Kangana Ranaut’s blood is boiling these days, especially after the Pulwama attack, and understandably so. No one doubts her patriotism. But it seems neither should we doubt her business acumen. Ranaut’s Bollywood hit movie Manikarnika is doing good business in Pakistan.
Last month, Jayantilal Gada, the producer of The Accidental Prime Minister, which stars Bollywood’s pin-up patriot Anupam Kher in the lead role, thanked Imran Khan copiously after Pakistan’s censor board gave a green signal for the film’s release.
And now, both Kangana Ranaut and Anupam Kher are busy lecturing Indian liberals on what the right anti-Pakistan posture should be.
No one has ever accused Kangana Ranaut of mincing her words. And, her reaction to Pulwama was in full-on Rani of Jhansi mode.
“Pakistan has not only violated our nation’s security, they have also attacked our dignity by openly threatening and humiliating us,” she said. “We need to take decisive action or else our silence will be misunderstood for cowardice. Bharat is bleeding today; the killing of our sons is like a dagger in our gut. Anyone who lectures about non-violence and peace at this time should be painted black, put on a donkey and slapped by everyone on the streets.”
Sure, Ranaut’s Manikarnika released long before the Pulwama attack. But Ranaut has not asked for the film to be withdrawn. At least Ajay Devgn has decided that his film Total Dhamaal will not release in Pakistan. Dinesh Vijan, producer of upcoming movies Lukka Chuppi and Arjun Patiala, has decided that his films will not release in Pakistan. But Ranaut has kept Manikarnika out of the patriotism test she is imposing on others.
Kangana Ranaut’s “decisive action” is about training her guns on Shabana Azmi whom she accused of encouraging “Bharat tere tukde honge” gang. Azmi is an easy target. She was planning to be in Karachi for her father Kaifi Azmi’s birth centenary celebrations. She cancelled her plans but Ranaut dismissed it as a lame attempt to “save face”.
Jaish-e-Mohammed planned the attack on a CRPF convoy in India. But the patriotism tests are promptly administered to those Indians who are perceived as too wishy-washy liberals. They are the low-hanging fruit for social media warriors and celebrities who are itching to teach someone a lesson. Jaish is out of reach, but liberals are sitting ducks.
“Pakistan will be taught a lesson, but what do we do of enemies within the nation?” BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia asked on Republic TV.
That apparently includes ordinary Kashmiris as Meghalaya governor Tathagata Roy endorses a call for a boycott of all things Kashmiri.
A debate is definitely needed on whether cultural exchanges with a country that is harbouring known terror masterminds achieve anything.
Will all the goodwill towards Rahat Fateh Ali Khan or Fawad Khan translate into any kind of peace in the region? Even a Shabana Azmi now doubts the efficacy of these people-to-people contacts.
The cultural ties between India and Pakistan are undeniable. But the cross-border terror attacks are also undeniable. The All India Cine Workers Association has announced a total ban on Pakistani actors. Sourav Ganguly has demanded India cut off all sporting ties with Pakistan.
We can argue the merits of the ban but the irony is that this debate quickly turns into target practice aimed at only one segment of Indians – the liberals. Every word of theirs is put under a microscope. They are hauled over the coals for perceived sins of too much cross-border ‘aman ki asha’. The Kangana Ranauts and Anupam Khers of the world, cloaked as they are in an armour of fiery jingoism, are immune from such scrutiny.
Navjot Singh Sidhu, admittedly a motormouth, has been booted off the Kapil Sharma show for saying this: “For a handful of people, can you blame the entire nation and can you blame an individual? It (the attack) is a cowardly act and I condemn it firmly.” Many self-appointed nationalists saw his comments as too pro-Pakistan. Anupam Kher said, “Sometimes when you talk too much, it can lead you to talking rubbish.”
In 2016, the same Anupam Kher was complaining about not being given a Pakistani visa for the Karachi literary festival. Pulwama had not happened then but it’s not as if Kher did not know that Pakistan was regarded by Delhi as a nerve centre of terrorism.
When Kher’s The Accidental Prime Minister was cleared by Pakistan’s censor board, the film’s producer Jayantilal Gada issued a statement saying, “Pakistani moviegoers will be able to enjoy the film as it is set to release there. I always admired Imran Khan as a brave cricketer, and now I respect him as a Prime Minister, too.”
Anupam Kher, surprisingly, had nothing to say on the clearance from Pakistan. Instead, he took to Twitter to recite a poem about a #SaluteToASoldier that moved him. Asli patriots just need a poem to prove their patriotism. And, he spent his time bashing perceived liberals for good measure by tweeting: “I notice some people are trying to make their personal harassment on social media bigger than the tragedy of our #Phulwama brave hearts. Please don’t get fooled by these usual suspects. They r trying to deviate us. They don’t want us to come together even in our national grief.”
In fact, patriotism can also be good business.
Subhash Chandra of Zee, a Rajya Sabha MP, proved his patriotic zeal by asking Pakistani artistes working in India to condemn the attack in Uri or leave. He announced Zee would revamp its Zindagi channel without Pakistani serials. But patriotism seems to have geographic boundaries. As Omar Abdullah tweeted, “Zee TV will sponsor and promote Pakistani bands a day after the Pulwama attack but because it’s in Dubai it’s all kosher.” The concert being promoted by Big Zee was ironically called ‘All For Love’.
Abdullah made it clear that it was not the event/sponsorship that bothered him, but the hypocrisy. For Zee, it was a win-win. They could whip up hyper-nationalistic fervour against Pakistan on television screens at home and ratchet up the TRPs while sponsoring Pakistani bands abroad. All for Love isn’t an aberration. Twitterati point out that Zee Studios is all set to distribute Load Wedding, a Pakistani rom-com, worldwide. Patriotism clearly does not have to get in the way of profit if you are smart. Sacrifice is so 1947.
The point is not whether India should have cultural links with a country it is accusing of fomenting terror attacks. The point is not whether we should go down the rabbit hole to investigate whose son has a Pakistani business partner or a Pakistani spouse and use that as a litmus test for their patriotism. The point is whether what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.
If it’s not, this performance patriotism is just an exercise in hypocrisy, which has little to do with love for India’s Army or concern for India’s security or even Pakistan. Instead, it has everything to do with cornering liberals and teaching them a lesson.
In these troubled times, nationalists ask not what they can do for their country, but what liberals can do. Further, they demand that liberals should do what they preach. As for sacrifice, Kangana Ranaut is also sacrificing something. She cancelled her Manikarnika success party, didn’t she?
Sandip Roy is a journalist, commentator and author.
Get the PrintEssential to make sense of the day's key developments