Bollywood’s dalliance with Leftists and dubious Dubai

Does Hollywood’s aping cousin, Bollywood, need a dose of home-grown McCarthyism to check the pernicious Left-Liberal cum Islamic influence pervading the industry? Even the portmanteau word employed to refer to the Bharatiya film industry was reportedly first coined in the 1970s by the Chennai headquartered The Hindu, a Leftist newspaper.

Bollywood’s soft power has a global footprint. Its films are addictive among audiences ready to surrender their critical faculties at the box office. Many are money spinners abroad due to the sizeable presence of the diaspora. Which is why Bollywood is left to its own devices. Checks and controls on its workings have never been contemplated. The time, however, may have come to take it to the cleaners. Breaking the stranglehold of a few production houses and actor-stars working in tandem with Left-Liberal interests has seldom been more necessary. On their quirk rests the success of starry-eyed newbies and strugglers hoping to make a career. Merit is secondary. Loyalty and deference to their shady interests is what counts. To that extent the rules of the game here are no different than in politics.

The sudden death of a rising young actor, Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR), found hanging in his Mumbai flat under suspicious circumstances has underlined the need to name and shame those whose commitments lie beyond the country’s borders. Though the unvarnished truth may take time to come out of the closet, it has encouraged the more forthright members of the fraternity to train their fingers at the Svengalis who manipulate the levers of power in a business run on a toxic mix of glamor, politics, crime, and filthy lucre.

McCarthyism, the practice of identifying, questioning, probing, and weeding out anti-nationals with communist leanings which swept America’s varsities, the state department, labor unions, and Hollywood in the early 1950s, became a subject of revulsion in later years due to its excesses. In its initial years, however, it was reasonably successful in fulfilling the immediate aim of instilling fear in the minds of those who thought they could take their Constitutionally guaranteed rights and liberties for granted and work against the interests of the state.

Republican senator Joseph (Joe) McCarthy, the progenitor of the Red scare, remained a much-feared man till his premature death in 1957. Not all the opprobrium heaped on him by fellow senators as well as opposition from the US Supreme Court weakened his resolve to drive out Soviet sympathizers and spies from radio, television, and Hollywood. Even President Eisenhower never took him on frontally despite keeping a safe distance. Ike later clarified that the objectives of the campaign had his support, but not the methods which employed extra legal means to expose and ostracize those at the receiving end. Hearings of the widely publicized House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) conducted by the McCarthy often descended into a roll call of reputations waiting to be stripped despite lack of proper evidence in many cases.

McCarthyism, nevertheless, proved an effective weapon to cut America’s internal enemies to size. Especially after it was revealed that KGB spies had stolen classified secrets from the wartime Manhattan Project charged with building the atomic bomb. Collaborators Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to die in the electric chair as punishment in June 1953. Not for a moment did Ike consider giving them clemency.

Seen in retrospect America may never have won the cold war without first killing the virus within. “Any man”, said the Wisconsin senator, “who has been named by either a senator, committee, or congressman as dangerous to the welfare of the nation should be submitted to the various Intelligence units, and they should conduct a complete check on him”. The communist contagion was palpable in every nook and cranny of the entertainment industry, manufacturers of the country’s most influential export, the movies.

Reality hit Hollywood hard when the iconic Greco-American director Elia Kazan provided a long list of Left-leaning colleagues afflicted with the virus since his days with Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio of which he was a co-founder. Among the notables blacklisted or put to sufferance were Charles Chaplin, Orson Welles, Luis Bunuel, Bertolt Brecht, Joseph Losey, Edward G Robinson, Danny Kaye, Ring Lardner Jr, Jean Seberg, Pete Seeger, and several others. Scientists and writers of the stature of Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Thomas Mann, Arthur Miller, and Dorothy Parker were also questioned.

