December 8, 1997
DECEMBER 7: Bollywood’s secular image took a bit of a bashing after a film producer was recently barred from performing a pre-launch puja at Mehboob Studios, on the ground that it was "non-secular" on his part to do so. Producer Yash Johar had booked the Mehboob Studios in Bandra to launch his latest film Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai, starring Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan.
However, on the day of the mahurat he was barred from performing a puja in the premises of the studio, and was asked to pay a fine if he insisted on going ahead with the ceremony. Sources close to Johar revealed that the producer paid the fine of Rs 10,000, but as a mark of protest performed the puja at a temple outside the studio.
Incidentally, Johar who is known for films like Duniya, Agneepath and Dostana has shot a major portion of his still on-the-floor film, the Shah Rukh-Juhi Chawla starrer Duplicate at Mehboob. An aide of Johar revealed that this is the first time they have ever faced such a problem from the studio which is one of the busiest in the city.
The instructions from the studio management are all the more surprising given the fact that Mumbai film industry is notoriously superstitious and performing such pre-launch pujas has been an old tradition with filmmakers.Following the unfortunate incident, Johar later lodged a complaint with the Film Makers’ Combine (FMC) and the Association of Motion Picture & Television Programme Producers (AMPTPP). Both the panels have extended their support for the producer and have criticised the Mehboob Studios management. Castigating the management for their high-handedness and for “spreading panic”, the FMC in its letter said the committee (of FMC and AMPTPP) was “terribly shocked” on going through the documentary evidence which “irrefutably” established that the managing director had objected to the puja and had imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 if the puja was performed.
The action, the letter went on to add, would make “every secular head” hang in shame. The film industry boasts of a “glorious record” of maintaining communal harmony and a sense of patriotism, the letter said, adding the action was an attempt at damaging "the very fibre of secularism, which is the industry’s and the country’s prized possession".
The FMC and the AMPTPP have also advised their constituents to withdraw all cooperation to the studio. They however expressed their willingness to review their decision if the studio’s management promised within 24 hours to fulfil three of their conditions — to tender an unconditional, written apology to the entire film industry, ensure that no harassment or inconvenience will be caused to producers using the studios and to remove all irrelevant, unreasonable and one-sided terms and conditions from the booking contract.
The studio management has since sent a letter of apology, which the FMC and the AMPTPP will consider at a joint meeting tomorrow.
Old-timers in the film industry claim that this incident, had he been alive, would have shocked Mehboob Khan the legendary director and the founder of the studio. For Mehboob Khan’s films have all been based on cosmopolitan themes. His Mother India, was also the first Indian film to be nominated for the Oscars in the foreign language category. While Aan challenged the religious tenets of Allah’s judgement, Ek Hi Rasta probed the issues of crime and punishment, and Roti was an indictment of the filthy rich. Khan was the first filmmaker to explore a love triangle on the Hindi screen with Andaz, starring Dilip Kumar, Nargis Dutt and Raj Kapoor, while Nazma dealt with the dilemma between romantic longings and social mores within the Muslim aristocracy.
Ayub Khan, the elder son of Mehboob Khan, confirmed the incident but maintained that it was an “act of misunderstanding”, and that it was in no way meant to be an “unsecular behaviour”. “So many films have been launched in the studios, including two by Smita Thackeray, we have never objected to anyone performing a puja in the studios,” he pointed out.FMC chairman Gajanan Shirke said since the proprietors of Mehboob Studios had apologised, the matter would be reviewed tomorrow.
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