Sunday, November 18, 2007

Aamir's Fanna and Gujarat

Aamir's Fanna and Gujarat
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The row over screening of the Aamir Khan starrer film ‘Fanaa’ in Gujarat seems to have been getting straitened out with the actor believed to have agreed to issue a "clarification" through the media that he never intended to hurt the sentiments of the people of Gujarat when he joined the Save Narmada movement camp in Delhi last month.

This quick fix solution however unveils the undemocratic character of India that touts in the world to be biggest democracy and looks down upon the nations who do not practice the democratic form of governance.

The movie ‘Fanaa’ has entered the second week of release in cinema theatres all over the country except Gujarat and has set a new box office record across the country in its first week collection. The unofficial ban affects the people of Gujarat who are unable to watch the movie along with the rest of the countrymen. The prime looser is the distributors the theatre owners and the ancillaries that are dependent on the theaters for their livelihood.

Film producer Yash Chopra who had personally met Gujarat Chief Minister Narander Modi to
intervene in this matter but all his persuasions and convincing for its peaceful release of his film had turned cropper.

The issue is no longer about the loss of money or about Aamir or `Fanaa' but it’s about the fundamental right of a citizen of the country. Cant an actor have the right to speak on the social issues and since he is an actor can some so-called social custodians have the right to stop the release of a movie despite there is no official ban.

Today, it is Aamir tomorrow it can be any one of else, can the democratic rights be allowed by muzzled in this way by a handful of people and the rest cant do a damn about it.

The explicit inactivity of the Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi in this case has made the filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt join hands with Jan Sangharsh Manch, an NGO to file a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the Gujarat police to provide security for the peaceful screening of the movie in the state.

The petitioners have also asked the court to declare that the failure of the Gujarat government to peacefully screen the film, has amounted to an abdication of its constitutional duties, violation of the right of the state’s citizens to view the film, and volition of the right of freedom of speech and _expression of the producers and distributors of the film.

The controversy stemmed from the fact the chocolate hero of Indian cinema, supported activist Medha Patker who sat on fast unto death for the rehabilitation of those people who are displaced by the construction of Sardar Sarover Dam over the river Narmada.

The Narmada dam supposedly is to provide water to the draught hit region of Gujarat and the people of the state are very touchy about this subject. Those who oppose the construction of the dam are construed as working against the interest of Gujarat.

Aamir who showed his sympathy with the plight of those displaced by the dam by sitting with Medha Patker was being viewed as being opposed to the construction of the dam and by doing so has insulted people of Gujarat.

Some fringe organization taking advantage of the star’s status of the actor tried to capitalize over the issue and declared a ban over his new release ‘Fanna’ saying they disliked about the actor joining the ‘Save Narmada’ camp which was known for its "no Narmada dam" stand.

Aamir came out with public statement that he is not against the construction of the dam nor he is against the people of Gujarat, all he wanted to voice was his concern over the displaced people whose rehabilitation should not be ignored at the cost of the construction of the dam.

However, his appeal doesn’t seem to calm those who have declared a ban on the movie and have been vociferously advocating "unconditional apology," from the actor to allow the movie to run in the state.

This is for the first time that such a strong action is been taken by the so-called custodian and protectors of Gujarat. In past, actors like Atul Kulkarni, Preity Zinta danseuse Malika Sarabhai had also supported the ‘Save Narmada agitation’. Celebrated writer Arundati Roy vociferously is opposed to the construction of the dam. So is Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh who has publicly opposed the construction of dam. However, none of them have been targeted, the way Aamir Khan has been haunted by a group in Gujarat.

Communal motives are attributed against the targeting of Aamir Khan who is a Muslim and has two Hindu wives, and the Hindutuva brigade dislike him because he do not appreciate the anti Muslim stance of the Chief Minister Narender Modi, rather criticized him for his inapt handing of the communal riots against the Muslim in 2002.

Well if that’s the fact, filmmakers Mahesh Bhatt, whose mother is a Muslim and who had much harsher words against Modi did not attract the wrath of the so-called custodians of Gujarat. The movies of several others who too did not approve of Modi’s style of functioning allowed to be screened in Gujarat.

Therefore, it does not stand to reason why Aamir is being singled out. If memory serves right, Aamir irrespective of the religion had sympathized with riot victims of Gujarat of 2002 and did not uttered a single word against the people of Gujarat who had actively participated in the state sponsored communal progrmme in which more 3000 Muslims perished and several thousands rendered homeless.

The whole issue regarding the ‘Fanna’ controversy is nothing but a mischief by a handful of people who want to dictate their agenda. The unofficial ban is an insult to Indian democracy of India and the Gujarat’s BJP government is responsible for this. Its obvious without the political patronage it’s impossible for a fringe group to force its will on the rest of the people of the state.

The issue is no longer about Aamir or `Fanaa' but much bigger than any individual or movie. It’s about democracy and its end in Gujarat. It’s a case of muzzling of the right of freedom of _expression. Aamir Khan has as much right of freedom of _expression as any other citizen in this country. No one has the right to take mileage out of the democratic rights of the citizen of the country.

Any one who tries to curb the right to _expression should be booked under the appropriate law of the land. If the state government is unable to carry out its duties in this regard, then the central government, and the apex court should intervene and enforce the fundamental right of the citizens of this country.

However, what seems apparent in this case is that Aamir Khan is going to issue a public "clarification" on his stand over the dam and that may help resolve the dispute and his movie would be released in Gujarat.

However, such quick fix approach also exposes the undemocratic character of the Indian polity. It also raises the question is India really a ‘secular, democratic’ country?
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at

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