Taking offence is by now an industry in India. Its impresarios have the drill down pat: take your pick of soft targets (lovers, filmmakers, writers or artists who paint goddesses), thunder “sentiments-of-community-have-been-hurt” and let the vandals do the rest. Unfortunately, for a while now, the state’s role has been reduced to watching the show, or looking away, or worse, flexing the law to muffle freedom of expression. The protests against Rajkumar Hirani’s good-humoured satire against godmen and their ungodly ways by the Bajrang Dal and VHP’s learned men, who seem to have taken on the business of deciding what the Indian citizen should watch or read with renewed zeal since May 2014, were going according to the script. What started off as “Boycott pk” soon turned to thrash the theatres, ban the film, and many insinuations about what Aamir Khan’s religion had to do with it. But this time, two chief ministers, from the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, have spoken up.
His decision to exempt the film from entertainment tax in Uttar Pradesh might be Akhilesh Yadav’s way of putting the Sangh Parivar groups in their place. But whatever the motivations, a government backing up a film which questions organised religion is welcome in a cultural space gasping for the oxygen of dissent. Former Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, too, has weighed in, arguing that the film is a sound message in these divisive times. More significant is Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s declaration that a film okayed by the Central Board of Film Certification will be allowed to run unhindered, even if elements within his party have reservations over it. In scotching a junior minister’s assurance of a “probe” against pk, he is sending out the message: the law is greater than the righteous indignation of a handful of people. So low have our expectations from the political establishment dipped that this chorus of consensus is music to our ears.
If a green-eyed, wide-eared alien were indeed to drop into this land today, he would be not a little bewildered by what he sees around him: holy and unholy men going on and on about ghar wapsi of the homeless and the poor, a temple being planned for the killer of the man who led India to freedom — and a blockbuster movie reminding the state to do its job.