In November last year, Yogi Adityanath, the BJP MP given to some outrageous statements, declared that Shah Rukh Khan had begun to speak like Hafiz Saeed and it was time for the actor to go to Pakistan. Khan’s “crime” was to add his voice to the debate on tolerance — he had said that he saw growing intolerance in India. Naturally Adityanath, the patriot, could not swallow this insult to the motherland and hit out the only way he could by condemning the actor to a fate worse than death: a move to Pakistan. Last week, the same Yogi came out in support of Salman Khan for his statement that Pakistani artistes working in Indian films were “actors, not terrorists”. No demand that this Khan move to Pakistan; instead, Adityanath said, “our fight is not against art and culture, it is against terrorism”. One might be mistaken in thinking Yogi Adityanath was a liberal coming out of the closet. What gives?
Information and broadcasting minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, never one to express a strong and pungent viewpoint, chose his words carefully when asked about Pakistani actors working in India. In normal times, he said, “there is no problem, as art has no barrier”. But he himself was not advocating that they go back, he added. So there we have it. Officially, the government is not advocating that Pakistani actors should leave. Even the ruling party is all for art and freedom of culture. So who exactly is against the Pakistani actors, such as Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan and wants them to get out of India? And how come the BJP, specially its more fiery members, is not joining the chorus and is instead behaving like “libtards”?
Most people have forgotten that at one time Indians used to go across the border to act in Pakistani films as its industry was then in poor shape. In the 1950s, actresses like Sheila Ramani and Meena Shorey were cast in Pakistani films to give them some box office appeal. Pakistani singers like Mehdi Hasan and Ghulam Ali sang in India to great acclaim in the 1980s and 1990s, and actors, from Zeba Bakhtiar onwards, have been coming here for a long time. Fawad Khan, the latest heartthrob from Pakistan, has a huge following here. The objections are relatively new. The main voices against the Pakistanis have come from within the film industry and from one tiny political party. The Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association gave a call for them to leave and media mogul Subhash Chandra, former chairman of Zee, declared that the group’s channel Zindagi would now no longer show Pakistani serials. Thundering noises were made by Raj Thackeray’s outfit Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, that is slowly sinking into irrelevance and needs high-profile controversies to keep itself going till the crucial municipal corporation elections in Mumbai early next year.
The IMPPA really doesn’t carry much weight and the big guns, like Karan Johar and Shah Rukh, in whose films the two Pakistanis were acting, will not bother too much about what the body says. Zindagi, which was set up to telecast dubbed serials from countries such as Pakistan, Turkey and Mexico, is a minnow in terms of viewership and impact compared to the giants such as Star, Sony, Colors and Zee. At the moment, the channel is barely showing any Pakistani serial, and certainly nothing that compared to its big successes such as Zindagi Gulzar Hai, in which Fawad Khan was spotted by audiences and Hindi filmmakers, who then picked him for their projects.
Thus, any such “ban” is of zero consequence in real terms, specially since when MNS claimed victory that all the actors had left within the 24-hour deadline given them, it emerged that they had all gone back in July. It could create some bother for actors who come here for work from now on, but if the government issues a visa and work permit, then clearly the matter should be closed. But for Johar, Shah Rukh Khan and others, the real fear is that MNS activists — and they could well be joined by the Shiv Sena — could create problems at the time of the films’ release. The Sena has long pulled off stunts such as digging up cricket pitches to prevent India-Pakistan matches, refusing to allow singers such as Ghulam Ali and blackening faces, as it did with Sudheendra Kulkarni in October last year. The government’s assurances of protection did not matter then and probably won’t matter now if the Senas decide to go on the warpath against Karan Johar, whose film is scheduled for release soon.
The film industry has remained silent on the issue. Individual actors, producers, directors have not come together to raise their voice against the MNS or indeed the IMPPA directive. No one wants to stick their necks out. In this context, Salman Khan’s statement is significant. He is a superstar whose opinion counts and what is more, he is the one Khan who is close to the powers that be. He could well be echoing official sentiments. The government and BJP have chosen to take the higher ground after the Uri attacks and the subsequent “surgical strikes” on terrorist targets in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. The triumphalism has overall been at a low key, except for Manohar Parrikar’s characteristic outbursts in colourful language, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried to distinguish the Pakistani establishment from the ordinary citizens of that country. It is thus no surprise that Yogi Adityanath has supported Salman Khan.