In 2017 they wanted to cut Deepika Padukone’s nose. Now in 2021, they want to kick Vijay Sethupathi for some imagined insult to religion and culture. Whose religion, whose culture? We may well ask.
We are living through some of the toughest times civilization has witnessed. Celebrities, especially from showbiz who are constantly in the limelight, have to often pay a heavy price for being who they are, or whose son they are, as it happened recently with Aryan Khan who is still reeling under the series of adversities that hit his life in October.
Now in November, we have a self-constructed Hindu outfit offering Rs 1001(only) to anyone who kicks, yes kicks, Vijay Sethupathi. I’d say that’s a rather meagre sum for such a risky job. Think about it. If you kick a celebrity as powerful as Sethupathi you are sure to a) be thrashed black and blue, and b) immediately arrested.
And all for a mere Rs 1,000? Come on, you can do better than that! No? Okay then tell us what is Sethupathi being kicked about? The explanation offered by the religious outfit is so garbled and so obviously intended to create communal trouble that I wondered if any self-respecting media outlet would offer any space to these demented elements so obviously and crudely trying to draw attention to themselves by using a high-profile name.
But what really happened? Apparently, someone approached Sethupathi on a flight and …well…let Sethupathi tell us(why? Because I’d rather trust him than those who are using his name to get noticed).
Sethupathi who is not the least bit rattled by what he calls the “strange happening” in his life during the past few days says no Jesus and God conversation happened. “The gentleman who seemed to be in an inebriated state wanted my attention. I gave him what I thought was ample attention. But he was not satisfied. So once we got down at Bengaluru he started his attention-grabbing gimmicks again. The next thing I know, this whole fan encounter is being given a communal/political colour.”
Vijay feels the conversation on how far a celebrity should go to make fans happy works both ways. “If I am reaching out to you because you love me, then you must also respect my feelings and my space. If I am not in the mood to entertain you beyond a point, then you must understand that, and not get bitter and angry just because you didn’t get enough of me or the amount of me that you wanted.”
Vijay says he understands the fan-star relationship. “I was a fan of so many stars. I’d wait patiently for an autograph.”
Jaya Bachchan who finds invasive fans and photographers to be intolerable says it is important to draw a line between what a fan wants and what a celebrity can offer. “For me, selfies, when I’m out for dinner with my family, is not done. If you are hellbent on intruding on my rare evening out with my family then you are not a fan. And if you insist on taking my pictures without my permission then you will get a mouthful.”
Airports are a different ballgame altogether. Stars are often vulnerable to the most unwanted attention. I remember seeing singer Anuradha Paudwal sitting quietly in a corner of an airport when she was spotted by fans. She obliged some with photographs. But then the crowds started swelling. She had to get up and leave to find a less selfish(e)sh sanctuary.
Hema Malini used to thousands of fans’ attention in her heydays says it is not possible to please all the fans. “But just because I don’t give you attention it doesn’t mean you get nasty with me.”
Recalling the time when dozens of sevaks from a Hindu religious outfit stormed his location for Padmaavat in Jaipur and assaulted him, Sanjay Leela Bhansali says, “It was crazy! Through all of it, I was more worried about my mother and happy that she was with me. I don’t know how I’d have survived without her at my side. She kept saying, ‘Mere bete ke saath aisa kyon ho raha hai? Woh itni achchi filmein banata hai’.My mother was my pillar of strength.”
But Sanjay never thought of giving up. “Never. Not at all. Never! That would’ve been the end of me as a filmmaker. Every time I was attacked I used my pain and suffering as an impetus to work better. I channelized all my anxiety into making Padmaavat.I think suffering has always been an incentive for my creativity.”
Apart from Javed-Shabana and Farhan Akhtar no one spoke out while Bhansali was being attacked, not even the big superstars who have worked with Bhansali. They all looked the other way while the fire raged. Which is really strange. No one was asking them to descend on the streets with banners and candles. All you had to do was tweet your support or write a blog on Facebook. Big stars who are usually so vocal on social media were suddenly paralyzed by fear.
Kamaluddin Mohammed Majeed’s 2018 bio-pic on the very fiery author-poet Kamala Das ignited heated debates and protests, and an attempt was made to stop the film legally for propagating ‘love jihad’—a charge that Kamal vehemently denied .“At the time when Kamala Das converted to Islam and fell in love with a Muslim, there was no concept of love jihad. This is a coinage that has gained currency in recent times. I still don’t know what it means. I am thankful to the judiciary for intervening in time for my film’s release,” says Kamal, adding that for filmmakers like him who insist on having their say, the judiciary is the only solace.
“Where do we go when we are attacked? Look at what happened with Sanjay Bhansali’s Padmavat! We still don’t know what the protests were about. Before we knew it the protests spread like wildfire. After the film was somehow released it was obvious that the film was not guilty of what it was accused of doing. In fact it was doing just the opposite.Is there any remedy or rectification for filmmakers who are suffer through such baseless protests?” asks Kamal.
He feels the protests against creative art will grow in the coming times. “Not just against cinema but all arts—painting, literature, theatre…But cinema will be targeted more for the very simple reason that it is more visible. More people watch films than read books or see plays. Cinema is, therefore, the most convenient medium to target and get noticed.”
Freedom of expression, feels Kamal, is now only for bullies. “The more you shout about freedom of expression the stronger the chances of oppressing the voices that actually stand for that freedom.My cinema has been targeted earlier also. I am not scared to have my say , no matter what happens.”
Today it is a slap. Four years ago another outfit wanted to cut Deepika Padukone’s nose. Who knows what these attention-grabbers may want from the stars tomorrow?
In the coming months and years, we can expect fringe groups to question any and every filmmaker about his intention. If Aamir Khan is making Mahabharat and decides to cast himself as Arjun, he may have to explain why a Muslim should play the iconic Hindu warrior….and so on.
Now that the entertainment industry has exposed its utter vulnerability there is no end to the arm-twisting that the industry would have to face. Bollywood’s bullying has just begun. The fringe groups will now try to muscle into as many films as possible. They want to know why Farhan Akhtar is celebrating Diwali. They will demand to know why Aamir Khan, a Muslim is making Mahabharat. Or why Mohammed Rafi sang one of the most beautiful Bhajans Mann tarpat hari darshan ko aaj. The nightmare is never going to end for the film industry.