Something must be terribly out of snyc for the genteel Javed Akhtar to stray from his celebrated lyricism into the arena of near-invective and dub someone a “clueless idiot”.
The issue under focus is not his opinion of a film critic of foreign origin, but his having the moral courage to strike a blow for the secular credentials of the film industry ~ at a time when the political lexicon is fast-denigrating “secular” to the equivalent of a four-letter word.
The “provocation” for Akhtar was the suggestion that it would be improper, and politically-unacceptable in the prevailing ambience, to progress a proposal that Aamir Khan play the role of Krishna in a possible new screen version of the Mahabharat.
“Can somebody educate this clueless idiot that a film Mahabharata was made in 1965, the producer’s name was Ghaffar Bhai Nadiadwala. This is India that we are proud of…” Javed recalled, “I had joined the film industry in 1965 at a salary of Rs 50 per month.In these 65 years not for a second I have experienced or even seen any communal bias in our industry. This film industry is the citadel of secularism”, and he cautioned bigots against trying to pollute it.
He did have a point. For while the industry has often been slammed for dubious financial and other dealings with the underworld, spreading communal poison is not a charge leveled against it.
Maybe not every film is in the mould of ‘Amar, Akbar, Anthony and there is a high degree of stereotyping, the thought that a Muslim cannot play the part of a Hindu icon ~ or the other way around ~ is decidedly revolting.
The “Khans” are the kings of Bollywood in their own right, and though occasionally two-bit politicians do try to play their filthy game they have found little traction within the industry, or the box-office for that matter.
And why just Bollywood, art itself has no boundaries and members of minority communities are integral to the Ramlila presentations. The secular traditions are deep-rooted: many Muslim men and women dominated the screen in its fledgling years, Christians have been at the core of filmi music. It may be asked why Muslim stars of yesteryear adopted Hindu “screen names”: the answer lies in the life-blood of the entertainment industry ~ commercialism.
In its own way the industry has resisted efforts to give it a communal colour, be it in the squabble with the certification system or training institutes, and most of the “stars” have scrupulously avoided tarnishing the secular image.
Bollywood ~ and its siblings across the country ~ fiercely rival political activists in shaping and influencing public opinion, which is all the more reason why the sentiments articulated by Javed Akhtar must remain an article of faith with the captivating world of the silver screen. Shabaash Javed, Bravo Bollywood.