Boycott can’t right a wrong


The Colombo fracas proves that the film industry is best kept out of politics

Kabir Bedi

PRINCIPLES ARE not immune to relativity. Killing another human being is wrong, but generally justified in self-defence, and always applauded on the battlefield. The freedom of speech doesn’t extend to shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre. So it is when we say that politics should not be mixed with sports or culture. There are no absolutes in the moral landscape of rights and wrongs. And one man’s principles are often another person’s poison.

Illustration: Anand Naorem

On June 7, Kites was yanked out of Tamil Nadu theatres as a result of Hrithik Roshan attending the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards in Colombo. Organisations in the South want this ban extended to films of all the other actors who attended the event. Is that fair? No, say most in Bollywood, films shouldn’t be a field for political football.

Historically, all the film industries in India have weathered many bans by many organisations, even governments. (Gujarat banned Aamir Khan’s Fanaa because he spoke out for the rights of the displaced in the Narmada controversy.) But what can filmmakers do if the State won’t protect them? Will Bollywood retaliate by refusing to show southern films in the north? Doubtful, I think, because they probably don’t see it as worth the trouble. The box office of Bollywood films in the south, and vice versa, are barely a sliver of their real revenues. Besides, all such bans generally fade away with time.

Practicality, as often in the past, will prevail over their principles. But, even in Bollywood, there are many who believe that IIFA’s decision to go to Colombo was highly insensitive, given the brutality of the war with the Tamil Tigers and the social wounds that still fester. So, whatever the principles, this dispute is not as simple as it seems.

Even in Bollywood, there are many who believe that IIFA’s decision to go to Colombo was highly insensitive

An example to the contrary. The Shiv Sena decided to ban the showing of My Name Is Khan because Shah Rukh Khan had said Pakistani cricketers should also have been in the IPL. Calling him a traitor to the nation, they threatened to close down any theatre that dared to screen his film. Bollywood groaned. They were fed up of being held to ransom when most vulnerable: the day of release. But many refused to speak out as they understandably feared for their personal safety.

The issues involved were too important for me to stay silent. Throwing caution to the winds, my daughter Pooja and I debated Shiv Sena on many talk shows, and we brazenly turned up at the opening show, ready for the brickbats of the Shiv Sena. Fortunately, the Maharashtra government had decided to take them head-on. All we faced were a few bottles and stones thrown at us (one now a memento in my study) before the offenders were whisked off in police vans. But, for me, the real hero was Shah Rukh because he refused to bend, apologise, or back down inspite of the incredible pressures he must have faced, from close friends and financers, to be “practical” when he was most vulnerable. It was a brutal test of his courage. (Ironically, the film got one of the best openings ever thanks to the Shiv Sena agitation! But that’s another story.)

Should politics be kept out of sports and cultural matters? In principle, of course. In reality, it will happen often, for every reason imaginable, right or wrong. For example, America boycotted the Moscow Olympics over the Afghanistan war in 1980, but had attended the Berlin Olympics in 1936 presided over by Hitler.

Wherever the principles of some collide with the hopes, fears or outrage of others, there are bound to be fireworks. Where to make a stand (like Shah Rukh Khan), and where to compromise (like IIFA), is a choice dependent on what matters to you most. But pick your battles with care. You can’t win them all.



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