Often, Bollywood fraternity members are blamed for not standing up as a united body during tough times. Not just for social issues, but also to protect their own. When Raj Thackeray went after Karan Johar and said he wouldn't let his 2016 film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil
release because it starred Pakistani actor Fawad Khan, most from the film fraternity watched the story unfold silently. Karan had some support from the Producers' Guild and a handful of others like Mukesh Bhatt but that didn't really help. He had to meet Thackeray, apologize to him and was forced to donate Rs 5 crore to army funds because Thackeray said so. Bollywood stayed grimly silent and no one was surprised. Had the industry closed ranks then, results could have been different with a long-term effect.
But this is not how it was back in the day. There was a time when the film industry was united, fought for what was right and even hit the streets to protest. Last week when I met Aamir Khan, he narrated a landmark incident in the history of Mumbai and shared details of an incident when actors and filmmakers united for a cause.
When Bombay, as it was then, was burning during the 1993 riots, everyone in the city was living in fear. Businesses were shut for days and no one could leave home. That's when actor Sunil Dutt
requested other actors and filmmakers to unite and do their bit to end the riots. They formed a delegation of 40 industry members including actors and filmmakers who went and met the then Chief Minister Sudhakarrao Naik and told him to do whatever it takes to put an end to this violence in the city. Their job didn't end after meeting the chief minister - the delegation held a silent protest near Mahatma Gandhi's statue near Mantralaya. Sadly, there were no cameras to capture and highlight the unity of the industry. It must have been quite a sight to see actors protesting outside Mantralaya. As Aamir recounts, they were standing and protesting without any security or media. Mr Dutt decided to protest round the clock till the riots stopped. So they would take turns and spend the night below the statue. On the first night, Sunil Dutt
, Yash Chopra, Aamir Khan and Johnny Walker decided to stay back. They spent the night and in the morning, some others joined them and also got them tea and breakfast.
Aamir Khan recounts an interesting story from the Nineties
Such things are unheard of in today's times. Aamir told NDTV.com
"It was a wonderful time. It was a memorable night for me under the statue because I was sitting with stalwarts like Dutt Saab, Yashji
The protest was called off and the actors and filmmakers went back home only when the chief minister took some action and the city returned to normal.
Ironically, in 2015, Aamir Khan himself didn't get much support when his film Fanaa
was banned in Gujarat because he supported the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and refused to apologize when asked to do so by politicians. He reportedly offered to pay for the losses of the Gujarat territory to Yash Raj Films, as he decided not to apologise. The silence from the industry when Aamir was targeted was deafening.
Last year, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan went to meet Raj Thackeray to assure him that the Pakistani actress Mahira Khan, who was in his film Raees
, would not be promoting the movie in India. Yes, there is too much at stake - maybe that's why these biggies rush to either apologize or clarify to the politicians who only create trouble for them.
With the kind of stardom, the Khans and many other young superstars have, and the power they command is massive. One can only imagine how compelling it could be if this generation of actors were to band together to support each other during tough times. They even have the power of social media, which Sunil Dutt and team didn't have. Only unity can lead to change, but that change will come at a cost. The question is, is Bollywood ready to pay the price for something that may not bring in the crores, simply because it would be the right thing to do?