As far right Hindu activists escalated their protests across India against actor Aamir Khan’s latest film ‘PK’, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy on Tuesday made an unusual allegation—that the film was financed by shadowy money and Khan should be investigated for "laundering terrorist finance".
The producers of the film are three companies—Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Raj Kumar Hirani (also the director) and Sidharth Roy Kapur of UTV Motion Pictures. All well known names behind some of Bollywood's biggest hits.
So what is the basis of Swamy's accusation that Khan was “terror compliant”?
PK, a breezy film that takes a moralistic stand against godmen and frauds committed in the name of religion, has predictably angered right wing activists, who accuse the film of hurting Hindu sentiments. Khan, who plays an alien stranded on Earth, provoked his audience into questioning the roles of middlemen in Hinduism.
In a series of tweets since Monday, Swamy claimed the film was funded by Pakistani conglomerate ARY, which he accused of financing terror. He retweeted a photo of Khan, PK’s director Rajkumar Hirani, actress Anushka Sharma and producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra sitting on a stage with a advertisement for ARY Digital in the background to bolster his point.
“Who financed the PK film? According to my sources, it is traceable to Dubai and ISI. DRI must investigate,” he said. The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence is responsible for investigating economic offences.
ARY's known links with PK seem to end with its involvement in a promotional event for PK. But what do we know about ARY's links with terror or money laundering?
An old Washington Post report quotes a customs official as saying that “as part of efforts to investigate terrorist financing, the agency was scrutinizing movements of gold by several companies, including ARY Gold, one of Dubai's largest and most prestigious gold bullion and jewellery dealers”.
The WP story from 2002 also quoted ARY's Pakistani CEO Abdul Razzak as denying knowingly doing business with the Taliban or al Qaeda.
"I am a God-fearing person, but all my life I have been afraid of religious people like the Taliban," Razzak told the Washington Post. "I wouldn't like to deal with Taliban people, and we don't like Taliban people. If you say you want 100 kilos of gold, I can give you that wherever you want in 12 hours. What you do with it is your business," he said.
Razzak faced corruption charges in Pakistan for allegedly paying millions of rupees to Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of then-prime minister Benazir Bhutto, to secure a two-year monopoly on gold imports to Pakistan, the WP report said. Razzak passed away in February this year.
Swamy claimed that ARY was thrown out of the London Bullion Market for money laundering, drug trafficking and terror financing and accused Khan of being “terror compliant”.
This LBMA press release from August 2005 stated that ARY, Dubai’s membership status was revoked. But nowhere does the release mention money laundering was the cause, as Swamy has indicated.
The LBMA release simply said ARY of Dubai, failed to provide sponsorship required by the LBMA constitution and therefore its Associate status has been revoked with effect from August 30, 2005.
“Aamir Khan's goose is cooked. He better do prayaaschit before Lord Shiva to escape severe indictment,” one of Swamy's dramatic tweets said. ARY Group is a Dubai-based holding company with interests in digital among others.
A representative for Vidhu Vinod Chopra said he was out of the country and unavailable for comments. A mail sent to him remained unanswered as of 4 PM.
A statement from Hirani's office:
I’m deeply saddened and concerned about the protests by some groups against our film PK. On behalf of the entire team of PK I would like to clarify that we respect all religions and faiths.
Our film is inspired by the ideas of Saint Kabir and Mahtama Gandhi. It is a film, which brings to fore the thought that all humans who inhabit this planet are the same. There are no differences. In fact, I have the highest respect for the concept of “Advait”—the oneness of all humans—that is central to Indian culture, thought, and religion. It saddens me to think that a film that upholds this great Hindu principal is accused of being disrespectful of Hinduism.
I would like to thank the millions of deeply religious people who have loved the film and expressed their feeling that the film in fact upholds the spirit of true religiosity and condemns only the abuse of it.
I appeal to the groups protesting against our film to see the film in totality and not just isolated scenes. Our intention is not to hurt anyone, or to discriminate against any religion. I would once again like to assure them that I have the highest regard towards all religions, and that we respect all religions and faiths.
I believe in the great Hindu idea—“Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”—the whole world is a family.
Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and indeed all religions, teach us brotherhood and love. The intent of the film is to uphold this great thought.
A Newscrunch report said sources close to the PK team has dismissed Swamy’s charge as baseless. “The photo with ARY flex on stage was taken during one of the countless promotional events for the movie”, the report said. The sources told Newscrunch that ARY Digital, one of the group companies, is popular with South Asian expats in the Gulf and beams to over 100 countries.
Yoga exponent Baba Ramdev said earlier today he supported the exposure of self styled godmen duping people but was against disrespect of Indian faith and tradition. He asked activists to desist from violent protest and vandalizing public property.
PK collected Rs 10.08 crore on Monday and is going strong in its 2nd week, a press release from the film's representatives stated. The film has made 246.32 crore. Khan, a Muslim actor, has been targeted for upsetting Hindu sentiments.
Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists jointly barged into the Shree Talkies in Agra on Sunday evening to disrupt a screening of 'PK'. The cinema hall management filed a complaint against protestors at the New Agra police station.
Madan Sharma of the Bajrang Dal and Rajendra Garg of the VHP criticised Khan by saying that he was displaying anti-Hindu sentiments by ridiculing Hindu gods and goddesses in the film.
Actor Boman Irani said people needed to respect the viewpoint of the makers. "People may agree and may even disagree but then they have to respect it (the concept of 'PK') because we are also respecting their view," said Irani, who has a key role in the film.
Interestingly, senior BJP leader L.K. Advani, who has been thanked in the opening credits of the film, hailed the movie as a "wonderful and courageous film".
TN cinemas run by Eli drug money and Bollywood by gold bars of terror financiers!! Must search for cure— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) December 30, 2014
Aamir Khan's goose is cooked. He better do prayaaschit before Lord Shiva to escape severe indictment— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) December 30, 2014
What began as a tweet by me was subject to barrage of vitriol including Toilet newspaper. That made me curious. Is Aamir terror compliant?— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) December 30, 2014
ARY thrown out of London Bullion Market and from UK in 2006 for money laundering drug trafficking and terror financing. Aamir Khan answer!!— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) December 30, 2014
A complaint will go soon to initiate action under PMLA on Aamir Khan & co for laundering terrorist finance. I hope MoF does not block it.— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) December 30, 2014
Attacking a duly censored film has to stop!!! What kind of a democracy are we living in?? No film should be targeted or be allowed to..,#PK— Karan Johar (@karanjohar) December 29, 2014
All this bile against Aamir Khan for #PK but not a word against Raju Hirani, who actually made the movie. Ah, silly me, Hirani is a Hindu!— Seema Goswami (@seemagoswami) December 30, 2014
#pk govt must step in support of movie /freedom of speech Time govt stops just speaking shld act to be real liberal secular democratic govt— Supriya Sule (@supriya_sule) December 30, 2014
People who are protesting #PK sound just like the characters in the film— Priya Ramani (@priyaramani) December 29, 2014