Late on Friday night, actor-producer Farhan Akhtar sent out a tweet.
He said, "My fellow film folk, if we do not unite now against these recurring incidents of bullying, it's going to get much worse.
It was a cry of despair rarely heard in an industry that normally prefers not to take a hard stand and puts business before politics. A few hours earlier, in a brazen disregard for law, Sanjay Leela Bhansali was slapped, pulled, and quite aggressively manhandled at his place of work -- the fort in Jaipur where his Padmavati crew was filming the period drama.
The disruption was carried out by a fringe group that goes by the name Rajput Karni Sena, who were anxious about the possible depiction of a romance between Rani Padmini and Alauddin Khilji. There is no evidence to suggest whether there is a romantic track between the two in the film but Karni Sena just assumed the same, probably because the roles are played by real-life lovers Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone.
One doesn't expect the Karni Sena to be discerning enough to know that a filmmaker can cast against type. Ranveer Singh and Priyanka Chopra were siblings in Zoya Akhtar's Dil Dhadakne Do but played husband and wife in Bhansali's Bajirao Mastani. And one can almost be certain that Bhansali didn't run the script of Padmavati by the Karni Sena befoe going ahead with his film. Filmmakers run their script by actors and producers, not self-styled activists fighting a cause they themselves don't know enough about.
In any case, even if there is a love track between Rani Padmini and Khilji, the actions of Karni Sena are obviously not justified. Padmavati is a fictional film and a filmmaker is well within his rights to take cinematic liberties. It's not uncommon for filmmakers to fictionalize historical events for dramatic impact. That's how freedom of expression functions in a democracy.
However, the Karni Sena's founder, one Lokendra Singh Kalvi, warned that his group won't let the 'story of their ancestors be tarnished' and dared Bhansali to make a film against Hitler in Germany. (Kalvi, one can assume, is not familiar with a lot of films that show Hitler being killed, which have been made by European filmmakers who all survived.)
While these sweeping threats by self-styled Senas aren't rare, what's unique about the current narrative is Bollywood's reaction to a situation that once again threatens their freedom to tell stories.
Farhan's cry for help traveled far and wide and there was an outpouring of support from actors, directors, and producers, all of who were all-too familiar with Bhansali's predicament.
From Anushka Sharma and Alia Bhatt to Hrithik Roshan and Karan Johar, the film industry, notorious for being a segregated lot, came together to condemn the attack and demanded stringent action against the perpetrators of the assault on Bhansali and his crew.
Here's how it is... don't like or agree with our films? Simple solutions. Don't buy a ticket and watch them. That's it!!— Abhishek Bachchan (@juniorbachchan) January 28, 2017
And this is what Bollywood needs. This unity and a hardened stand were missing when Karan Johar was victimized during the Ae Dil Hai Mushkil controversy. Not one person spoke against the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which threatened to vandalize theaters if he went ahead with the release. During Raees too, it was quietly accepted that Mahira Khan will not come to India to promote her film.
Priyanka Chopra, Bhansali's Kashibai from Bajirao Mastani said:
It's appalling to hear what happened to #SanjayLeelaBhansali .im so saddened..Violence is not what our forefathers taught us..— PRIYANKA (@priyankachopra) January 27, 2017
Did random people enter another persons workplace n raise their hand on him because dey decide dey don't like what he does? I am enraged!!!— Hrithik Roshan (@iHrithik) January 27, 2017
Mr. Bhansali , Sir. I stand with you. This is so infuriating!!!!— Hrithik Roshan (@iHrithik) January 27, 2017
But it seems that the industry too is finally becoming aware of how fringe groups take advantage of its divisive nature.
Producers, directors, and actors rallying behind Bhansali will perhaps empower him to take a stand in what he's making and not get bullied by random goons who claim to represent a community or champion a political cause.
While it's easy to dismiss this spontaneous support as armchair comradeship, it's still a start in the right direction, with enough weight to bring about a change provided it remains consistent and relentless and leaps beyond its 140-character limit.
What, one hopes, it isn't is a case of selective outrage just because the opposing side this time is a Rajasthan-based outfit (unlike the MNS) with no hold whatsoever in the country's film capital, Mumbai.
This is what Karan Johar said:
The collective voice of Bollywood carries a power that will ensure that the industry remains insulated from fringe elements. Together they have a clout that can change things effectively. Together they can sway public opinion in the ideal direction: progressive.
Mahesh Bhatt made some relevant points here:
The last time the industry came together for a singular cause, it managed to overturn the Censor Board's diktats of over 80 cuts in Abhishek Chaubey's Udta Punjab and brought it down to 1.
It was a long, elaborate, and a costly battle for the makers but the collective support certainly acted as a catalyst in the battle between the Censor Board and the filmmakers.
And it did turn out to be a cause worth fighting for.
Film industry must stand as 1 n do whatever it takes to ensure that d reprehensible attack on SLB becomes a flashpoint for goondagiri 2 stop— Azmi Shabana (@AzmiShabana) January 28, 2017
But finally, senior journalist Aseem Chhabra summed it up, saying:
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