MUMBAI: In the inner circles of Bollywood, the real issue is not whether Pakistani artistes should be allowed to work in India, but how to reckon with the menace of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which is threatening to take the fizz out of the two major productions lined up for Diwali release this year.
Politically, the MNS is much sound and fury, having won only 28 seats (out of 228) in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Council and one seat in the Maharashtra Assembly. But its cadres are live threats to multiplex cinemas if the movies they show are not to their taste.
Karan Johar knows what it is like to have an MNS threat hanging over his sugary sweet production. When he made My Name is Khan, starring Shah Rukh Khan, he had to reckon with an MNS threat. He resolved it, industry sources say, with a meeting with the party's boss, Raj Thackeray. The film came through unscathed then. And now, will his Ae Dil Hail Mushkil? Mushkil to say, what with this present cloud of patriotism hanging over Bollywood, and what with the BMC elections coming up early next year.
The MNS needs to show itself as a party of reckoning at this juncture, and the Pakistani artistes in Bollywood is a nice issue to ride. As Bollywood biggies cowered in their Malabar Hill residences, MNS functionaries were making much of the menace they have worked up in recent days. The party has refused to accept Karan Johar’s abject viceo submision yesterday not to ever again work with Pakistani artistes. “Whatever he has said or has promised to do in future is too little and has come too late,” Ameya Khopkar of the MNS' movie wing told New Indian Express today.
The MNS threat to their glass panes has already made single-screen theatres swear not to exhibit the two movies, Ae Dil... and Raees, that have Pakistani actors in their casts. But the multiplexes are still ambivalent about joining in on the patriotism plank. And it is multiplex cinema chains that hold the key to the forunes of Ae Dil and Raees.
There are around 2200 multiplex screens across the country which are controlled by just a handful of key players like PVR, Inox, Carnival Cinemas, Big Cinemas, Broadway Cinema, Cinepolis etc.
“The multiplexes form a major component in any release strategy these days as they have presence even in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. The reach matters,” said Nitin Vaidya, founder director of Dashmi Creations whose Marathi film Ghanta is to be released soon.
Another film distributor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the controversy has given a lot of publicity to the film. It's a cruel dig, but there are also those in the industry who say all this has served only to give publicity to MNS. One distributor pointed out that the MNS may only be looking for an issue to stay in the news till the elections next year, which are crucial for its existence.
And then there are those like retired Supreme Court judge Justice Markandey Katju who on Wednesday dared the MNS and waved a ‘danda’ at the party. On Twitter.
“Why does MNS attack helpless people? If u are brave, come to me. I’ve a danda waiting for u and is getting impatient,” Katju tweeted.
Katju's support may be cold comfort to Karan Johar. The judge does not have crores riding on a film, which if it does not rake it in in three days over the Diwali holidays, is as good as a dud.