Don’t Communalize Bollywood, Why Aamir Khan can’t play Lord Krishna ?

A  tweet from a Frenchman has sparked off a massive outrage  in the Indian entertainment  industry. The  tweet questions Aamir khan’s right to play Lord Krishna in the actor’s  proposed  screen version  of  the Mahabharat.

Taking umbrage, and rightly so, is poet thinker secular-extraordinaire Javed Akhtar who has  reminded this Frenchman(is he really French or  is it is just a case of monsieur  ke frenchbeard mein tinka?) of  how  free of communal considerations popular art has always been in  our cinema.

Javed saab is right. Since when has  religion become a  deciding factor in the selection  of  an actor? Some argue that the  cultural conditioning and  religious beliefs  of an actor  are important determining  factors in  his or her character transmutation.  By that reasoning Hitler must only be played by German Nazis when in fact I don’t think he has  ever been played by an actual Nazi.

And who can play Mahatma Gandhi better than Ben Kinglsey? Is  Kingsley a Hindu? Does  anyone care?

Efforts to communalize art must be severely discouraged. Today they are saying Aamir Khan  can’t play Lord Krishna. Tomorrowthey will say Ranveer Singh can’t play Khilji or Deepika Padukone can’t play Mastani. Are we first supposed to  go through an actor’s religious and cultural background before declaring him  culturally fit to play a character?

Bollywood has always remained immune to cultural and religious identification.  For years Pradeep Kumar and  Mala Sinha starred in the movies as Muslim nawabs and beghums, so much so that they were taken to be Muslim in real life.

Recalls the veteran actress Mala Sinha, “After I did Dharmputra Jahan Ara, Mere  Huzoor I was  frequently mistaken to be  a Muslim. And this was  no  issue at all. I remember Meena Kumariji was  taken to be  a devout Hindu woman since she  played one in so many films. We are actors. We never restricted  our range of  characters  on the grounds of  religion or culture.”

When did  communalism creep into  cinema? It’s hard to say. Just the  other day we applauded Salman Khan for playing BajrangiBhaijaan although there were murmurs against Salman Khan playing a Hanuman bhakt.We didn’t hear Hanumanji object, though.

Salman  remains the  most exemplary  figure of secular values in  Bollywood. His father is  Muslim, his mother is a Hindu and former actress Helen whom Salman considers a second mother is a  Christian.

The entertainment  business in India  has always been spoilt for choices as far as the potential to assume nationalities and religious flavours are concerned. So  where did  this horrific misgiving about Aamir Khan doing Mahabharat come from?

Ironically the  ugly communal question raised itself on the day actor Farooq Sheikh’s 70th  birthday was celebrated. Farooq played everyone from Sikandar Mirza in Garam Hawa to Avinash in Saath Saath with equal moderation and conviction. I wonder what he would have said about this current , utterly futile argument on whom the Mahabharat belongs to.

Maybe Vyasa and Peter Brooks  could call a  joint  press conference  to provide clarity. Until then, Jai Shri Krishna!

Javed Akhtar whose series of angry tweets on a French journalist’s comment on Aamir Khan being unsuited to do the Mahabharatsays, “I’ve always  maintained that religion is  non-applicable  to  my life. In  fact in  the  column devoted to religion in all government forms I state ‘non-applicable. My son Farhan follows  the same policy.And his children  will follow the same. I abhor those who try to divide our society  and  the entertainment  industry on religious grounds.”

Adds Hansal Mehta,  ” We are always going to pay the price for our fear, passivity and subservience to whoever rules us and whatever ideology they espouse.”

  Industry spokesperson Ashoke Pandit has  the  last word. ” Bollywood can never be communalised. Anyone who tried before this flopped. It’s a profession where such thoughts never arise.

Filmmaker  Vivek Agnihotri  finds the French journalist’s  contention regarding Aamir Khan’s Mahabharata plans to be  absurd. ” This is stupid. Acting is a profession and any discriminatory thought based on caste, religion, region, colour etc must not be tolerated by the award andinfluencers of the society. They must write/speak against such bigotry.

Problem is everyone in the film industry is quiet. AMIR is not just any other actor. His contribution to Indian entertainment industry is unparalleled. He has taken India’s prestige to the highest lever at Oscars. He has told some amazing Indian stories. He has changed the way Bollywood worked, technically and creatively. He introduced modern production techniques. He is a one man industry. I salute him for making Mahabharata. Shouldn’t all those directors, writers, producers and actors speak up – at least the ones whose careers he has made. By keeping quiet they think they will become a part of a controversy. But by being silent they are also contributing and encouraging to such bigotry.

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