History is not a floating romance. And nationalism is not just a notion. Yet for decades, the liberal narrative has romanticised history at the cost of nationalist notions. A heated debate over the power of patriotism and indisputable historical reality was back in the news last week. Screen idol Salman Khan was asked by a Jodhpur court to disclose his religion. Without batting an eyelid he said “Indian” in English which meant a Bhartiya in Hindi. Almost every politically correct film artist was consumed by shock and awe at his commitment to the idea of both India and Bharat.
A day later, Bollywood director Sanjay Leela Bhansali was shooting a film on Rani Padmavati, the pulchritudinous Rajput queen who chose self-immolation over surrender to the lecherous invader Alauddin Khilji. The Rajput Karni Sena (RKS), an organisation “fighting” for Rajput pride, ransacked its sets, accusing the director of distorting history by filming romantic encounters between Padmavati (Deepika Padukone) and Khilji (Ranveer Singh). It claimed that such fictional depictions are romantic floaters meant only to earn money at the box office at the cost of the truth.
Predictably, all hell broke out in B-Town. Its liberal legions attacked the Sena with fanatic fervour and termed the assault on Bhansali a threat to the freedom of expression and creativity. The filmmaker and his romance-obsessed fraternity asserted their right to re-imagine history through dream sequences of saucy love scenes between Khilji and Padmavati. Bollywood has traditionally raked in massive moolah with innovative depictions of Indian deities and religious symbols. This propensity has remained largely unchallenged for decades because the powerful nexus between the politicians, elitist media and business interests is the engine that powers tinsel town. But not anymore.
As Islamic fundamentalism asserts itself with bombs and bullets, Hindu fringe elements are flexing their muscles to resist the commercial curry-making of Indian values. In any democracy, violence against provocative creativity is totally unjustified. However, artists looking to make a quick buck have compromised Indian culture, deities, icons and religious beliefs too often. Pseudo secularists and illiberals have been using fictional history as a powerful tool to defame Indian icons who fought tyrannical Moguls and British colonialism. Literature, art and films are the most abused vehicles for recreating historical reality and redefining Indian saviours and saints. Over the past seven decades, many academic and cultural institutions have collaborated with a section of the entertainment industry to distort the symbology and literature of genuinely secular India. Historically, India’s Hindu majority has been the indisputable guardian of tolerance and unity in diversity. It was an eyesore for some who lived, survived and were indoctrinated in countries controlled by a single political ideology or religion. It is not just a coincidence that only those with roots in the West or countries governed by Left-wing dispensations are at the forefront of defaming genuinely inclusive Indian culture and traditions. Over five decades ago, India’s nightingale Lata Mangeshkar rendered her iconic song “Aye mere watan ke logon” on January 27, 1963, at the National Stadium, New Delhi, in the presence of Jawaharlal Nehru. The entire nation, including Nehru, wept in memory of our soldiers who had fallen in the Indo-China War. In the 21st century, neo-Nehruvians are singing a different tune. In the name of freedom of expression, they even question the need to sing the national anthem. It was compulsory to sing Jana Gana Mana in schools and play it at cinema houses throughout the country during the 1980s. But the practice was sabotaged by fellowship fakes whose pockets could be lined only by connecting markets in the name of internationalism.
While the blowback of the western model of economic reforms was the decline of native Indian talent, farming, small-scale industry, arts and crafts et al, the partisan promotion of English literature and litterateurs was aimed at muzzling and marginalising regional writing and authors whose sustenance was India’s glorious past. A famous painter, whose art went for crores, couldn’t resist the temptation of distorting and sexualising images of Indian goddesses in the name of secular money-making. However, rootless globalism, which believed only in box office success, had perverted the Indian film industry to strike at the very roots of recorded history and genuine nationalism. There was a time when celluloid geniuses such as Raj Kapoor, Manoj Kumar, V Shantaram, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Mehboob Khan, Satyajit Ray and Yash Chopra made hugely successful films, which promoted the ‘bharateeya” identity and national integration. None of them were charged with pandering to communal forces. Stars like Dilip Kumar , Raj Kapoor, Manoj Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Dharmendra, Vyjayanthimala, Nargis, Sharmila Tagore, Waheeda Rehman and later Amitabh Bachchan and Shatrughan Sinha played historical-cum-romantic roles, but never consented to be a part of any plot that hurt regional feelings or distorted history because they were culturally and creatively sensitive.
But the new crop of directors and actors exclusively seek to send the cash registers ringing. It is mystifying why intelligent and talented actors like Kareena Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Ranbir Kapoor and Akshay Kumar are too busy shooting and thinking about their next commercial venture to ask the right questions about the veracity of cultural facts from directors and producers who are driven by ideological and commercial designs.
Most new age film actors are unaware of the nuances of Indian traditions. Financiers and fathers of such celluloid scripts neither have the time nor the inclination to properly research or anticipate the social implications of their creative flirtations. With an annual turnover of over `20,000 crore, the Indian film industry has the nuclear power to influence gullible viewers. Though of late, flying the tricolour from their rooftops and wearing tricoloured designer outfits for social outings on August 15 or January 26 have become fashion statements rather a commitment, the chatterati class is uncomfortable with the idea of swearing by India in public and declaring themselves openly as proud Indians like Salman did.
If a miniscule fringe outfit like RKS can acquire respectability, thank the calamitous cabal, which labels a nationalist divisive and portrays an illiberal as the messiah of liberty. If India has to survive as a model of unity in diversity, the trend of mauling nationalism and tarring genuine history with a coloured brush has to be reversed with all its mind and might.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla