Modi’s growing crackdown on Bollywood

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Last month, the son of Indian superstar actor Shah Rukh Khan was arrested for drug use at a party. In most parts of the world, celebrity news like this is a momentary public distraction. In India, where the divide between Hindus and Muslims has widened since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, Khan’s arrest has drawn attention to the unraveling of the Indian social fabric.

Supporters of Modi’s Hindu nationalist government defend the arrest as a matter of law and claim it reveals the decay of the film industry. But Indian liberals argue it was a deliberate move to tarnish the image of a Muslim idol to appease the Hindu right.

Khan has been a star for over a decade and is widely referred to as “King Khan”, the King of Bollywood. He is also known for his way out of poverty; he often delights audiences with stories about the hardships he endured, including having to sleep on the streets of Mumbai while trying to become an actor. Accounts of her struggle and success have inspired millions of Indians, including Muslims, and her exalted status delivers on India’s promise as a secular and inclusive nation anywhere, regardless of religion. , of caste or creed, can be successful.

Last month, the son of Indian superstar actor Shah Rukh Khan was stopped for using drugs at a party. In most parts of the world, celebrity news like this is a momentary public distraction. In India, where the divide between Hindus and Muslims has widened since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, Khan’s arrest has drawn attention to the unraveling of the Indian social fabric.

Supporters of Modi’s Hindu nationalist government defend the arrest as a matter of law and claim it reveals the decay of the film industry. But Indian liberals argue it was a deliberate move to tarnish the image of a Muslim idol to appease the Hindu right.

Khan has been a star for over a decade and is widely referred to as “King Khan”, the King of Bollywood. He is also known for his way out of poverty; he often delights audiences with stories about the hardships he endured, including having to sleep on the streets of Mumbai while trying to become an actor. Accounts of her struggle and success have inspired millions of Indians, including Muslims, and her exalted status delivers on India’s promise as a secular and inclusive nation anywhere, regardless of religion. , of caste or creed, can be successful.

But the Hindu right has a long history of resentment against the rise of Muslims, especially those who challenge their exclusivist policies – a group that includes Khan. In 2015, Khan spoke out against the lynchings of Muslims by Hindu mobs for allegedly smuggling cows to be slaughtered and served as meat. Many Hindus consider cows to be holy. “We’ve done a huge thing about our meat eating habits. How the eating habits people be a problem? Khan told NDTV, a local news channel. “Religious intolerance and not being secular in this country is the worst kind of crime you can commit as a patriot.”

There is a model of far-right resentment focused on Bollywood stars. Bollywood actress a year ago Deepika padukone was accused of being part of an infamous drug ring and was summoned for questioning by the National Narcotics Control Bureau of India. In 2019, Padukone joined a student protest against a controversial anti-Muslim citizenship law passed by the Modi government.

The cases could reveal a “drug link” in the film industry, as several pro-Modi news networks claim. But the liberals suspect Khan and Padukone of having been punished for speaking out against Islamophobia, and the cases brought against them are part of a more insidious campaign to intimidate Muslims and liberals associated with Bollywood.

It would be part of a larger scheme. Since Modi came to power, minorities and liberals from all influential segments of society have insinuated that they are under pressure to silently accept the discriminatory ideas of the Hindu right about what India should be.


Indian policeman gestures at entrance to movie theater slated to show Bollywood film Padmaavat in the city of Shimla, in northern India, January 25, 2018. The film, about a mythical Hindu queen, angered Hindu extremists and raised fears of widespread riots. AFP via Getty Images

First, reporters complained about the coercion as the pressure to self-censor increased. Most news networks have caved in or followed a fine line while others have become shameless spokespersons for government policies. Left-wing universities and those dominated by minorities were then targeted. India’s film and television industry, which employs over a million people and has admirers around the world, is the latest to feel the heat. Films and movie stars are now at the heart of a cultural revolution designed to crush dissent against the Modi government and change India’s path from a diverse society to a culturally homogeneous one.

