Will A New Love For Hinduism Save Bollywood From Boycotts?

The year 2022 should be known as when the Mumbai campus of Karachi-wood, also known as Bollywood, started flaunting shades of saffron to save careers. Bollywood A-listers began realizing that their audience was more sensitive to jokes on Hinduism than they had assumed.

It was also the year they realized their snobbish “Don’t like my movies? Don’t watch them” comments had real consequences.

Very recently, social media was abuzz with pictures of Aamir Khan sporting a tilak on his forehead and donning a traditional Maharashtrian attire while performing a pooja.

This sudden (and unconvincing) change in attitude favouring Hinduism comes from a man who has made a highly successful career in Bollywood out of repeatedly insulting Hindu sentiments with films such as pk, 3 Idiots, Laal Singh Chaddha etc., his interviews and his choice of association (pk partnered with virulently anti-India Pakistani ARY group and Aamir Khan offered a role to Pakistan’s virulently anti-India and Hindu-hating actor Shaan Shahid).

In 2015, a year after PM Narendra Modi had assumed office, Khan stated that his wife was wondering whether they should leave India because of “growing intolerance in the country”. But later, following a substantial social media backlash, he retracted, saying he had never said he would leave the country.

He had no fear of the supposedly intolerant government and the pro-Hinduism electorate when it came to forging friendships with India’s enemies.

In 2017, he met Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an unapologetic Islamist and India-baiter. This meeting happened just when India slammed Turkey for offering to interfere in the Kashmir issue. A couple of years later, Khan met Erdogan’s wife, Emine. However, he never explained why he chose to skip meeting Israel’s then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018. Israel has been a true friend to India.

Aamir Khan is a serial offender when it comes to normalizing Hinduphobia. After pk, he famously stated that those (Hindus) whose sentiments were hurt could ignore the film. His comments returned to haunt him during the release of Laal Singh Chaddha, which failed miserably at the box office, credited mainly to the ‘Boycott Bollywood’ movement on social media. 

He is going to produce ‘Champions’ next. Perhaps his recent religious shenanigans showing respect for Hinduism are desperate attempts to protect the film from any further boycott campaign. Also, it remains to be debated how a Hajj-going Khan can sit for a pooja offered to Hindu gods.

He is not the only one suddenly leaning on Sanatan Dharma to salvage whatever is left of their careers in movies. Early this year, a newly-married Alia Bhatt appeared on the ‘Koffee with Karan’ show and gushed about how much she learnt to appreciate Hinduism from her secretly religious husband, Ranbir Kapoor.

Watch the video here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haqneRt00y8, from 0:20 – 2:07).

These declarations came weeks after Bajrang Dal protestors stopped the couple from entering the Mahakaleshwar temple before the ‘Brahmastra’ release. The protest was over an old video of Kapoor declaring his love for eating beef and describing himself as being from Peshawar (his great-grandfather Prithviraj Kapoor shifted to Mumbai from Peshawar in the 1920s). The film was a commercial failure too. You can also find a Gems of Bollywood review of the same. 

Much like Khan, Bhatt has also said, “If you don’t like me, don’t watch me” in a televised interview when asked about being a star kid in an industry plagued with nepotism.

Perhaps, Bhatt thought she was wisely following the footsteps of her proclaimed idol, Kareena Kapoor Khan, who in 2020 had stated during a nepotism debate, “The audience only has made us, no one else has made us. The same people pointing fingers are the ones who have made these nepotistic stars, right? Aap Jaa Rahe Ho Na Film Dekhne? Toh mat Jao. Nobody has forced you.”

When Laal Singh Chadda failed miserably at the box office amid boycott calls over snobbish comments, the actress reversed her position, begging people not to boycott the film.

Another actress who suffered similar results because of her “funny” comments inviting the boycott is Taapsee Pannu. Ahead of the release of her film ‘Dobaara’, directed by Anurag Kashyap, Pannu gigglingly asked the audience to boycott the movie. She was interviewed along with Kashyap, who added that he felt left out as no one was boycotting his film. As soon as this clip went viral, netizens decided to act as per their wishes and boycotted their movie.

In a press conference later, Pannu called the #BoycottBollywood trend a “joke’. “I cannot talk about others in the industry, but it has become a joke for me and Anurag. If the audience like them, they will go to watch a film. If they don’t like it, they won’t.”

Pannu may have failed to understand that audience cannot like or dislike a film before watching it. And they won’t watch it until they hear good reviews about the movie from a trustworthy source. A film’s presentation before its release must be inviting and respectful. No one will walk into a movie theatre or recommend a film to their friends if the people making the film take this audience for granted or take a jibe at their most personal sentiments.

This film by Pannu and Kashyap failed so miserably that it did not even make Rs 1 crore on its opening day.

Now, before Pathaan’s release, lead actor Shah Rukh Khan reportedly visited the Mata Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu. This visit happened a few days after his pictures from a pilgrimage, Umrah, to the Islamic holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, where only Muslims are allowed to enter, widely circulated on the Internet.

This visit, too, was publicized amid calls for boycotting Pathaan film out of a general anti-Bollywood sentiment among the public.

It would be worth waiting to find out if 2023 may be the year when the holier-than-thou in Bollywood learn their lesson and respect their audience’s time, expectations and money, and the sentiments of the majority.

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I watch how Bollywood engages with and represents Hindu society. A non-Marxist film critic writing in English.

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