauty rather than a celebration of narrative.
Various right-wingers have demanded a ban on the movie Padmavati. File pic
But if that's okay for most cinemagoers, then who am I to judge his cinema? Similarly, with Bhansali's version of Devdas: I didn't care much for it - not least because of the lead actress's painfully wooden performance - but was put in place by a colleague who remarked, "But weren't all the clothes so gorgeous? I spent so much time taking it all in." To each her own, no doubt.
It doesn't take rocket science to predict that Bhansali's upcoming epic Padmavati will again treat the narrative as merely a vehicle for the celebration of Deepika-ness. In any case, as people have already said, it is based less on history and more on poetry, or even medieval urban legend. Historically, Alauddin Khilji died more than two centuries before Padmini was born. And yet, various right-wingers posing as defenders of culture are up in arms over this long-ago "love jihad", and have demanded a ban on the movie.
This is unfair on several counts: one, bans on films, literature or other arts have no place in an open society; two, this is being done with the political motive of preparing for next year's Rajasthan Assembly election; and three, Bhansali's film is likely to be silly in various unintentional ways and the right-wingers have provided him with free tanks of the oxygen of publicity.
What is unfunny is the lunatics being given airtime on our television channels to threaten violence against the artistes. These lunatics' identity is irrelevant, for they are enabled by the Great Leader himself. He has proved in three and a half years that he can't run the economy. The recent Moody's upgrade will not impress the million jobseekers entering the workforce every month. It only reinforces the perception that his is a "suit-boot sarkar".
The Great Leader has no choice but to keep falling back on political rhetoric that demonises (or "demonetises") a section of India's citizenry.
Since Chittor, Padmini's realm, is in modern-day Rajasthan, this controversy is just in time to marinate for the Rajasthan election, which from all accounts will be defined by a heavy anti-incumbency sentiment against the BJP chief minister Vasundhara Raje. No wonder she has sprightly hopped on the anti-Padmavati bandwagon and is sending teachers to "love jihad" school. She knows that if the Congress fields a young chief ministerial candidate, she is in for a shellacking.
Some might believe this controversy was manufactured for the Gujarat Assembly election, as a force multiplier – like the BJP blitzkrieg of 30 union ministers for campaigning, a normal BJP carpet-bombing tactic that has nothing to do with desperation – and it may very well be.
I'm fairly certain, however, that like any other Indian voter, Gujarat voters have already made up their minds. Conventional wisdom dictates that the Great Leader won't lose this Assembly election – he can't afford to – and various polls show the BJP winning around 110 out of 182 seats.
This conventional wisdom, however, has given Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi freedom to go all out in his Gujarat campaign, because if no one expects him to win then he has nothing to lose. He has waged an energetic campaign, helped by the tailwind of public anger against the clumsy implementation of the recently simplified Goods and Services Tax (GST). His "Gabbar Singh Tax" jibe was so on-target that the government hurriedly slashed the number of items in the 28 per cent slab. His massive rallies and his questions on the Rafale jet deal have silenced those who doubted his political savvy.
If nothing else, his party hopes that his focus on Gujarat rather than Himachal Pradesh, where the elderly Virbhadra Singh is waging his confessedly last campaign, but is expected to transfer power to the BJP post-results, will politically wear the BJP down. If he wins, and this is not an unrealistic scenario, then it's difficult to see someone as think-skinned as the Great Leader recover from this blow.
No wonder, then that the BJP's stormtroopers are baying for Bollywood blood. Artistes are an easy target, and not even their peers seem to defend them, not even the "big" superstars who otherwise cosy up to the government to ward off investigations into the Paradise Papers or the Panama accounts. Popular artistes are easily dispensable at the altar of electoral victory, which, more than vikas or governance, is this government's overriding concern.
Aditya Sinha's crime novel, The CEO Who Lost His Head, is available now. He tweets @autumnshade. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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