Shailesh Kapoor: 2019 and the Politics of Entertainment

22 Feb,2019

By Shailesh Kapoor


It’s the election year, and we can feel the vibe. Politicization of entertainment has been a tactic used by our politicians for decades now. But as we get closer to the General Elections, we can sense more and more of it.

Over the last few years, politics of entertainment has impacted all categories, ranging from films to television to OTT. Each such incident is usually passed off as a one-off. But no longer. The incidents get too frequent, and it’s a continuum at play now. Here are four recent incidents, from 2019 itself, that show how political influence on entertainment is spreading wide, very wide.

1. The Sidhu ‘Sacking’

Navjot Singh Sidhu has been a notorious politician for the Congress to handle, since he shifted from BJP to the party. Those who have followed cricket over the years will recall how Sidhu left the Indian squad on tour to England in 1996 in a huff, because he could not get along with the then captain Mohammed Azharuddin. Sidhu’s contrarian, almost problem-child-like, ways continue. But now, Pakistan is often a subject of his comments, which obviously does not go down well with most people in India. His recent ‘sacking’ from The Kapil Sharma Show was triggered by his comments on the Pulwama attack, which were seen as pro-Pakistan in their stance. That he is still a part of the Congress party spells the irony around this instance.

The sacking demand started on social media, in what seemed like an orchestrated anti-Sony campaign, whereby users put up screenshots and videos of them uninstalling the Sony LIV app from their devices. Yesterday, IFTDA (Indian Film & Television Directors’ Association) issues a pledge to not work with ‘Navjot Singh Sidhu and Pakistani artists and singers as a homage to the martyrs’.


2. India-Pakistan World Cup Match

Call for boycott of all things Pakistan seems like a reasonable one in the current circumstances. But not playing Pakistan in a multi-nation tournament on a neutral venue can be questioned as a far-fetched extension of this boycott idea. If neutral, multi-nation interactions are a no-no, we should not even be in the United Nations with Pakistan. Will we let go a Gold Medal at next year’s Olympics in Tokyo if we have to play Pakistan in a final match in an event? And what happens if India forfeits its league match against Pakistan in the World Cup and then ends up facing Pakistan in the final? Will we forfeit that too, and let Pakistan win the World Cup in a no-contest?

The pressure on current and former cricketers to support a boycott publicly is understandable. In a world of false binaries, any call against such a boycott can be quickly classified as pro-Pakistan and hence anti-national. Full marks to the select few like Sunil Gavaskar for bringing in a sane perspective. I hope better sense prevails over the next few days on this topic.


3. Political Films

Less than eight weeks into the year, we have already seen three ‘political’ films releasing in the Hindi language alone. Uri, a fictionalized account of the surgical strikes, has been a runaway blockbuster. The Accidental Prime Minister did not get much success, but set an important precedent of using real character names while not being an account endorsed by those characters. The family-endorsed Thackeray biopic completes the trio.

When PM Modi used Uri’s now-iconic ‘How’s The Josh’ line at a film event (launch of the National Museum of Indian Cinema) in January, it made for great copy. The selfies that followed were instant hits on the social media. Coming close on the heels of the decision to drop the GST slabs for movie tickets, the current Government has done well to build some sort of a fan base in the film industry.


4. Azaadi, the Gully Boy way

The most random and unexpected controversy has been the one around the Azaadi song in the film Gully Boy. The song has been criticized for trying to be politically sterile, compared to the original Kanhaiyya Kumar speech, from which the idea of using the word ‘Azaadi’ emanated. I’m not even sure if I get the exact issue here. A filmmaker and her team liked a word and felt it fitted a situation in their film, and then went on to write words that fit the context of that situation and the characters therein. And it’s not as if ‘Azaadi’ is such an esoteric, Tharoor-like word. The filmmaker Zoya Akhtar, and her lead actors, have been very mature in handling questions related to this criticism in the various interviews, before and after the release of the film. Let’s hope a great film is not remembered for something as silly as this!


So, as we progress closer to April-May, expect this list to get longer. As they say, often like a cliché now, picture abhi baaki hai mere dost!



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