Mira Nair’s web series A Suitable Boy is one of the projects that has attracted unwanted attention. A politician claimed that the series hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus by depicting the lead character, a Hindu girl, passionately kissing a Muslim boy against the backdrop of a temple.
Akshay Kumar’s film Laxmmi Bomb was criticised for including derogatory remarks about Goddess Lakshmi. The makers had to ultimately remove the word ‘bomb’ from the name. Bhumi Pednekar’s film Durgamati was initially named Durgavati but the makers changed the name following the Laxxmi Bomb trolls. The Ajay Devgn starrer Singham attracted a controversy over portraying a Hindu sadhu in a negative light, though many cult sadhus are currently serving jail terms in the country.
The recent advertisements for Tata’s Tanishq came under fire too – one was accused of promoting ‘love jihad’ while another, on ‘no-firecracker Diwali’, offended a representative of a political party who saw it as an unnecessary attempt to teach Hindus how to celebrate the festival. In response to the online backlash, Tanishq withdrew both the ads.
Public reactions were not always like this. In the 70s, songs such as ‘Mai tujhse milne aai mandir jane ke bahane’ (I came to meet you on the pretext of going to the temple) were well appreciated. ‘Laxmi Bomb’ is the well-known name of a firecracker, and generations of children have had fun bursting these crackers during Diwali. The government has been issuing statements about the need to celebrate a ‘green Diwali’ for a nearly a decade. But when the ad sought to convey the same message, it was taken amiss.
The fringe elements have progressively been occupying mainstream space. What used to be a minor whisper or smear campaign has blown up into demands for bans and boycotts over the flimsiest of excuses to shut off liberal voices and score a strike against creative liberties. This is a result of constant outrage, and fanning negative sentiments through trolls.
Film critic Mayank Shekhar is of the opinion that this has always been the case but now it is more organised. "It’s just got amplified to a point that it’s impossible to go a day or two without an ad, film or series under attack by organised troll armies, often even actively supported by certain state governments, as was the case with the FIR about A Suitable Boy in Madhya Pradesh filed by a BJP representative," asserts Shekhar.
Another film critic, Murtaza Ali Khan, agrees that this isn’t a very recent phenomena but sees a pattern. "People started with historical figures like Padmavat and Panipat but now it seems people are overreacting. Earlier only a sect would attack. But now everything is being polarised and cinema has become a bone of contention," says Ali.
Trolls are orchestrated
"That’s where the administration comes into the spotlight. Why does every controversy have a religious angle? Because that’s a way of promoting the ideology of a particular sect rather than religious sentiments. How do you think things trend on Twitter? Because you pay and the ruling party has the IT cell where people work to create trolls."
Fauzia Arshi, filmmaker
Tweets are individual views
"On social media we ensure that we don’t violate any moral code of conduct. We focus on positives more than negatives. And if some politician is tweeting it is his individual views."
Punit Agarwal, head of the social media and IT team of BJP’s Delhi unit
"The trolls have power to draw mass attention. And politicians in India know this. A movie or series doesn’t necessarily have to try to hurt religious sentiments, but the people in power at times use their power to influence and instigate masses. The religion coin has been used by the ruling party and also the opposition parties, to garner vote banks. It is easy to divert people’s mind with film controversies, because they have mass followings and connecting movies to religion is easy."
Sonnet Mondal, Internationally renowned poet and social activist.
Filmmakers too take silly liberties
"Cinema can take liberties for entertainment, but it cannot take liberties in recreating history or religious sentiments. You have to be very careful, because many times, the masses learn things from this kind of entertainment. Of course there’s freedom in terms of entertainment, but the freedom also should be used with responsibility."
Dr Avkash Jadhav, subject expert at Censor Board of India, (CBFC)
"Filmmakers use controversy to market their films. They use elements in their movies which provoke Hindus. Art has a responsibility towards society. Bollywood needs to be responsible."
Dr Shiv Singh Palwat, academician and social activist