Reports indicate that Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has assured a delegation of Bollywood representatives that the movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (ADEM) will be open to the Indian public without any hindrances. According to news agencies, the meeting was held after Maharashtra Navnirman Sena workers issued a series of threats to director Karan Johar over his upcoming film starring Pakistani actor Fawad Khan. On Wednesday, the Maharashtra government swung into action and arrested 12 members of Raj Thackeray’s party for violently protesting at a cinema hall against the release of ADEM. A day before the arrests, Johar had issued a video statement, vowing to not “engage with talent from the neighbouring country," given the hostile public sentiment towards Pakistan after a series of terror attacks on Indian Army installations. In the video statement, the popular movie director is seen urging cinema goers to consider “the blood, sweat, and tears” shed by more than 300 Indians working on the film. However, it isn’t only politicians who have asserted their hostility towards anything remotely Pakistani. Last week, the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India announced that it had asked its members not to screen movies featuring Pakistani, singers or musicians. Suffice it to say, Johar’s video statement and the very public bullying of artists on show points to some uncomfortable strains that continue to engage public discourse in India. Johar’s video statement was a sign of capitulation to the MNS mob, as well as large sections of the Indian public consumed by low-grade intolerance, allied with a misplaced sense of patriotism. The ease, with which a complete boycott of people from a particular country has been enforced, whereby everyone is intimidated into falling in line, reflects poorly on the state of our public discourse.
"What the threat-makers forget is this — culture humanises what politics demonises,” writes Salman Ahmad, a founding member of popular Pakistani music group "Junoon" in a recent column for an Indian publication. “Banning artists, writers, actors, and poets will give victory to the terrorists and extremists who don’t want people-to-people contact. They only want to create fear." No one could have said it better. Unlike the likes of Karan Johar, who have the means and political reach to assert their artistic independence, many artists continue to suffer at the hands of a rampaging mob. The ridiculousness of such misguided "nationalist" public discourse reached its zenith recently when a wheelchair-bound man who couldn't rise during the national anthem was reportedly attacked at a multiplex in Goa. Meanwhile, the Centre has issued no changes in the visa policy for Pakistani citizens. Trade relations with Pakistan are still intact. What we have mostly witnessed through the entire controversy is how some people continue to shout about how much they “love” their country at the expense of an easy target—the artist.