The saffron brigade misinterpreted the lyrics, took offense and asserted that such an ‘insult to the saffron colour will not be tolerated’. SC lawyer Vineet Jindal filed a complaint with I&B Ministry citing the song hurts religious sentiments of Hindus. Vishva Hindu Parishad national spokesperson Vinod Bansal demanded that the movie should be boycotted and banned. A mahant of Ayodhya’s Hanuman Garhi Raju Das called for people to set fire to the theatres that screen the movie as the song has hurt religious sentiments. MP Home Minister Narottam Mishra also raised issues against ‘objectionable costumes’ in the song. BJP MLA Ram Kadam stated that the film that insults Hindutva will not be tolerated. MP Ulema Board too took offense and called for a ban on the film. BJP MP Sadhvi Pragya made a clarion call in Hindi, “Kick them in the stomach, destroy their businesses, and never watch any of their films. As soon as they are kicked in the stomach, they will run away from the country.”
While saffron outfits have been donned by actresses in sensuous numbers for years, this is the first time there is a huge outcry over the same. Raveena Tandon flaunted a saffron saree in Tip Tip Barsa and danced with Akshay Kumar in the sensuous number all drenched in rain. As did Katrina Kaif in Gale Lag Jaa also starring Akshay. Bhool Bhulaiyaa song Hare Ram Hare Krishna had a group of dancers grooving behind Akshay Kumar in skimpy saffron outfits. A couple of outright vulgar Bhojpuri videos featuring BJP members Ravi Kishan and Nirahua with heroines donning saffron outfits have been circulating on the internet. This has led to few concluding that this boycott is a specifically targeted campaign against SRK and Deepika.
Today’s #BigStory explores the probable causes and consequences of the said events. Read on.
A political propaganda?
With the controversy around Besharam Rang fanned by a number of right wing supporters, the whole boycott campaign may come across as political propaganda. Shah Rukh Khan’s recent speech at the Kolkata International Film Festival seemingly hinted at the backlash as he spoke about ‘such pursuits enclosing the collective narrative, making it divisive and destructive’.
Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut states this is happening because everything is seen from the perspective of politics and vote bank. “There have been other songs too that starred these actors like Manoj Tiwari and all who are associated with the BJP. They also feature actresses wearing saffron outfits. See if we only look at cinema finding faults like vulgarity or treason, if we bring colour and religion everywhere, then the importance of Indian cinema will be affected globally. Bollywood has global status. If you bring religion into art, cinema and everything else, then the time is not far when India will not be different from Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan. It’s already happening because everything is seen from the perspective of politics and votes,” he tells ETimes.
Producer and former censor board chairman Pahlaj Nihalani questions when the Board has cleared the songs, why are the
bhakts objecting to it. “Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone are the citizens of the country and they have a right to do what they want. And they have not done anything wrong. It’s a song in a simple bikini, there were so many such scenes in Befikre. There was no objection then. When the censor board has cleared it, why are the
bhakts objecting? They want mileage for themselves,” he says.
Swara Bhasker finds the hypocrisy glaring. “But we live at a time in India when communal rhetoric, bigotry, Islamophobia and hate are political currency,” she says. “This foolish debate is proof of that. Ministers and elected representatives who frankly should focus their attention on real issues of their constituents and the public find that targeting Muslims or whipping up communal frenzy is a good way to be in the news. We live in times when the ruling party and its ideological parent, the RSS, claim to be a champion of Hindus and claim to speak on behalf of all Hindus – which is patently untrue and the minions of that party are simply following the example. They use people’s faith for political gain and frankly that’s despicable and dangerous.”
Writer-director Ashwini Chaudhary reflects on the sensitivity of the masses and says, “Films and web shows are soft targets to generate outrage and help the agenda of polarising the society further for quite some time now. Sentiments are being hurt at the drop of a hat.”
