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The importance of being Laal Singh Chaddha

Updated on: 05 August,2022 09:06 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Sanjay Jha |

A deeply muffed mob of internet trolls are meticulously organising a #BoycottLaalSinghChaddha trend, even as no one has seen the film, showing we have weaponised hate and demonised minorities

The importance of being Laal Singh Chaddha

A still from Laal Singh Chaddha

Sanjay Jha“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.”  This epochal line celebrated the genius of American actor Tom Hanks in the all-time Hollywood classic, Forrest Gump. It ended up winning six Oscars, deservedly so. Aamir Khan, considered by Bollywood to be the ultimate manifestation of method acting and blessed with a cerebral impulse, is bringing the remake of Forrest Gump officially (not a legerdemain unofficial version) as Laal Singh Chaddha. Khan is a brilliant performer who has consistently pushed the envelope, and yet delivered amazing blockbusters. Chaddha should have got us all excited to head to the nearest multiplex especially after being cocooned in our claustrophobic precincts over a hellish two years. But no! There is a deeply muffed mob of internet trolls who have been meticulously organising a #BoycottLaalSinghChaddha trend. No one has seen the film obviously (it releases August 11), so this has nothing to do with artistic merit or creative liberalism gone rogue. So that begs the question; why are some piqued souls demonstrating such angst and animus against an innocuous cinematic offering? Truth is, we have weaponised hate and demonised minorities. What we are seeing is partisan trench warfare.

On being questioned at a media event about the state of the nation, the erudite actor known for doing offbeat films along with commercial potboilers, talked about the despondent social climate, which had prompted his then better half to contemplate moving abroad. Khan had in fact termed that as a “disastrous proposition”, terribly gobsmacked that they had even entertained another passport. Khan was hinting at the exclusionary nationalism being practised by political panjandrums. The year was 2015. That was a period that saw a rising communal temperature in India, the savagery of religious bigotry resulting in the dastardly lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri village of Uttar Pradesh. The rest is history. As things stand today, tragically Khan was being clairvoyant. I list some points to highlight the growing metamorphosis of India into a cauldron of hate. We are a dangerously polarised polity.

While Aamir Khan continues to be an Indian citizen, 9.3 lakh have migrated abroad since 2015, surrendering their passports as they seek greener pastures. Among them are staggering 23,000 dollar-denominated millionaires between 2014 and 2018 alone. If anyone believes they have all made such a tectonic life decision only for better goat cheese, fresher avocadoes, designer clothing and tax havens, they could be living in a fool’s paradise.

Lynching deaths, popularly associated with the murders of African Americans by the Ku Klux Klan, has been normalised in India, with several such incidents now not even generating a conversation. Akhlaq’s brutal death was just the beginning.

A systematic choreographed attempt to make 200 million Indians feel like second-rate citizens has been underway through a regular dose of divisive propaganda; love jihad, ghar wapsi, beef-eating bans, anti-Romeo squads, hijab, halal, aazaan, etc.  The freedom to sell merchandise close to places of worship is also being taken away.

Dog-whistle politics reigns; senior leaders either make cryptic statements (80:20, kabristan-shamshan, ‘we know the trouble-makers by the colour of their clothes’ etc.) or brazenly advocate exporting “anti-nationals” to Pakistan.

The government had to hurriedly apologise to the Middle Eastern and other Muslim-dominated countries after an outrageous outburst against Prophet Mohammed by the now-suspended national spokesperson of the ruling party, prompting a strong rebuke from the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court’s chief justice has also lamented the criminal justice system in India, where institutional harassment and unalloyed intimidation under the current regime has become de rigueur. Can we blame anyone for believing that the democratic recession in India may be irreversible?

Make no mistake, but there are fundamentalists on both sides; there was a horrific decapitation in Udaipur recently, exposing the dark underbelly of sleeper cells that could overwhelm society. There are bloodthirsty revanchists who are beginning to surface.

The organised attempt to embargo Aamir Khan’s film is another form of ghettoisation, marginalisation and segregation. Hate rises at an exponential rate because identity politics has a visceral depth to it. It feeds on human vulnerabilities.

At the end of Forrest Gump, the marathon runner standing at the grave of his departed wife tells her, “If there is anything you need, I am always there”. Perhaps it will help us all to start telling this to each other even as we live.

The writer is a former Congress spokesperson.
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