Communist influence in Bollywood was channelized through the formidable Indian People’s Theatre Movement (IPTA) of the mid-1940s. Some of the biggest names in the industry passed through its portals, be they actors, musicians, writers, or directors. Topping the cursory list were Prithviraj Kapoor, Balraj Sahni, Guru Dutt, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Utpal Dutt, Ritwik Ghatak, Salil Chowdhury, Pandit Ravi Shankar, right up to Shabana Azmi, M S Sathyu etc. Another Leftist body through which bravura literary talents were funneled into Bollywood was the Progressive Writers Association (PWA) founded in 1936. Filmdom would have been much the poorer without the creative output of Ismat Chugtai, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishan Chander, Sahir Ludhianvi, Saadat Hasan Manto, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Amrita Pritam, Habib Tanvir, and many more.

Given their Marxist/socialist orientation, the scripts they were associated with dealt with the grinding poverty, social and other ills, plaguing Bharat. None showcased the patriotic instinct, glories of the past, much less the rich fabric of Hindu dharma and culture. The films of Sohrab Modi (Sikandar, Pukar, Prithvi Vallabh, Jhansi ki Rani etc.), Chetan Anand (Haqeeqat, Hindustan Ki Kasam), and Manoj Kumar were odd exceptions. The patriotic productions of the latter (Shaheed, Upkaar, Purab Aur Paschim) earned him the barbed sobriquet, Bharat Kumar Manoj.

Though IPTA’s activities declined with the virtual eclipse of the twin communist parties (CPM and CPI) in electoral politics, its abiding legacy is the annual inter-collegiate theatre festival which remains the prime hunting ground for acting talent. The event is a reliable passport to a film career, howsoever volatile.

Bollywood’s response to the political shift in 2014 was not pointedly hostile, but the usual suspects were itching to stir the pot. This is despite knowing full well that a single regime change, howsoever radical, cannot unravel systems and mindsets entrenched over decades. Two of the star Khans, Shah Rukh and Aamir, raised temperatures with suggestions of growing religious intolerance. Aamir talked of wife Kiran Rao’s “insecurities and fears” which could push them to leave the country. Better sense prevailed over both after the backlash on social media and the grim prospect of their films taking a hit at the box office. Imminent loss of corporate endorsements made them bend. Business imperatives alone compelled them to seal their lips, not a change of heart.

It took a while for the counter narrative to emerge. Back in 2014 there were a handful of filmi log ideologically inclined to the Right. Fronting it was the reticent writer-director Chandra Prakash Dwivedi known best for his landmark 1991 TV serial, Chanakya. Two others, musician Sudhir Phadke and veteran Marathi actor Vinay Apte, who had originally been handpicked in 1998 to garner support for the BJP in Bollywood were dead. Dwivedi’s well-critiqued feature film, Pinjar (2003), and TV productions Chhatrapati Shivaji and Upanishad Ganga (2012) did not get the expected viewership. Among the others known for their rightist leanings are director Madhur Bhandarkar of Fashion (2008) fame, actor Vivek Oberoi whose career never really took off, TV serial maker Ashok Pandit known more for blabbering on TV than his work, and the ubiquitous Vivek Agnihotri to whom we owe the popular coinage, Urban Naxal. Their political beliefs weighed in on their work which came in dribs and drabs.

It took a few years for the phalanx of center-forwards in Team Narendra Modi’s Bollywood line-up to come out in the open. Of the five in the fray, only Anupam Kher and Kangana Ranaut shoot from the hip. Ajay Devgan and Raveena Tandon occasionally stick their necks out. As for Akshay Kumar he lets his actions films do the talking. The spoken word has never been his forte.

Arrayed against them is the mighty Left-Liberal formation led by Karan Johar, Javed Akhtar, Salman Khan, Mahesh Bhatt, Aditya Chopra, Vidhu Vinod Chopra. No less venal are the henchmen in their pay: critics, casting directors et al. Nothing major moves without their consent. Those ambitious of making it to the billboards need their nod. Revelation of the number of big-ticket roles SSR abruptly lost proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt. The dubious hand of Dubai is visible despite the corporatization of studios. The bhai bola hai syndrome still exists despite the decline in underworld financing by the once ubiquitous D-company.