Filmmaker Suneel Darshan believes the saffron bikini could have easily become fodder for anyone seeking an undesired controversy. “At the very outset, the opening line of the song is
Humein toh loot liya… so being addressed as Besharam Rang would be a natural invitation to controversy which gives the song reams of dedicated media attention. I personally feel that Deepika’s bold and brazen exposure is enough to seduce eyeballs and what’s wrong with flaunting it all when you have it! We can’t have double standards where international videos and OTT channels have blanket permission to go all the way and yet maintain double standards where our domestic content is concerned. As for the unnecessary saffron context, it’s
manna (food) for delving into, for anyone and everyone seeking an undesired controversy.”
Yesteryear actress Anu Aggarwal recalls her days as a model and actor when she was known to be bold when hardly anyone was. “But today the climate has changed,” she says. “The over reaction could be as over the years saffron has become a colour identified with Hindu nationalists what with BJP being the saffron party. I feel in Bollywood we could be a little more sensitive to the sentiments of people, party or whatever because we can wear any colour costume as the outrage is not to costume, but the colour.”
The gross misinterpretation of the lyrics of Besharam Rang could be lyricist Kumaar’s worst nightmare. The line
Besharam rang kahan dekha duniya walon ne translates to ‘The world hasn’t seen the colours of the true (unblushing side of mine) me’; so it’s not even remotely talking about any of the colours of Deepika’s outfits!
Ashwini explains, “Let’s not get into the merit of the song. The controversy is not about that. And let’s understand one thing in the lyrics, Besharam Rang is not about saffron or green. It’s a metaphor used by the lyrics writer. A narrative is being falsely created to generate controversy. It’s unfortunate that unconstitutional authorities, fringe elements and even some leaders of the political parties are attacking the lead actors of the song. It is not them who decided either the lyrics or the colour of the costumes they wore in the song. I think these hate-mongers need a Masterclass on film making. It is such a shame that Deepika who represented India in Cannes as a jury member and unveiled the FIFA trophy is targeted like this.”
Swara too finds nothing problematic with the song or its picturisation. “This is a totally constructed controversy and frankly the media should not be giving it so much attention to keep it alive. No one has a monopoly on colours! It’s a sign of how utterly nonsensical the standard of public discourse is in India that anyone can claim anything hurt their religious sentiments and without any logic or rationale, we accept that and fan a time-waste debate,” she says.
Lyricist Manoj Muntashir is certain the makers of Pathaan never intended to target
bhagwa or Hindutva for any reason. “That will not benefit them from any lens,” he says. “There has been a reaction, and the reaction was quite humongous. I think the reaction could have been more controlled, more subtle. Also, at the same time, I would like to add, the costume department should have been a little more careful. Especially when the song’s name is Besharam Rang, there was always a possibility of misinterpretation. You cannot be careless towards the public sentiments, and you know that in given times, the kind of sentiments that erupt from all corners, it might go either way. So a little more caution from the makers would have been welcome. Call it a coincidence or whatever, but there is saffron and then there’s the song name. So, yeah, the chaos was bound to happen. But at the same time, I am 100% sure that it was not intended to hurt Hindu feelings.”
What about freedom of speech and expression?
At a time when creative liberties are questioned and faced with opposition from time to time, one can never be too conscious about their freedom of speech and expression. As filmmaker Mukesh Bhatt notes, “Things have become completely polarised now, which is sad. We are looking at films too minutely, which we never did. We (earlier) looked at entertainment from a much healthier perspective than how we are looking today. If you want to see something bad, then you will create something out of nothing. Madhuri Dixit has done Dhak Dhak, Zeenat Aman has done Aap Jaisa Koi and Dum Maro Dum, Sharmila Tagore wore a bikini in An Evening In Paris. I don’t know, the reason’s best known to them why this is happening now. I am an entertainer. I don’t know politics and I am not interested in politics. This is not the way the Indian diaspora saw films with such narrow mindedness which is happening today. Instead of getting progressive, we are getting more and more narrow minded. This is not progression, this is regression. And that is alarming.”
Muntashir agrees such incidents (saffron clothes in songs) have happened in the past. “But people are becoming more careful about their roots, their legacy, and the pride of being an Indian,” he says. “I do not think it’s wrong in any way. So if we were ignorant in the past does not mean we will remain so forever. Now the saffron color means a lot to a lot of people. That colour symbolises valour, patriotism, Hindutva.
