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Sunday, September 26, 2021

The hero deficit

Watching MNIK in Mumbai was a badge of courage

Written by Kavitha Iyer |
February 13, 2010 2:38:53 am

EVEN by the standards of seasoned Mumbaiites who are now quite comfortable with safari-suited private security guards politely asking for the car’s boot and glove box to be opened for a check before entering a mall’s parking lot,this is a first: watching the Badshah of Bollywood on the big screen with a posse of policemen scattered among the front three rows. Coming attractions,according to the Mumbai police’s proposals for theatres screening My Name Is Khan: closed circuit television cameras,gate-point pat-downs,asking ticket-holders to produce identification.

A quarter of the Mumbai police’s 55,000-force is guarding theatres right now,and Mumbai Police Commissioner D. Sivanandhan has promised to step that up to 50 per cent or more if the situation demands. Yet,despite the repeated assurances,the Shiv Sena’s threats succeeded in intimidating a large number of theatre owners on day one.

Evidently,going to the movies in the city that gave Bollywood its name just took on a whole new meaning. The state machinery was relying on that rather worn idea of Mumbai’s “spirit”,to go out and watch a film despite the dangers posed by a bottle or stone flung by an angry Shiv Sainik. From Tweeple to Facebookers,everybody called for a “theatre bharo aandolan”. The rest of Bollywood,unfashionably late this time,responded too,joining the outpouring of virtual support for MNIK and SRK. My Name Is Khan became one of the hottest “trending topics” on Twitter and for the average Mumbaiite,movie watching this Friday was a sign of protest,an act of courage.

Not surprisingly,a couple of theatres had house-full first shows. Even in Maharashtrian-dominated Dadar,tickets for the night show in the only theatre here daring to screen the film were all taken by mid-day.

Of course,it took the resoluteness of SRK — he quickly clarified when his tweets “regretting” any hurt he caused were construed as an apology to the Shiv Sena — to turn a multiplex ticket stub into a badge of defiance. Not long ago,even Karan Johar preferred to make a sound business decision in tendering an apology to the junior Thackeray cousin for a mention of “Bombay” in Wake Up Sid,while the makers of Marathi film Zhenda had to delete scenes after Revenue Minister Narayan Rane’s son Nitesh objected to the depiction of a character he said was modelled on his father.

Still,despite the bravado,there was no denying that movie halls and multiplex owners had been terrorised all morning. The Shiv Sena,its bastions conquered in consecutive elections and crushed by its own cadre switching over to the newer Sena,found its window of opportunity in the early successes of this round of intimidation. Its lumpen elements were rejuvenated,doing what they do best,staging random protests in the city,stoning at least two buses,and forcing shops shut. This was one up for them in the competitive wreckage game with the MNS. That NCP chief Sharad Pawar,whose party handles the home department and Mumbai’s law and order,paid Bal Thackeray a visit days ago might have stirred their pride some more.

Barely a few thousand Mumbaiites overcame the fear and turned out for matinee shows on a holiday. The overwhelming majority of theatre owners chose to wait and watch. It was obvious that among both,cine-goers and exhibitors,there was more faith in the Sena’s ability to pull off an ambush protest than in an ineffective state government’s will to maintain order. About 2,000 footsoldiers of the Shiv Sena,all dispensable and replaceable,had been picked up over the last few days. But despite all the chief minister’s bluster,not a single senior Sena leader was detained or forced to tone down the rabble-rousing. The financial and entertainment capital of the country cowered,as the state government again proved itself unable to inspire confidence.

The loss was the average Mumbaiite’s. Here was a chance to foster a new public debate on free speech,on our stars’ opinions on sporting relations between nations during tense times,on the IPL itself and what transpired during the auction. No less than Shah Rukh Khan was tweeting about identity,holding forth on nationalism — guaranteeing an audience in a city that sorely needs robust debate on regional chauvinism. Here was an opportunity for young Mumbaiites — Maharashtrian and otherwise — to build more nuanced views. That chance,however,was blown. For now,the Sena still runs the show,and the shows.

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