In its first major decision after coming to power, the Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra excavated for presidential approval a controversial 19-year-old law that enlarges the ban on cow slaughter in the state to bulls and bullocks and criminalises even the possession of beef. It is now extending its protect-by-decree method to the Marathi film industry. Vinod Tawde, Maharashtra’s minister for cultural affairs and head of the Marathi language department, has accused multiplexes of “step-sisterly treatment” to Marathi cinema in a bid to justify the state diktat that all multiplexes must have at least one primetime show of a Marathi film. The evidence does not support the minister’s argument. In fact, at a recent session on the resurgence of the Marathi film industry organised by Ficci, a panel of producers and studio representatives revealed that profits had risen by nearly 200 per cent in the last year. Several Marathi films have won critical acclaim in the past few years. The state already provides incentives to filmmakers in Marathi in the form of a subsidy given two months after the movie’s theatrical release. If it truly wants to boost the industry, it could extend benefits through tax breaks or subsidies while the film is in production, or even by co-production. Mandating that a Marathi film be shown at a multiplex hardly helps a quality film find an audience — those will continue to find their way on merit, while the rule will lend a fillip to the mediocre and the outrightly bad.
The Maharashtra government is also indulging in a spot of step-sisterly behaviour of its own — the target, this time, being the Hindi film industry, which also calls Mumbai its home. If Bollywood is an example of an enormously successful industry that, in large part, owes its growth to a lack of government interference, then queering the pitch for it in this way is likely to spike the functioning of a major contributor to Maharashtra’s coffers and a big source of employment in the state.
Previous Maharashtra governments have displayed a similarly distressing penchant for regressive legislation. The ban on dance bars, it cannot be forgotten, was designed by the Congress-NCP government. Even so, it is especially disappointing that a government led by someone who was seen and projected by the BJP as a relatively young face unencumbered by past political baggage has prioritised such paternalistic policies while several governance challenges await his administration’s attention.