Bollywood has been the conscious guardian of a country navigating several fault lines at once. Although it always had to be cautious to avoid angering the political powers in power, Bollywood was a secular space that fostered cohesion between communities and played a constructive role in building a tolerant society. . In recent years, however, actors have been afraid to speak out on controversial policy decisions, the industry is discredited as a hangout for drug addicts, and the language of Indian cinema is slowly but surely changing.

For a very long time, songs such as “Mazhab nahi sikhata aapas mein bair rakhna” (or “Religion does not teach animosity”) propagated ideas of coexistence. They have rooted the value of syncretism in the minds of generations of Indians. But now religious chauvinism is interspersed with unscrupulous songs and storylines. There seems to be a new obsession with making films about Hindu warrior kings who challenged Muslim rulers – the latter almost always being portrayed as evil. Lots of chest thrusts and sword-wielding are done while greeting the Hindu gods as if trying to invoke not only pride in Hindu heritage, but something more – perhaps a sense of superiority.

Shubhra Gupta, film critic and leading columnist at Indian express, Recount Foreign police that Hindi cinema has endeavored to promote the values ​​of “pyaar and bhaichara(Or “love and brotherhood”) in its early nation-building years after independence. But that is changing fast. “Conservatism, patriarchy and the status quo know no political boundaries. It’s the kind of cinema that all mainstream [movie] industries in India are being pushed relentlessly, ”Gupta said.

“Given its massive popularity, all governments over the decades have used the film industry to spread its messages,” she continued. “But he is now more pressured than ever to follow the line of state command and control, because the current regime understands the power of the image in a way no other has before it.”

Rahul Vohra, an Indian actor who worked with Khan, said lawyers are now checking scripts to not be on the wrong side of the central government. “And yes, this is all done on purpose to set up a narrative made up for the calculated purpose of rewriting history,” Vohra said. “Many actors are afraid to voice their opinions, and many actually believe in the views of the government.” Vohra, like many others, suspects the drug charges have been trumped up, especially since the evidence presented so far is thin. “I sincerely believe that these are stories made up from scratch with the specific intention of diverting attention from the issues that are staring us in the face,” he said, alluding to the escalation of the problem. the country’s economic crisis and rising inflation.


A tribute to Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput in Puri, India on June 15, 2020.

A tribute to Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput is seen in Puri, India on June 15, 2020. NurPhoto via Getty Images

It all started with the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput in early 2020, whose parents alleged foul play even though the autopsy confirmed suicide. Rajput’s girlfriend, actress Rhea Chakraborty, has been accused of procuring him drugs. Chakraborty was the first to be arrested in connection with an alleged “drug connection” in the industry. Even though she was a new face, her case paved the way for an investigation into the morality of movie stars. Rajput’s death also led to a debate over widespread Bollywood nepotism, and that was most certainly a good thing. Films in the country are run like family businesses, with the children of actors and directors on the front lines to become stars of the next generation. Still, there are many successful foreigners, with Khan being among them. The attention of central agencies and the anger of the media and trolls, however, appear to be reserved for those who have not given their public approval to the center of power in New Delhi.

“The line that all of Bollywood is full of nepotism and drug addicts has been peddled with a lot of energy,” Gupta said. “And everything that comes out of it is tainted unless, of course, he wants to be careful with films about evil Muslim invaders and valiant Hindu kings who are defenders of the faith.”

India’s massive film industry is divided. There are actors who swear by the Modi government; last week one of them even said that India achieve freedom in 2014, the year Modi became the country’s prime minister. But others fear that the space for them to be true artists and challenge the growing majoritarianism in the country is shrinking. They fear their films will be blocked or slapped with cases like the ones Khan and Padukone’s son are facing.

Indian films have many problems, including a highly sexist lexicon, but bigotry is not one of them. If artists are silenced, there will be no one left to hold the mirror up to society. Khan and Padukone have been cautious since the cases.


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