New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government and the ruling BJP is using “powerful tools to curtail the creative freedom of Bollywood—in particular the influence of Muslims, who have an outsize presence in the industry”, Indian-origin British American author Aatish Taseer has written in The Atlantic, drawing a parallel to “the old Hollywood blacklist”.
Using personal references, the author known for his anti-establishment opinion wrote that PM Modi and his party does not view India as a composite culture, to which Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians have all contributed, but rather as an “essentially Hindu entity whose destiny lies in bringing about a Hindu cultural renaissance”.
“There is a heartbreaking inevitability to the confrontation between Bollywood and Modi’s BJP,” Taseer wrote.
He referred to the PM’s meeting with several leading Bollywood celebrities, followed by the famous selfie as “an episode of appeasement or perhaps opportunism by elements of the industry”, and said the absence of any Muslim director or actor indicate that “Modi wanted a new Bollywood, one that was Muslim-rein”.
“Muslims have always had a disproportionate influence in Bollywood. Actors such as Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, and Aamir Khan have towered over the landscape of Indian cinema for the past 30 years… during Modi’s first term, which began in 2014, the BJP’s ‘IT Cell’—a network of online influencers and hate-mongers—made some of its most serious social-media attacks on Muslims in Bollywood,” Taseer pointed out.
Taseer is the son of senior Indian journalist Tavleen Singh and former governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province Salmaan Taseer. He has written several books, including Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey through Islamic Lands, The Temple Goers, The Twice Born.
In 2019, the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card of Taseer was revoked by the Ministry of Home Affairs for not “complying with basic requirement and hiding information about his father’s Pakistani origin” required for its renewal.
In his opinion piece in The Atlantic, Taseer said the measures pushed by the Modi government against Bollywood include “indiscriminate tax investigations, trumped-up accusations against actors and directors, intimidation and harassment in response to certain movies and TV shows, and the chilling rap of law enforcement at the door”.
He specified the incident when Amir Khan’s wife and director Kiran Rao was trolled over her intolerance remarks and also the trolling of Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor for naming their child after a Muslim ruler.
He also mentioned how Karan Johar, who is the “the Hindu half of a storied collaboration with Shah Rukh Khan”, was subjected to criticism during the nepotism debate following actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death last year, and is trying “frantically to remake himself in the image of Modi’s India”.
In March this year, filmmaker Anurag Kashyap and actor Taapse Pannu’s homes were raided by the income tax department — both “are outspoken government critics”, in Taseer’s words.
Fearing worse to come, Bollywood has remained mostly silent in the face of the government’s “catastrophic response” to the coronavirus pandemic, Taseer added.
He referred to a conversation with a woman closely involved with the industry, who said everybody is trying to “lie low” because this is a “vindictive government”.
Quoting a “senior executive for a major streaming service”, Taseer wrote that the problem with Tandav was that “the director is Muslim and the actor is Muslim”.
The Ali Abbas Zafar directorial, Tandav, has Saif Ali Khan in the lead role.
The death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput last year gave the BJP government a “new opportunity”, Taseer wrote, adding: “With an election looming in Bihar—Rajput’s native state—the BJP made his suicide seem like a murder at the hands of a nepotistic and druggy elite”. He said this campaign was led by actor Kangana Ranaut.
It’s hard to know whether Bollywood will emerge with its character intact, he wrote.
Taseer also mentioned that he dated a Bollywood film director, which gave him a glimpse of Indian film industry and even a chance to go to a private dinner with actors like Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif.
“Bollywood’s only chance of survival, given the weakness of India’s institutions, lies in its ability to stick together and marshal its star power,” he concluded.