Two days after he promised tough action against any attempt to stall the release of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, a Karan Johar film starring Pakistani actor Fawad Khan, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis buckled under pressure. Fadnavis mediated talks Saturday between MNS president Raj Thackeray and Johar after the producers gave in to the MNS demand not to cast Pakistan artistes in future and to pay Rs 5 crore as ‘prayashchit’ (penance) to the Army welfare fund.
The MNS had earlier threatened to stall the movie’s Diwali release. The Chief Minister’s intervention — the meeting was held at his official residence Varsha — triggered a political storm in Maharashtra. The Opposition and ally Shiv Sena slammed the BJP, especially for letting Raj Thackeray walk out of the controversy claiming a victory.
After the meeting at Varsha — it was held a day after Union Home Minister Rajnath’s Singh’s visit to Mumbai to attend the western council meeting of chief ministers and other officials of Maharashtra, Goa and Gujarat — Fadnavis said the Film and TV Producers Guild of India was justified in taking the decision to ban Pakistani actors in Indian cinema in wake of the border developments and overall public sentiment.
“I told them I appreciate your desh bhakti and informed them about various welfare schemes undertaken by the Indian Army where they can help. They can take up the welfare cause ahead by talking to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar,” Fadnavis said.
“The film producers told me that the decision to cast the Pakistani actor was taken long ago and was part of the initiative of the previous government to promote cultural exchange and man-to-man contact. However, after the attack against India, coupled with the Pakistan ban on airing of Indian content on television and radio, there cannot be any justification to support Pakistani actors,” he said.
Stressing the fact that the dispute over Ae Dil Hain Mushkil has been resolved, he said, “Maharashtra’s law and order is my responsibility and utmost concern. I have to deal with an iron hand and also send a strong message that it can never be compromised at any cost.”
He rejected Opposition criticism that the government had shown its weakness by intervening in the matter. “If that were the case, we would not have cracked the whip against MNS activists who vandalised theatres. Nor would we go ahead with the release of the film on its scheduled date in theatres. From the very beginning, I have maintained that security will be provided to all theatres which are screening the film.”
Later, speaking in Manthan, a programme organised by Aaj Tak, Fadnavis said: “I do not think that what Raj Thackeray was demanding and what the producers guild voluntarily offered was something different. The producers guild had already said that they had wholehearted support for our Army men and wanted to do something for them.”
Asked why he gave so much importance to call and meet an outfit which forced producers to pay “hafta”, he said, “These two stakeholders needed a mediation and that’s what I did and came out with an amicable solution.”
Earlier, at the CM residence, Johar arrived for the meeting accompanied by Film and TV Producers Guild of India chief Mukesh Bhatt, filmmaker Sajid Nadiadwala, UTV motion pictures CEO Siddharth Roy Kapur, and Fox Star Studios CEO Vijay Singh. Raj Thackeray was accompanied by his party’s film wing chief Ameya Khopkar and MNS general secretary Shalini Thackeray.
While Raj Thackeray agreed to withdraw the protest against the movie’s release during the meeting, the BJP appeared to have given him a respectable exit.
Soon after the meeting, the MNS chief claimed victory. “It was the Chief Minister who had approached me for a compromise,” Thackeray said. He went on to suggest that his party had withdrawn the protest only after Johar and the Producers Guild had agreed to all the riders that he had put forth.
According to the compromise formula, Johar has agreed to contribute Rs 5 crore to the Army welfare fund. The MNS has claimed that the rider also extends to two other films — Shahrukh Khan starrer Raees featuring Pakistani actress Mahira Khan, and Alia Bhatt starrer Dear Zindagi featuring Ali Zafar, both of which are in post production stages.
Mukesh Bhatt said, “I have assured the CM that the producers guild won’t work with Pakistani artistes in future films. A resolution to this effect will be passed soon.”
Johar, meanwhile, has agreed to display a slide paying tribute to the martyrs of the Uri attack at the start of his film.
Thackeray called the donation to the Army welfare fund a ‘prayashchit’ (penance) by the filmmakers.
Incidentally, the compromise was struck at a time when some MNS men were arrested for threatening cinema hall owners against screening the film. While the MNS claimed victory, it needed an exit route out of the controversy, especially after its workers were detained. The Chief Minister appeared to have shown the MNS chief a way out.
Following the meeting, Shalini Thackeray said: “We will also allow the screening of Raees and Dear Zindagi provided the producers guild passes the resolution on banning Pakistani artistes and submits it to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.”
With Fadnavis under fire for his flip-flop, Maharashtra BJP chief Raosaheb Danve Patil came out in his support. “As the CM, one has to ensure there is law and order across the state, above everything else. This can’t be seen as caving in to the MNS demand or pandering to it. The CM deserves credit for resolving the matter,” he said.
The makers and team of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil have decided to contribute a portion of the film’s revenue to the Army welfare fund. The movie will now release on October 28 as scheduled.