Toh joh pehle hua uske baare mein baat karke kya milne wala hai. It is necessary that we have a filter for colour going forward whenever we are making films. It is the sole responsibility of the filmmakers because we are ultimately making them for the masses.
Toh agar janta hi naraz ho gayi aapke interpretation se… and commercial cinema is not here to make any statement. It is only here to make money. Exercising little caution very important for the film industry.”
Pahlaj sees nothing wrong with the song Besharam Rang. “It’s as if there is no value to the censor certificate, that such problems are being created,” he laments. “Whatever suits the ideology of a particular party, they do that and raise different issues. Publications and social media are flooded with bikini photos that have so much more skin show, they never had any issue with them. They are creating such a hue and cry over one saffron colour and the words besharam rang, and are conveniently ignoring all the other colours she is wearing. Saffron outfits have been used in so many songs like Dum Maro Dum, so many Bhojpuri songs featuring MPs like Manoj Tiwari, Ravi Kishan – those are such vulgar songs.”
Sanjay Raut says, “Even we believe in
dharm and follow Hindutva. But our Hindutva has not gone to such extremes. It’s like they (fringe groups) are running a separate Censor Board of their own. It’s not good for the country and its democracy. Why did we fight for freedom years ago then? No one would want cinema to cross boundaries, everyone has a role to play in it, but not by imposing their own censorship on others. It’s not good for the future of our country and democracy. It’s like they are creating a smokescreen by raising such issues and diverting attention from more important issues.”
Is Shah Rukh Khan a scapegoat?
“I think if there was another A-lister in the song other than Shah Rukh Khan,
hungama nahi hota,” believes Ashwini Chaudhary. “As filmmakers when we make films, we don’t discriminate between caste, class or colour. If this dangerous trend continues then filmmakers have to go back in time and start making black and white films, so that we don’t hurt anyone’s sentiments.”
Swara Bhasker agrees, “Quite simply and very obviously, yes, SRK and Deepika are being made scapegoats here.”
Sanjay Raut adds, “Extreme politicisation of cinema is happening. Immediately you will be termed
dharmdrohi. The same happened in the case of Deepika Padukone after she visited JNU. There were calls to boycott her and her film. The talibanisation of this country has truly begun, it seems.”
Writer-director Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi believes these protests are pent up anger vented out in a wrong way. “They are not able to articulate it,” he says. “And yes, politicians have no business getting into this. I totally agree that politicians should stay away from it. The CBFC is there to look into it. And people too have the right to express, protest and even reject and boycott if they don’t like something. Although I am against the boycott culture. We boycott only actors, but we don’t realise how many more technicians and their families are related to a film.”
Will the controversy affect Pathaan’s business?
All mass entertainment products are vulnerable to the mood swings of the masses, notes an industry insider. “And if the state remains a passive spectator to what has been officially been cleared by the CBFC then the state becomes a participant in violating the right to free speech of the filmmaker. I feel the issue is a little more complex here because the obvious power of social media has made it into a kind of a public all out boxing match between the so called depraved Bollywood and the so called biased population. These are all artificially constructed narratives used by the vested interest by investing huge money to belittle and to subjugate mainstream popular icons. Irrespective of the political differences that you may have with the icons of the entertainment industry, there must be enough room given for them to perform freely and fairly. It will be very myopic and shortsighted of the establishment to look the other way and wink at those forces which are creating this problem.”
Muntashir is certain this kind of controversy will impact the film. “We have seen in the past too (as in the case of Laal Singh Chaddha). As I said, we are in a mass communication medium, so if the masses are upset about something, the impact will be there on initial box office collections.”
Trade analyst Komal Nahta however believes if the film is good, it will have zero impact. “If the film is bad, probably 5-7 percent it will get affected. Because those who want to watch the film will watch it. 2-4 percent may get swayed by these things. But if the film is good, this 2-4 percent doesn’t make a difference. It all depends on how the public reacts to the film,” he says.
Suneel Darshan feels Pathaan comes across as a complete entertainment package and reading anything beyond is hallucinating. “Here’s one controversy that will sensationalise, tantalise and eventually convert into a humongous extended weekend of ticket sales at the windows this Republic Day,” he asserts and concludes.