Dushman Number One makes for a catchy film title, but right now it's a real-life role for actor Aamir Khan, assigned to him by BJP functionaries in Gujarat. Announcing the campaign against the screening of his new film Fanaa in Gujarat, the national general secretary of the BJP Yuva Morcha, Amit Thaker, declared: "Not for the next 50 years will we allow any Aamir Khan film in Gujarat, unless he tenders a public apology."
According to Thaker, Aamir's insulted the five-crore population of Gujarat by supporting the Narmada Bachao Andolan and taking an anti-Gujarat stand on the dam issue, as well as by making "nasty" comments about Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. While the state government and BJP spokespersons in Delhi have denied that they have anything to do with the BJP Yuva Morcha's campaign, it is common enough knowledge here that nothing within either the government or the BJP in Gujarat moves without Narendra Modi's clearance.
Thaker insists the decision not to screen Fanaa was made by the cinema and multiplex owners in Gujarat. "They are also a part of Gujarat and have chosen to go along with the sentiment of the people of the state, which is overwhelmingly against Aamir," he says. Maybe, but did the message from the saffron camp leave theatre owners with any other choice?
When asked what the losses would be if Fanaa were not screened, Manubhai Patel, president of the multiplexes association in Gujarat, had a telling answer. "It will be less than what will be incurred by showing the film," he said. For the record, however, Patel was quick to add that he too felt Aamir had erred. "Aamir Khan chose to speak on the Narmada issue without understanding anything about it," he said. "He has hurt the sentiments of the people of Gujarat and must apologise. Gujaratis are gracious and will forgive him." Harish Patel, who heads the Gujarat cinema association, echoed his views. Both represent 22 multiplexes and 425 cinema halls in Gujarat.
Thaker is categorical he'll hit Aamir where it hurts most: "We have decided to even prevent the circulation of video CDs of his film. Subsequently, all the corporates who use him to advertise their products will be targeted, whether it is Coke or Titan or somebody else. No hoarding carrying Aamir Khan's pictures will be permitted in the state," he says.
"This is proof that in the aftermath of the communal riots of 2002, Gujarat has become a fascist state," comments Hiren Gandhi, a leading theatre personality whose play Suno Nadiya Kya Kehti Hai was virtually banned. Dancer Mallika Sarabhai, who has often faced saffronite wrath, terms it a sad day for democracy when one cannot express an opinion without being labelled a terrorist or a demon. "It is not just about Fanaa-the tendency is growing all over the country," she says.
The Gujarat Congress, which had gone along with the Modi government on the stalling of Aamir starrer Rang De Basanti, is fence-sitting this time. Says state Congress spokesperson Hasmukh Patel, "The move to stop screening is a political one aimed at curbing the freedom of expression, as well as communally motivated. Arundhati Roy has also been speaking out on the dam issue. Why has she not been targeted?" he asks, even as he hastens to add that showing or not showing Fanaa is between theatre owners and distributors.
For noted documentary filmmaker Pravin Mishra, it's all a game of politics. "You have to create hate characters if you must play the saviour role. From Mian Musharraf via James Lyngdoh to Saifuddin Soz and now Aamir. The actor is a popular figure among the middle and poorer classes, so he's the best target. That's how the game has to continue." Who cares if it means doom for Fanaa.
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