The ethics of Bollywood trying to make capital out of tragedies like the Delhi rape
An incisive comment about the farce revolving around Sanjay Dutt’s sentencing has been by Nana Patekar. In an interview to a Marathi television channel, he says he has the simple question of why Dutt should be given relief. But, Patekar adds, all that he can do about it is not work with Dutt or watch his movies. And he has been doing that for some time. He says that he is slowly losing faith in the system and fears there is one system of justice for the poor and another for the powerful.
What Patekar said is self evident and anyone with an elementary idea of justice will hold the same opinion. What is unusual is that his is the only Bollywood voice to speak of and see Dutt’s actions for what they are—a film star born to privilege who thought his insecurities were greater than the law; a convicted criminal who has got the system to collude in mitigating, forgetting and forgiving his sins. And this in a country where ordinary men and women get punished brutally for lesser crimes.
The next time a Bollywood filmmaker laments the lonely battle he fought when a political party held his film hostage for an absurd reason, he must also look at what he did when there was a stand to be taken. He will find the answers to his predicament in the absence of his moral fibre. There is another layer to this hypocrisy in Bollywood. Early this week, there was John Abraham, Anil Kapoor, Tusshar Kapoor and Sunny Leone debating the effects of porn with Ranjana Kumari, Shaina NC and Rahul Easwar. The context was the Delhi rape. The actors were taking the position that porn cannot be a reason for the rape of children. This is a valid position, but what was puzzling was their presence on the show. Then it struck you that all of them are in the cast of the soon-to-be-released movie Shootout at Wadala. Sunny Leone has an item number in it. And so, some smart public relations executive connected the dots—child rape, porn, Sunny Leone—and sought ‘synergy’ between the film’s publicity and the Delhi incident. You saw something similar with the earlier December rape, which horrified the nation. All the stars whose movies were releasing were suddenly prolific on television voicing their outrage. It was a convenient clubbing of marketing and a social cause.
This is not a recent phenomenon. Aamir Khan has for long been accused of developing a social conscience only when his movies are to be released. Salman Khan initiated a petition for the release of Sarabjit Singh, an alleged Indian spy who is sentenced to die in Pakistan, before his spy-love-story Ek Tha Tiger was to hit theatres. Before a new release, if the movie’s script offers the possibility, you will notice a social issue being milked.
This does not mean that film stars are necessarily callous or mercenary. They are busy people with a premium on their time. They are probably given a schedule and if they don’t have any objection, go along with it. The problem is the peculiar ethics of it. Pursuing self-interest can benefit others. This is the principle on which capitalism is founded. Altruism can also help others. But self-interest is not equal to altruism. There is an inherent deception in clubbing the two. Think of how offended viewers would if Headlines Today had run a disclaimer saying that the actors present on that show discussing child rape and porn had agreed to come because it is also a publicity vehicle for Shootout at Wadala.
When conscience—even a good conscience—comes with a marketing rider, then it is not surprising that people in Bollywood are unable to take an independent stand. That is why no one except Nana Patekar will speak his mind on Sanjay Dutt. There is no gain in it and there is also a loss potential because of Dutt’s influence.
In Hollywood, stars have strong political and social voices. You can see Clint Eastwood at the Republican Convention talking to an empty chair as if Barack Obama’s sitting on it. It’s a bizarre act but at least he’s there. Can you imagine Amitabh Bachchan doing that on Manmohan Singh? Sean Penn is public about his friendship with and admiration of the late Hugo Chavez, who spouted venom against the US. When workers of a hotel in which his movie was being shot went on strike, George Clooney refused to break the picket line because of his Leftist leanings. Here, the only time Shah Rukh Khan speaks against the Shiv Sena is when his own film is in danger.