Fanaa: Jury is out, but political fury persists

May 28, 2006 Mahendra Ved

New Delhi, May 28 (IANS) Now that the jury is out over "Fanaa", it may be worthwhile to ask why the country's main opposition party that has sent a bevy of film and television stars to parliament has chosen to target the film.

Unusually, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has warned the film's lead actor Aamir Khan against "trying to be a leader", while its deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, said the ban in Gujarat could be withdrawn if he apologized for having hurt the sentiments of the people of Gujarat.

Their ire is directed against Aamir Khan's views on the situation of the minorities in Gujarat in the wake of the riots of 2002 and last month's clashes in Vadodara. He had spoken on this subject earlier as well, but was more strident after the Vadodara incidents.

His sitting in 'dharna' (protest sit-in) along with environmentalist Medha Patkar on the Narmada issue last month has come in handy for those who want to use his views on the treatment of Muslims in Gujarat as a stick to beat him with.

Khan has said nothing against the dam - he only wanted the relief and rehabilitation package to be implemented. The Supreme Court has said the same thing time and again.

On communal violence in Gujarat also, the Supreme Court has passed numerous strictures against the Narendra Modi government. Khan said the same things and is certainly not the first of Modi government critics.

Opposition to "Fanaa" reminds one of the Shiv Sena tit-for-tat in stopping Maharashtra screening of films produced in Tamil Nadu at the height of the anti-Hindi agitation in the southern state. Not only Chennai-produced films but those from other southern centres were also affected.

Controversies over films either pertain to its content or are sparked to support or oppose a personality or an issue. "Fanaa" falls into the latter category.

Even legendary Satyajit Ray attracted the ire of nursing community for showing a nurse working as a part-time call girl in "Pratidwandi".

Joy Mukherjee's "Hum Saya" had an anti-China theme that had the leftists angry in West Bengal.

By contrast, controversy over Dev Anand's "Guide" was confined to newspapers and film critics. Novelist R.K. Narayan first praised it but later wrote an angry piece, "Misguided Guide".

Political themes in "Kissa Kursi Ka" and "Aandhi", perceived as being about the then prime minister Indira Gandhi, ran into trouble. The former was denied a censor certificate, while the latter was withdrawn from theatres. A few weeks later, Gandhi herself cleared Aandhi's return to the theatres after she consulted some critics.

Shekhar Kapur's "Bandit Queen" faced censor problems for its use of expletives, a rape sequence and violence. Some cuts were applied before it was released.

More recently, another Aamir Khan-starrer "Rang De Basanti" ran into trouble over the use of animals for shooting and the inappropriate projection of the MiG aircraft. Both were settled in time for the release of the films.

Violent protests are a recent phenomenon, thanks partly to media hype. Encouraged by their success at stopping Deepa Mehta's "Fire" that showed a lesbian act, the protestors stopped "Water" right at the shooting stage. The location in Varanasi was stormed and destroyed. Mehta completed the shooting in Sri Lanka.

Even in current volatile times, lovers of Sarat Chattopadhyaya, disapproved of the way "Devdas" and "Parineeta" were portrayed, confined their protests to issuing statements. The films have run smoothly and done well at the box office.

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