India's film industry is infamous for not taking a stand on pressing socio-political issues. Even when a member of the film fraternity does step out and address such an issue, it is done without offending political parties. But taking on the prime minister is a move one never expects from industry bigwigs. Except, if you are Anurag Kashyap.
The director caused a storm on social media by lashing out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue of Karan Johar-directed Ae Dil Hai Muskil's release being opposed by the Hindu Right, as the film stars Pakistan actor Fawad Khan.
Just to make it clear, I complain because I expect my government to protect us, I question the PM because I have every right to..— Anurag Kashyap (@anuragkashyap72) October 16, 2016
We have been vulnerable for long, and have been paying the price by being used by every one to find any kind of standing..— Anurag Kashyap (@anuragkashyap72) October 16, 2016
And the real trade between the two countries across the border has not faced any kind of opposition, but we must pay the price for it— Anurag Kashyap (@anuragkashyap72) October 16, 2016
And anyone who questions my love for the country by shouting , must prove there love by representing the country either on the border ..— Anurag Kashyap (@anuragkashyap72) October 16, 2016
Or prove your love by representing the country in a honourable way.. Not by shouting here..— Anurag Kashyap (@anuragkashyap72) October 16, 2016
And yes sir @narendramodi we need protection.. It's really high time..— Anurag Kashyap (@anuragkashyap72) October 16, 2016
I refuse to live in the fear created by blind fanatics that you cannot have a conversation with your PM or question him or expect from him— Anurag Kashyap (@anuragkashyap72) October 16, 2016
I would rather ask my questions directly to the PM than trying to impress him by fake nationalism of banning "what puts you in news"— Anurag Kashyap (@anuragkashyap72) October 16, 2016
Kashyap's outrage ignited a fierce response - with many faulting the actor for dragging the PM into the controversy and still others characteristically raising doubts on acclaimed director's nationalism. Some from the film industry too have taken exception to Kashyap's stand, with the president of Indian Motion Picture Producers Association (IMPPA) even stating that Kashyap should go to Pakistan. BJP spokespersons too have launched an offensive against the filmmaker.
The coordinated onslaught notwithstanding, the director's bold stand is also the right one and deserves our support. Here's why:
One of the most common objections raised over Kashyap locking horns with Modi is: why should the PM be dragged into the issue? This objection is essentially an objection to democratic responsibility. Why should the PM not be held responsible for the harm his party is causing Indian artists?
BJP officials at different levels have supported this attack on movies starring Pakistan's actors.
Surely, the nation deserves to know whether the PM agrees with his party's targeting of artists? Or, if the PM is in the dark or doesn't agree with his party, then again the nation needs assurance about the PM's competence and control of the situation.
The PM can no longer enjoy the luxury of running with the hare (being the peacenik for the global audience) and hunting with the hound (appeasing hardcore nationalists). He must leave no room for ambiguity and provide clarity on the issue which has deeply divided the nation.
Our democracy only grows richer if the culture of citizens fearlessly questioning the powers that be is promoted. This right of citizens to hold elected officials accountable is integral to a democracy and Kashyap's prominent exercise of this right can only encourage others to do the same.
Also, why should any citizen in a democratic society need defending if he is merely asking questions? The very need to defend Kashyap is a disturbing commentary on the state of our democracy.
Cultural freedom strengthens India
The director coming out in support of the movie starring the Pakistan actor should also hearten the advocates of cultural freedom and progressiveness. We should realise India is stronger when it is culturally free.
|Why should PM Modi not be held responsible for the harm his party is causing Indian artists?|
The ability of our film industry to source talent from a wider talent pool (one not restrained by the enmity between states) gives our film industry a resonance that transcends national barriers. If we forgo this ability to have diverse talent, we weaken our film industry and, in effect, our culture.
The current environment, where cultural freedom is being pitted against nationalism, it is difficult for one to speak for the former. By supporting the movie, Kashyap has bravely endorsed its cause, even at the cost of becoming a target of hyper-nationalistic hysteria.
Make in India for the film industry
Kashyap has made an important point in his tweets: when the movie is targeted, Indian investors are the ones who will suffer the most. Does punishing the investors and violating the cardinal principle of stability of investment facilitate ease of doing business and Make in India, the two pet themes of the present regime?
What message do we send out to investors across the globe when they are made sacrificial lambs in political games of stroking ultra-nationalistic fervour for political expediency? More specifically, why would anyone invest in India's film industry in such a scenario?
Why should politicians go scot free, if artists are being made to feel the heat?Kashyap also drew an equivalence between a film involving Pakistani actors and the PM attending Nawaz Sharif's family do. He implied if Indian artists are going to be targeted for their past transactions with Pakistan's artists, why should the same standards not apply to Indian politicians?
With his tweets, Kashyap has also exposed the hypocrisy of the supporters of the regime - they are quick to target vulnerable artists, but refuse to use the same yardstick for leaders of the current government, who hobnobbed with Pakistan's politicians, and who are answerable to India's people in the face of state-sponsored terrorism.
The targeting of artists is a classic quixotic tilting at windmills. The artists here or in Pakistan are not the problem, they do not control the state and, therefore, it is unjust to hold them responsible for the activities of the state.
Bridging, not burning bridges is in India's national interest
The defence of movies featuring Paksitani actors should also be welcomed by those who realise that the solution to the India-Pakistan problem can't be more hate, fear and isolation. These movies are important to understand that we share common ground. They help to build bridges between the two nations, which is essential if we are to escape the vicious cycle of conflict and enmity.
Mocking the farce of shouting Bharat Mata ki Jai as a test of one's nationalismKashyap ended his much-needed rant with Bharat Mata Ki Jai, in what was a clear swipe at the present trend of using "Bharat Mata ki Jai" as a test of one's nationalism. It was a mockery of the misuse of the slogan - a defence for any act of intimidation and divisive politics. Kashyap, anticipating the self-appointed guardians of nationalism coming after him, tweeted their pet slogan.
Too often we have complained about the silence of the stalwarts of our entertainment world, but now that one among them is facing fire for taking on the political establishment, it is the responsibility of each one of us who cherishes freedom, democracy and cultural plurality that we don't allow Kashyap to be intimidated into silence.