The underworld stress in recent years is not so much on the funding of films as the preservation of Islamic interests in Bollywood. Portraying Muslims in a positive light rather than a bunch of brainwashed terrorists is part of the deal. The Kabir Khan directed smash hit Bajrangi Bhaijan (2015) starring Salman Khan (who was also its producer) showed Pakistanis overflowing with the milk of human kindness and their Bharatiya counterparts as crabbed and conservative. The corrupt politician in Bollywood pictures is invariably a Brahmin, and the Thakur a lustful landlord with rape on his mind. Hindu gods continue to be subjects of scoff in films like Rajkumar Hirani’s PK (2014). In sharp contrast was his 2018 film, Sanju, which tried projecting the misguided actor, Sanjay Dutt, as a victim of circumstances rather than a willing tool in the hands of Muslim terrorists during the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts.

Another key item on the Left-Liberal agenda is ensuring that no Hindu hero/heroine at variance with their worldview challenges the hegemony of the presiding deities, especially the three Khans and their factotums. Hear Mahesh Bhatt (the son of a Muslim mother who converted to Islam to marry a second time) in the below 2013 video exhort a Muslim congregation to rise in rebellion against their suppressors.

Akshay Kumar is only the second Hindu leading man after Amitabh Bachchan who commands his own price and market. The career of Hrithik Roshan ground to a halt; that of Neil Nitin Mukesh was nipped in the bud. Reason: neither was a lackey of the dark forces.

Bollywood badshah SRK frequently uses his hammy talent to ridicule fellow actors at award ceremonies. Neil Nitin Mukesh was ribbed by him at a Filmfare awards ceremony in 2013. The actor, however, refused to take it lying down, asking SRK to “shut up”. The Khan also mocked SSR’s dancing talent at an IIFA ceremony in 2013 with co-host Shahid Kapoor, another progeny of a Muslim mother and Hindu father. The good-natured debutant had no option but to take his tasteless taunts with a smile.

Political divisions in Hollywood run just as deep. Left-Liberals have freely used the annual Oscar awards ceremony to make social and political statements. In fact, the first political speech at the Oscars dates back to 1973 when Marlon Brando boycotted the show and declined to accept the Best Actor award for Godfather. Instead he sent a Native Indian activist on his behalf to protest the stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans in films and television. Michael Moore was booed in 2002 when he used the Oscars to pillory the “fictitious election” of George (Dubya) Bush to the Presidency. Meryl Streep used the 2017 Golden Globes platform to excoriate President-elect Donald Trump.

The 2020 awards ceremony was no different. Steve Martin and Chris Rock opened the night by taunting the voting mishap at the Iowa caucus, and then went to rue the absence of “vaginas” in the Best Director category, a comment which offended even ardent feminists. That the comments had a negative impact was evident from the viewership which fell to an all-time low of 23.6 million from 29.56 million the previous year.

Hollywood’s political divisions never aroused the ire of the authorities. Accusing Left-liberals of conspiring against the American state would have been churlish regardless of their animus for Republican regimes. Even the Black Lives Matter campaign is not anti-national per se. Left-Liberals in Bollywood, however, have a more dangerous agenda. They have no compunctions in backing hostile jihadi interests in Kashmir, or the tukde-tukde gang which openly calls for the country’s break-up. Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider (2014) sympathized with the sufferings of terrorists. Deepika Padukone was present in this year’s JNU protests. Javed Akhtar recently told Al Jazeera in an interview that Modi was running a fascist regime. Anurag Kashyap loses no chance to takes swipes at Modi on twitter.

Marginalizing Bollywood’s Left-Liberals will not be easy in the absence of a definite strategy. Consciousness is almost wholly lacking on this score even among adherents of the Right. McCarthyism owed its limited success to state support. Especially from the FBI’s feared boss J. Edgar Hoover. President Harry S. Truman’s Executive Order of March 21, 1947, that federal civil service employees be screened was a clear message that communist sympathies would not be tolerated.

Here we still have a deracinated and amoral persona like Karan Johar being awarded the Padma Shri, and Modi ji posing for selfies with the Khans, KJO, Ranveer Singh, the very sort who will drop him like a hot potato at the slightest turn of the political screw.

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About the Author

Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha. He writes regularly for the HinduPost as consulting editor.