It still feels like yesterday to filmmaker Hansal Mehta. In 2000, at the time of the release of his film Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar, he was viciously thrashed, his office vandalized and face blackened by Shiv Sena youth leaders. Later, he was summoned to Khar Danda and made to apologize in front of over 20,000 local people and politicians. All for an innocuous dialogue in the film that they thought was disrespectful towards their community. The incident is the closest that Mehta came to experiencing the power of Bal Thackeray. “He created this culture of fear and his entire cadre came to thrive on it,” he says.
Filmmaker Govind Nihalani never met Thackeray but recalls how the Shiv Sena had initially disapproved of his 1987 TV film Tamas. “It was perceived as anti-Hindu, as though I had suggested that the riots had been engineered by the Hindus. They supported several PILs against it,” says Nihalani. However, unlike Mehta, things eventually turned out amicably for him. Thackeray saw Tamas and liked it, specially Om Puri’s searing performance. The PILs then ceased to matter.
There’s a long laundry list of such incidents in Bollywood. Thackeray’s unwritten authority and clout have run deep in the industry. No wonder they whisper his name and Godfather in the same hushed breath yet refuse to be openly quoted on him. Even when he is no more. Understandable, considering some of the most influential names in the film industry have been at the receiving end of the Sena offensive. Deepa Mehta’s Fire was stalled for denigrating Hinduism—because its lesbian heroines happened to be called Radha and Seeta. Dilip Kumar was berated for refusing to return Pakistan’s highest civilian award, Nishan-e-Imtiaz and A.K.Hangal was labelled a traitor for attending Pakistan Day celebrations at the Mumbai Consulate. SRK’s My Name Is Khan was threatened with a ban. All for the superstar’s criticism of the teams not bidding for Pakistani cricketers in the 2010 Indian Premier League.
“They have been the extra-constitutional authority in the state,” says Mehta. So, many have had to knock on Thackeray’s door voluntarily. Mani Ratnam had to incorporate cuts suggested by Thackeray to get a clean chit for Bombay. Ram Gopal Verma had to organize a preview of Sarkar for him, that fortunately, met with his whole-hearted approval and endorsement.
“People in the industry are respectful and cautious of not being on their wrong side,” says Nihalani. “It has always been a good thing to be in the good books of Balasaheb,” says veteran journalist Rauf Ahmed. It all boils down to survival strategies and market compulsions. “They have been exerting coercion and Bollywood hasn’t had the spine to stand up to them. Everyone chooses to be reverential because of their tremendous nuisance value,” says an insider. Last decade the clout has been on a relative decline and has, in fact, got transferred to Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. So Karan Johar had to apologise to Raj for the use of Bombay instead of Mumbai in Wake Up Sid.
For Mahesh Bhatt he was an aggregate of disparate memories. So, on the one hand there was the Thackeray who “approved” Bhatt’s Saaransh despite their fears that the portrayal of the villain Gajanan Chitre might raise his heckles. It didn’t. On the other hand was the unfortunate incident when the Shiv Sena literally drove Pakistani cricketer Mohsin Khan back to his country when he sought to set base as an actor in Bollywood. Bhatt who was with Mohsin when he went to meet Thackeray remembers it as a "heartbreaking scene", "a painful memory". "His coterie attempted to browbeat, belittle Mohsin," he recollects.
But behind this legacy of fear was also a man beholden to cinema. Thackeray is said to have been very fond of films and one his sons, the late Bindamadhav Thackeray produced the 1996 film Agnisakshi. So did daughter-in-law Smita Thackeray. Within the industry Nana Patekar has been an active members of the Shiv Sena and the party has supported the Bollywood workers’ union called Bhartiya Chitrapat Sena. Besides, Pritish Nandy and Lata Mangeshkar were nominated to the Rajya Sabha on Shiv Sena ticket.
Thackeray actively sought glamour and friendship with stars. Many personalities he locked horns with also came to be his admirers and buddies. Sanjay Dutt owes his freedom to him. Thackeray got him bail in the TADA case so after his release from the Arthur Road Jail Sanjay first went to Siddhivinayak and then straight to meet Thackeray. He stood by the family throughout the funeral last Sunday. Amitabh Bachchan found help from him when critically ill and also when facing the public wrath on getting implicated in the Bofors case. He even intervened in petty squabbles like music composer Nadeem’s alleged affair with Mala Sinha’s daughter Pratibha.
The God father.
Expect more such God fathers, as the law and order in the country breaks down.
Godfathers and Mafias are born when the Judicial system fails.
The problem in India is that we have far too, too many laws and each law is so dense that they end up contradicting some basic laws and ethics.
Good example is the Sec 498-A domestic violence law and there are many more you may agree.
Our entire legal framework has largely failed...
Either we need to have a iron clad rule of law system like USA (with no exceptions, zero tolerance for influence, reccomendation and feudal ideas) or we need a dictatorial rule like China.
Or else, we will slowly become a glorified big version of erstwhile Southern Italy..
Maybe some parts of india are already that..
Sadly that place is known for good climate. Much of India is not so , esp in summer months.
2 D Ramki,
One can equally argue that the creation of draconian laws ( in your case anti-male ) is a dead giveaway of the failure of the judicial system. The 'normal' laws dont work, and powerful groups require these laws.
Incidentally divorce laws are hardly 1% of anti-male attitude of society. For eg., there are thousands more males in jail due to false accusation of rape. Unfortnately, these males have no access to forming powerful groups for themselves.
Godfathers and mafia dons are not the disease. They are a symptom of the breakdown of law and order.
I hope I don't make people feel wounded, inappropriately. I heard Mr. Thackeray speak to a pretty very respected t. v. news personality, who has been made to perceive that he was being attacked in Mumbai. It seems, Mr. Thackeray was expressing his concern for a person, like my grandmother felt for people. And, this gentleman, associated with news, was aware he himself was Marathi, and he was pretty angry. He couldn't say that he was attacked because of this gentleman, because, I don't think he thought so. I think Mr. Thackeray was speaking about his nephew. He was making the anchor appreciate, and I appreciated very greatly, and humbly, that he was trying to make every effort to reconcile with his nephew. People who can feel like this, it is pretty tragic, that others feel they are making other people imagine that they should kill. No one feels, when they see their maternal grandmothers talk to others, that they are feeling anything but goodwill. I did feel, and do feel the same way, about a person who is supposed to be an Avatar, in Bengal. The Avatar saw himself as a handmaiden to the Goddess Kali.
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