How should Bollywood react?

The reach and influence of the industry surpasses all other media. So far, Bollywood has been best known for the stereotypical portrayal of the good cop fighting the bad politician. Violence in uniform is glorified and sanctified, basically. This is often the role reserved for a film hero. The dynamic of the elected leader is not well understood.

In contrast, Bollywood now has the first-hand experience of an allegedly bad officer against a politician in Nawab Malik who patiently exposed some of the wrongdoing while stressing that he is concerned about justice for some 100 other sub-trials which were victims of an overzealous BCN. Param Bir Singh is another example of a disgraced cop, ousted from the post of Mumbai Police Commissioner, no less, now reported underground.

These stories are as much the truth as they are about the bad politician. But exaggerating one side builds the idea among common people that only police officers and various bureaucrats are benefactors, leading to a distorted sense of how different branches of the establishment work, of the restrictions with which investigative agencies must operate and a poor appreciation of the constitutional framework which is the only safeguard against excesses.

Bollywood in general and Shah Rukh Khan in particular will serve the nation quite well if they commit to supporting more nuanced filmmaking and upholding the rights of all those who are victims of establishment abuse. He can resume the fight for the cause of those who continue to languish in prison because they lacked the legal firepower that Aryan enjoyed.

Yet, a lot of the Hindi cinema world may not have that sort of thing in them. They have often rallied together for charitable relief in times of national calamities, but their record of caring for their own who have fallen on hard times is poor. That too can change if there is a sense of politics coupled with public service that Bollywood can begin to embrace.

Some attempts have been laudatory but it is above all the reinforcement of dominant narratives, often repeated and biased. To change will require rising to a higher cause, with notable examples like the latest real-life and on-screen heroes like Balraj Sahni and Sunil Dutt, both of whom have spoken and taken a stand. This means that Bollywood stars will learn to speak a new language, engage in new spaces and come up with ideas for a new wave of films serving democracy, diversity, plurality and the rights of the underprivileged – all that is under attack today in India. What strength such Bollywood can mean and what strength can it bring to a national cause!

Shah Rukh Khan once said: “First get rich, then become a philosopher. Now is the time for him to turn to Balraj Sahni, who said in a 1972 UN JNU summons: “Every time I lost heart, my life became an insignificant burden.

(The writer is a journalist and faculty member of SPJIMR. Opinions are personal) (Syndicate: The Billion Press)


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