Mumbai: “Uddhav Thackeray, tujhe kya lagta hai… aaj mera ghar toota hai, kal tera ghamand tootega…”
Poised on a couch in a floral print saree and staring at the camera directly, actor Kangana Ranaut didn’t skip a beat in a video statement Wednesday as she told Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena head Uddhav Thackeray that his arrogance will be shattered just like her house.
This controversial statement came towards the end of the day’s potboiler, which saw Ranaut returning to Mumbai amid protests by Shiv Sainiks, tension at her Bandra office with the Mumbai civic body taking a bulldozer to it, a quick court order that gave the actor interim relief, and much politics over these happenings.
As the story hurtled towards a climax, Ranaut’s statement left the plot hanging for a possible sequel.
Given the Shiv Sena’s long history of a love-hate relationship with Bollywood, there could just as easily be one, if not with Ranaut, with someone else.
The Sena has constantly clashed with Bollywood, right from protesting against Tere Mere Sapne in 1971 to Tiger Zinda Hai in 2017. At the same time, the party’s leaders have been the thickest of friends with some Bollywood personalities.
Sena founder Bal Thackeray’s evening sessions on the terrace of his Bandra home, Matoshree, enjoying warm lager beer and a cigar with Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar, were much talked about in the 1960s and 1970s. Now, scion Aaditya Thackeray’s exchanges with actor Disha Patani make news.
It is this oxymoron that best explains the Shiv Sena’s relationship with Mumbai’s glamorous Bollywood industry.
The origin of relationship
Shiv Sena’s first skirmish with Bollywood was in 1971. Angry party workers and leaders made their way to Dadar’s Kohinoor theatre to protest after the cinema hall replaced Krishna Kondke’s Marathi film Songadya with Dev Anand-starrer Tere Mere Sapne, released by the actor’s banner Navketan.
Krishna Kondke, popularly known as Dada Kondke, in turn, helped the Shiv Sena launch its chitrapat shakha, or film division, with Gajanan Shirke as its chairman.
“It was perhaps for the first time that a political party had a film division. The Shiv Sena anyway had a goon-like, aggressive identity. Back in the day, the party’s chitrapat shakha was known to visit film sets, extort money,” said a former journalist who didn’t wish to be named.
Old-time Shiv Sainiks say the division was a means of ensuring representation for the Marathi speaking population in Mumbai’s film industry, in keeping with the party’s ‘Marathi Manoos’ agenda.
“In those days, Hindi film producers used to book theatres for their films for months together. Our Marathi films would struggle to reach the audience. There was no television, Internet or the likes of Netflix and YouTube, so if Marathi films were out of theatres, they were out for good. Our job was to get justice for them,” said a Sena functionary, who has been a former MLA.
The increasing battles
In the five decades since then, the Sena has often held Bollywood to ransom, blocking film releases on issues that have formed the party’s core political agenda — mainly batting for Marathi pride and posturing against anything to do with Pakistan.
“Bal Thackeray had a formidable, larger than life, menacing personality. The Shiv Sena too was known to be aggressive. So, the understanding, even among Bollywood personalities, was that to live in Mumbai you have to bow down before the Shiv Sena,” political commentator Hemant Desai said.
“Now, the Shiv Sena has been controlling Mumbai’s civic body for years, and film makers need to deal with it for all kinds of permissions. So, overall, Bollywood thinks it is better to be in the party’s good books,” he added.
For instance, Bal Thackeray was given a private screening of Mani Ratnam’s Bombay, based on the 1993 Mumbai riots, before the film’s release. The Sena supremo suggested a few changes that were incorporated in the film.
Interfering with films and Bollywood personalities was also an effective way for the Shiv Sena to grab eyeballs and further its political agenda.
Sena leaders have protested against films such as Salman Khan-starrer Tiger Zinda Hai in 2017 as its producers booked most shows, leaving no space for Marathi movies in multiplexes; My Name is Khan in 2010 as the lead actor Shah Rukh Khan had supported having Pakistani cricket players in the Indian Premier League, which the Shiv Sena disapproved of; and Deepa Mehta’s Fire in 1998 and later Water in 2006, the former for portraying a lesbian relationship and the latter for allegedly hurting Hindu sentiments.
In 2015, after preventing Pakistani Ghazal singer Ghulam Ali from performing in Mumbai, the Sena had also threatened to disrupt any films of Pakistani actors Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan.
Bal Thackeray’s Bollywood friendships
In 2012, as news came in about Bal Thackeray’s death, former actor Saira Banu was mulling over how she should share the news with her husband, veteran actor Dilip Kumar. “Balasaheb was close to Dilip saheb, but unfortunately Dilip saheb is not well since the past two days…it will be a big shock for him,” she was quoted as saying.
The bond was strong despite a major fallout in 1998 when Thackeray demanded that the actor returns the Nishan-e-Pakistan award.
“Abhi chana bhi hain, beer bhi hain, lekin Dilip Kumar ke raaste badal gaye (There are snacks, there is beer, but Dilip Kumar’s path has changed now),” Thackeray was quoted as having said back then in Vaibhav Purandare’s Bal Thackeray and the Rise of the Shiv Sena.
“Balasaheb never let political differences interfere with his friendships. Take Sharad Pawar for example. It was the same with his Bollywood friends,” said a senior Shiv Sena leader who did not wish to be named.
“The relations were and still are out of respect for each other. Bollywood personalities understand that they are living in Mumbai and that they will be safe in this industry, in this city, if they have the Shiv Sena’s support,” he added.
The Sena founder had a long list of friends from the industry — Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Manoj Kumar, Sunil Dutt, the three senior Kapoor brothers and Amitabh Bachchan, among others. For some, Thackeray, clad in his saffron robe with a rudraksh in his hand, magically made crushing problems disappear securing their gratitude for generations.
Bachchan has spoken about how Thackeray had his back when his name got embroiled in the Bofors scam, just ahead of the release of his film, Shahenshah in 1988.
Thackeray is also said to have helped Sunil Dutt when his son, Sanjay Dutt, was accused in the 1993 blasts case for accepting weapons from gangster Abu Salem.
“These celebrities would often visit the Thackeray residence and also developed a relation with Uddhav saheb, who was very young at that time. That’s how the relationships have continued over generations,” a Shiv Sena old timer said.
“When Balasaheb was undergoing surgery, Sanjay Dutt had brought breakfast for the whole family at the hospital,” he added.
The new gen and its networking
Now, Thackeray scion, Aaditya Thackeray, is carrying forward Shiv Sena’s tradition of networking with Bollywood personalities. The 30-year-old first-time MLA has often collaborated with actors such as Akshay Kumar, Dino Morea, Tiger Shroff and Alia Bhatt for his pet projects.
Thackeray is said to be especially good friends with Disha Patani, having been spotted with her on occasions and being trolled for it.
The young Thackeray had been recently mired in controversy due to his Bollywood connections, when a few Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders linked him to actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. Thackeray, a state cabinet minister, dismissed it as “dirty politics”, but has been conspicuously silent over the entire Shiv Sena-Kangana Ranaut dispute.
Political analyst Desai said, “Like Bal Thackeray, Aaditya too has deep networks with Bollywood, but there’s a slight difference… With Balasaheb, there was an awe and an aura of fear. With Aaditya, it’s more easygoing. It’s not quite the same.”