June 03, 2006

A tale of two Khans - Feroze and Amir

By Ashok Chowgule



Two of the Khans of the film world made statements that were deemed to
be controversial. One issue died down almost as quickly as it was
raised, the other lingered.



The first statement was made by Feroz Khan in Pakistan. The occasion
was the official release of an Indian film in Pakistan after a long
time. Official because such films are banned by the government, but the
pirated versions were doing good business. As per a report in a
Pakistani publication, the anchor of the show asked a 'sensitive
question' to Manisha Koirala and when she 'squirmed', the anchor
'sarcastically offered to change the subject.' Feroz Khan could not
absorb what was going on, and so he said: "We have a Muslim President
and Sikh Prime Minister in India, but in Pakistan Muslims kill Muslims."
This was supposed to be a controversial statement.



The second statement was made by Amir Khan in India, when he said that
he supported the programme of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) which is
agitating that the dams in the Narmada Valley schemes are not completed.
Of course, he said that his objection was not to the dam per se, but
that it should not be at the 'expense' of improper rehabilitation of the
displaced persons. The people of Gujarat were upset at this support,
since for the state the water that will be available will be a big
relief to many parts, particularly the drought areas of Saurashtra.
They have been agitated with the delays caused by the antiques of NBA.
Both the main political parties in the state strongly condemned Amirji
saying essentially that he does not know what he is talking about.



One of the actions taken was to ask the film distributors not to show
Amirji's latest film "Fanaa" in the various cinema houses in Gujarat.
It appears that the distributors, gauging the mood of the people, have
agreed to do so. The Government of Gujarat has not taken any official
position on the issue.



So, what was the reaction of the various people to the two statements.
The Pakistani publication said that Ferozji's son and brother tried to
'calm down' the actor. Perhaps the reaction is best summed up by the
statement made by Mahesh Bhatt, a renowned director of Hindi films, to
the publication. He said: "We are all extremely shocked with this
incident and it was certainly not expected from Feroz Khan. The entire
team of Indians was extremely apologetic to the Pakistanis for Feroz
Khan's remarks and behaviour."



Ferozji has made no personal apology for what he said, and the position
now is that he is banned from entering Pakistan. Not only the film
industry have been conspicuous by their silence in the whole issue, the
secular intellectuals have competed with them to see who maintains a
greater silence.



But in case of Amirji? Silence is the last option that will be used.
Amirji thinks he has made his case stronger by criticising the Gujarat
Government in its handling of the demolition of an old dargah recently
in the city of Vadodara. Along with many temples, and a couple of small
mosques, the objective of the demolition was to widen the roads in the
city. These temples and mosques created no resistance, but the dargah
did. In the rioting that followed, two Muslims were killed in police
firing. However, two Hindus were killed by Muslims as part of their
protest - a fact that will be as deligently buried as the statement by
Ferozji. One Muslim was also killed by the Hindus as a reaction - a
fact that will be used to potray that innocent Muslims are in grave
danger in Gujarat.



So, for many in the media and Bollywood, since Amirji has projected
himself as against the present Gujarat government, he has suddenly
become a hero. And Mahesh Bhatt has filed a Public Interest Litigation
(PIL) in the courts asking that the Government of Gujarat be directed to
ensure that the film is released in the state. Various film
personalities, who were silent in case of Ferozji, have said that they
think that Amirji has said nothing wrong.



But did Amirji say anything wrong? He has based his opinion on what the
NBA has to say on the subject, and it seems that he has not done any
independent investigation of his own. He has chosen to ignore reports
about the rehabilitation of the displaced persons, and, more
importantly, ignored reports about how NBA is forcing many people not to
accept the rehabilitation package. Critical observers (some who are
also political opponents of the present Gujarat Government) have
commented quite favourably about the work done so far.



Here it is pertinent to take into account what Amirji has to say about
what some of the active supporters of NBA have to say on the issue of
the soft drink Coca Cola. It alleges that the bottling plant in Kerala
has caused damage to the availability of drinking water and also made it
harmful for consumption. Since Amirji endorses the product through
advertisements, and since he says that in case of the Narmada dam he is
speaking 'for the rights of the poor farmer', some newspapers asked him
whether this was not double standards. Amirji has said that he is
making his own investigation about the allegation made against Coca
Cola, and that in a month or two he will come out with his own
definitive conclusions. (It is hoped that the media will contact him
after the expiry of the period, so that the people of India get to know
his wise words on the issue.)



So, when it comes to Coca Cola, Amirji will not accept the statements of
the active supporters of NBA. But will do so when it comes to issues
relating to the Narmada dam. Perhaps if he did accept the allegations
against Coca Cola, not only would he (and perhaps many others in the
film industry) have a significant monetary loss, but also he would not
have been the darling of the secular intellectuals as he is presently.



One of the newer channels got him in front of their cameras in their
studio, for what was billed as the first live interview of the actor.
Ferozji received no such courtesy. Long interviews of Amirji have
appeared in various publications, but not of Ferozji. And the thrust of
all these interviews is to project the Government of Gujarat in a bad
light.



Another issue which exposes the political agenda of Amirji is his stand
on the travails of the Kashmiri Pandits who have been ethnically
cleansed from the Kashmir Valley in 1989. In a recent comment that has
come from him, it appears that it is only very recently (that is after
he has expressed his concern about the 'poor farmers' being displaced
from the Narmad Valley) that he is aware of such a thing happening. And
he has said that he will be 'soon' visiting the squalid camps where they
are living all these years. (Mahesh Bhatt had made a similar promise
some four years ago, and he has yet to fulfill it.)



This whole episode has once again exposed the hollowness of the practice
of secularism in India. It is not only Amirji who stands indicted, but
also his so-called supporters in the film industry, as well as those who
go under the rubric of intellectuals. And even as there is a call to
the film distributors in Gujarat to lift their ban, there is a silence
with respect to the ban on the film "Da Vinci Code" in the states of
Meghalaya, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, allegedly because the
sentiments of Christians in India have been hurt. No on asks how is it
that the sentiments of Christians in Christian countries, where the film
is released, have not been hurt.

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