I’m watching Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (ADHM) tonight. I’m glad that my friend Karan Johar is a relieved man. The weeks gone by have been nothing short of torturous for him. Who would have thought that casting a Pakistani actor would turn out to be such a nuisance.
In my previous column I had stated that the banning of Pakistan artistes in Bollywood for whatsoever reason, emotional or practical, is a subjective viewpoint. Fawad Afzal Khan was signed up to play Anushka Sharma’s onscreen husband at a time when both the heads of state were holding a dove. Things turned sour overnight and an attention-seeking political party turned hostile by threatening to halt the release of ‘ADHM’ and every other film featuring cross-border talent, which, actually, is beyond the party’s legal remit.
As an Indian, while I understand the sentiment among my countrymen to turn averse to everything Pakistani, I say in the same breath that if there were to be a blanket ban, it ought to be prospective. Even taxes are not levied retrospectively, so why single out and penalise a film, which has been in the making for two years and with a fat sum of money already invested in it. The Central Board of Film Classification has cleared it for theatres so for a political group to challenge its release not only amounts to a travesty of justice, but in a sense, makes the CBFC redundant.
With the sharp sword of uncertainty hanging over the maker’s head, he had no choice but to call upon the Chief Minister of the state to intervene. Instead of asserting his authority as a leader and fighting the miscreant, the CM chose to broker a deal between the filmmaker and the leader of the goon party for his own political gain. After all, the February election isn’t far.
The two-point outcome of the tri-party rendezvous was as follows: (a) Filmmakers to donate Rs. 5 cr. (though the CM insists that a producer can exercise his discretion over the amount) to an army relief fund, which, to my mind, is deeply insulting to the valour of our soldiers. (b) Place a slide that pays homage to those martyred in Uri, at the beginning of the film, as if that will make any difference to the families of the martyrs.
Evidently, the solution that emerged was worse than the problem. There is a word for it – extortion. The State forces a law-abiding citizen to make a donation in the name of patriotism at the behest of an inveterate bully. And a minority political party, which has not made any contribution to the welfare fund itself, sits on amoral high ground, expecting a citizen to cough up, in one shot, a sum that is four times the existing balance in bank account of the welfare fund. Pushed against the wall and desperate to release his film, the producer-director is left with no choice but to accept the ludicrous proposal with alacrity.
The truth is that by involving extra-constitutional players, the State weakened the CM’s office and failed miserably in defending the freedom of its citizens, something that does not augur well for a democracy. From being a sentiment, patriotism got reduced to a business transaction with a hefty price tag. I am concerned that with the setting of this incorrect precedent, the doors have opened wide to mischief-mongers to make films their soft target and misuse the situation for unwarranted financial and reputation gain.
When the audience watches ‘ADHM’ officially or otherwise, Fawad will be the cynosure of all eyes. Considering his cameo won’t last more than a couple of minutes, we’ll be left wondering what the palaver was all about.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2016.
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