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Vices of Bollywood

Mahesh Gavaskar (gavaskarmahesh@yahoo.in) is a social and political commentator based in Mumbai. 

Bollywood’s reaction to the conviction of Salman Khan over the 2002 hit-and-run case shows the corrosion to artistic sensibility it has undergone under the influence of affluence. 

Bollywood is unable to digest that reality can be stranger and harsher than its reel life. Its acclaimed status rests on its supposed virtue of providing enjoyable relief to the distraught masses of India and thus making life bearable for them. So, when one of its icons is sentenced to a five year jail term for a “freak” incident that happened in a state of drunkenness resulting in the death of one pavement dweller besides mortal injuries to such other four on a September night 13 years ago, it is bound to go  into a tizzy.

Bollywood Up in Arms

In the Bollywood-type fantasy world, a hero, even if a bad guy to begin with, is given space to ameliorate himself, and that becomes his defining feature that distinguishes him from the villain who has to be perennially portrayed as an irredeemable evil. Accustomed to purveying such imagery to the audience at large for years together, Bollywood has obviously to be up in arms against a court decision that has culminated, according to its estimate, in a most un-cinematic denouement. Salman Khan, a reigning superstar of the celluloid, was undergoing penance through various charitable acts, similar to the ones depicted on the silver screen, ever since that unfortunate incident happened. But the court, in its 13 years of assessment, has been abrasive enough to be dismissive of it and proceed to pronounce its unkind judgement.

The judiciary, in fact, emerges from this case with its stature substantially diminished. It was outright farcical that the courtroom well into its 13th year of the case was trying to ascertain whether or not Salman Khan’s blood on that eventful night had alcohol contents. In fact, Bollywood should be grateful to the judiciary for taking such a long time to come to its verdict, as it enabled Salman Khan ample time to rehabilitate himself in the role of a humanitarian alms-giver.

In a typical Bollywood film, it has always being socially ennobling for the hero to figure as an underdog, rant against the rich and, in the end, succeed in winning over a golden-hearted beauty from the enemy camp as a trophy for his labour. This affable version has proven to be an effective antidote to the propaganda of class war so much so that it has enshrined the larger than life image of the celluloid heroes amongst its adoring masses. Thus, if ever these stars happen to descend on earth to participate in a mundane activity, such as collecting donations and relief material for the disaster-affected, the masses, in a state of fervour, fancy as if gods have descended from the heavens, and pour in relief aid in an act of devout worship. So, when one of the courts, lowermost in the hierarchy,  commits the audacity of declaring one such deity criminal, why just Bollywood, a whole frenzied mob takes to streets as if it’s self has been assaulted.

As irony would like to have it, here it was, in real life, Salman Khan, a Bollywood star in an inebriated state, ramming his car into nondescript homeless labourers by night. By happenstance, the victims in this script turned out to be poor Muslims, which fortunately stalled any kind of identity politics being played out. But even after 13 years, some insane voices from Bollywood, appalled by the verdict, went berserk over Twitter blaming the victims for their misery, displaying the extent of corrosion artistic sensibility has undergone under the influence of affluence that Bollywood today epitomises. It was not more than half a century ago, as part of this very Hindi film world, Sahir Ludhianvi penned his take on Iqbal’s Sare Jahan se Achha… for the film Phir Subah Hogi (1958), saying                                                  

rehene ko ghar nahin hain, sara jahan hamara…

Kholi bhi chin gai, bhenche bhi chin gai hain

foot path bambai ke aashinyan hamara…

Cultural Captain’s Skulduggery

Ever since the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government bestowed the status of industry to Bollywood in order to purge it of its dubious sources of funding, one of the unintended fallouts has been that it bolstered Bollywood’s image as a captain of cultural industry in India. Already benchmarked to a demigod status, the Bollywood fraternity, a well-heeled lot, finds itself emboldened to pronounce statements or to be present at all and sundry events of some consequence happening under the sun. In the present case, a moment of collective grief that has gripped Bollywood, all entities of name and fame, besides sauntering to pay visit to his residence, have been prompt to issue character certificates for Salman Khan. Such occasions provide Bollywood an opportunity to go through its ritual exhibits of solidarity and furbish its sense of identity. 

Bollywood, now serenading as a global entertainment industry, has been a humongous money-spinner and a tax source for the governing class.  In such a situation, an idol which has been one of the biggest money churners of recent times cannot be allowed to suffer iconoclasm. The governing class, always in search of charisma to enamour the masses, should find Bollywood’s charm enviable comes as no surprise. Some sections of it have been overweening in their attempts to extend their services to salvage Salman Khan and soothe Bollywood’s bruised ego. Despite the fact all the subterfuges that the defence counsel resorted to having failed to convince the court, these sections will not pause to reflect as to what prevented Salman Khan’s conscience to admit that he was at the wheel on that fateful night and not, in an act of desperation, to plump his driver as a scapegoat for his deed.  It was Bollywood which famously coined “Kanoon ke Haath Lambe Hote Hain” (the long arms of the law are difficult to escape from). But given the turn of events one witnesses, it may not be a perversion to say, “Salman ke Haath Kanoon se bhi Lambe Hote Hain”(Salman’s influence triumphs over the laws of the land). 

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