Art & Culture

Marathi film row: Writers should have stood up for Shobhaa De

Advaita Kala
Advaita KalaApr 12, 2015 | 18:02

Marathi film row: Writers should have stood up for Shobhaa De

Was it really about vada pao and popcorn? Frankly, given an option I would choose the former, I’ve never been much of a popcorn fan myself. But before this entire debate got reduced to a farcical jousting on culinary pride, there was a far more pertinent issue at hand, one of the right to an opinion.

That Shobhaa De, the dramatis personae, is popular and unpopular in equal measure and has said things in the past that cause offence, is a fact. A varied graph of people have been singed by her caustic commentary – politicians, movie stars; she reserves her most acerbic for the powerful. In her four-decade-long career, she has carved a niche for herself that is entirely Shobhaa, there can be no imitators, frankly because they just don’t have the guts.



For too long, writers have been the victim of political bullying by self appointed cultural vigilantes. I would refrain from attributing this to one political party because each given the opportunity has clamped down on the right to free expression. It is the way things are. Most writers have learnt their way around this, either staying quiet or engaging with “feel good” politics. For those who wander, there is vilification of such an extreme nature that in these times of exaggerated expression and outrage, the true power of the pen is ironically revealed.

Writers, we are reminded, are still taken seriously, especially if they say things that are not to script. Writers are an uncertain celebrity in this era of high visibility, mostly recognised by their names, there are but a few exceptions to this rule and arguably most are quite content with this cloak of anonymity – it affords a freedom to engage with a subject that is unencumbered by recognition. A few like Truman Capote, have successfully used that celebrity to produce excellent work, like he did with In Cold Blood, gaining access to a murderer in middle America and producing one of the finest works in narrative non fiction.


For most others, it is thrust on them by controversy, a few (too few) have thrived under that spotlight, most have withered away and withdrawn. Recently, the case of Perumal Murugun, was a tragic telling of what this kind of attention can do to a writer and his creative life. For a writer’s creative life, is just as real as the one he or she lives in the moment. Threatened with physical violence, he struggled to find a new home for his family and made the ultimate call of protest stating, “Perumal Murugun the writer, is dead”.


In these moments, you realise just how alone a writer is, there is no political backing, no legal recourse for people who don’t have deep pockets (and most writers don’t), no protests on the streets to fight for their rights, just a lonely coming to terms with mob justice. Ms De, despite the prime time attention, was still a lone woman surrounded by a hundred police officers (thanks to her celebrity) trying to defend her right to say what she feels. That this was possibly the least of her controversial statements was an irony that few can ignore. However she chose not to be a victim, on the contrary she refused that temptation outright, even rejecting playing the gender card. She was going to defend her right as a citizen. This single approach to this whole ludicrous controversy brought the Shiv Sena to their knees.



The time has come for writers to not be a “cause” any longer, to not seek ambiguous solidarity from people in their fraternity but to reach out to the thinking general public, that their presence serves. A society that finds it all too easy to dismiss or clamp down on the right to free expression (even if it offends one), must understand that this is but a step closer to embracing willful ignorance and restricted freedoms, inviting the same consequence in their own intimate lives. We have already seen examples – Facebook posts leading to incarceration, cartoonists sent to jail, stand up comics vilified, draconian laws that need court interventions to be struck down (66A) – an ever expanding list. Through the ages, the persecuted writer is society’s most obvious symptom of this malaise.

As for the vada pao controversy, we now know that the grim Shiv Sena takes their food very seriously and force-feeding is an act of affection. Foie gras, banned in many countries may have finally found a home in Maharashtra. As for writers, we owe an unacknowledged debt to the often derided Ms De, we may not say the things she often says, or find them necessary even – but she certainly opens the door to say a lot more.

Last updated: April 12, 2015 | 18:02
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