A Bollywood year doesn’t go without controversies. It’s that necessary glue that holds together a volatile industry and its ravenous fanbase. However, it’s been a rather lukewarm year at the box office. So instead here are the tiffs and squabbles that kept Hindi cinema abuzz in 2019.
The Accidental Prime Minister and the propaganda machine
The myth of an insular Bollywood was broken this year. In the run up to the 2019 General Elections, several films succumbed to active propaganda. The gloves came off with the simultaneous release of Uri: The Surgical Strike and The Accidental Prime Minister in January. While the first film celebrated a prominent military action by the present regime, the other took to chintzy caricature of the previous government before.
Manikarnika and the battle for credit
Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi marked the directorial debut of Kangana Ranaut. The film was initially helmed by Telugu director Krish Jagarlamudi, who left the project over alleged creative interferences. Kangana took over, later claiming to have shot 70% of the film. This was heavily contested by Krish in post-release interviews, and was corroborated by actor Sonu Sood, who had quit the film during the scuffle.
Pulwama and Pakistan ban
After the February 14 attack on a military convoy in J&K, the All Indian Cine Workers Association announced a blanket ban on Pakistani artistes in India. Music label T-Series unlisted songs by Pakistani musicians from its portals, including the Atif Aslam single Baarishein. Actor Ajay Devgn, whose film Total Dhamaal was on pace for release, announced that the comedy will not open in the country. A reverse action of sorts was taken by Pakistan following the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir.
The delayed release of PM Narendra Modi
Omung Kumar’s biopic on the Indian Prime Minister was meant to release before the elections. Stepping in at the last moment, the Election Commission (EC) stalled the release until after the polls, claiming that it might disturb the level playing field. The film finally opened in theatres on May 24, a day after the results were announced. The Vivek Oberoi-starrer film was widely panned, grossing an estimated 23 crore over its 8 crore budget at the box office.
Judgmentall Hai Kya and media backlash
There were two major controversies surrounding this comic thriller. Firstly, the film’s initial title, Mental Hai Kya, was objected to by the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS). In a letter to the CBFC, health experts argued it was derogatory to people suffering from mental illnesses. The complaint was held up by the Prasoon Joshi-led statutory body, which directed the makers to alter the title. Secondly, at a promotional event for the film on July 7, lead actor Kangana Ranaut engaged in a heated argument with a journalist. The actor accused the reporter of conducting a ‘smear campaign’ against her, rebuking him for tweeting negatively about her previous film Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi. The journalist, in response, denied posting about the film or messaging Kangana personally. The issue blew up, resulting in a press boycott against the actor by the Entertainment Journalists Guild (IJG). A court case is presently underway in Mumbai.
Kabir Singh and the misogyny debate
Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Hindi remake of Arjun Reddy was hotly dissected. Critics slammed it for promoting misogyny and violence against women. Detractors called out the film for glorifying a destructive protagonist, thereby inciting similar behavior in society. It’s fans, meanwhile, called for audience discretion, bringing up analogies to films like Raging Bull and Taxi Driver. Arguing for context, Sandeep called it an expression of ‘honest love’. The box office, with a worldwide gross of I 370 crore, seemed to agree.
Bollywood’s ambivalence towards anti-CAA protests
The Hindi film industry stood divided over the anti-CAA/NRC unrest. Shah Rukh Khan, an alumnus of Jamia Millia Islamia, was criticized for his silence over police brutality in the campus. Akshay Kumar offered clarification for liking a tweet about the protesting Jamia students, claiming he did it ‘by mistake’. Celebrities like Paresh Rawal, Anupam Kher and Vivek Agnihotri tweeted in favour of the act, while Ajay Devgn and Kangana Ranaut criticized the use of violence in protests. On the flip side, director Anurag Kashyap took to Twitter to furiously slam the Modi government. He was joined by director Anubhav Sinha and actor Sayani Gupta. Other celebrities who tweeted in favour of protests included Farhan Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, Mahesh Bhatt, and Priyanka Chopra, among others.