Keep the pot on boil

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Keep the pot on boil

provoked  Shiv Sena activists destroying a poster of ‘My Name is Khan’.

Filmmaker Rohan Sippy couldn’t have had it better. He is currently directing Dum Maro Dum, a potboiler starring Abhishek Bachchan, Bipasha Basu and Prateik Babbar. Even before he could wrap up the shoot in Goa, the film had been making headlines across the country — for all the wrong reasons.

It seems that Dev Anand, the veteran actor-director who is in the midst of making Chargesheet, has suddenly woken up to Sippy naming his film after the popular ‘Dum Maro Dum’ number from his 1971 cult hit, Hare Rama Hare Krishna. What’s more, he has learnt that Sippy intends to remix the song and film it on Bipasha. Anand is livid and has threatened to bring restraining orders from court if Sippy is to go ahead with his plan.

Now, everybody knows that nothing would come of this. Sippy will merrily go ahead with the song remix and Bipasha will dance to it. Even if Anand were to make a pretense of initiating legal action, the film will be completed on schedule and released as Dum Maro Dum. And by the time the dust settles, both Anand and Sippy would have had a hearty laugh over taking the media for a ride and garnering crores worth of pre-release publicity gratis for their respective films.

This is typically the kind of media manipulation film folks indulge in that places their entire fraternity under a cloud. Nothing they say or do can ever be taken at face value. From misrepresentation of facts to spreading utter falsehood, they will stop at nothing to gain that extra mileage from the box-office. And the media, being perennial suckers for anything that carries a whiff of controversy, are easy prey to their manipulative ways. In effect, nobody takes them seriously even when they are in genuine distress and cry foul.

Ask Shahrukh Khan. He got into trouble the first time when he made a fuss over being frisked at Newark Airport, US, a few months before the release of My Name is Khan. The authorities detained him, and he made a hue and cry in the media, hoping that people back home would believe him, that this was no publicity stunt. Nobody cared. It was too much of a coincidence that Mr Shahrukh Khan should be a victim of racial profiling (because of his surname) in the US at a time when his film, based on the same subject, was due for release.

The next time around, Shahrukh did the unthinkable by baiting the right-wing Shiv Sena in Mumbai with a seemingly off-the-cuff remark on inviting Pakistani cricketers to India. This amounted to waving the proverbial red rag and predictably, the Sena called for the ban of My Name Is Khan. Shahrukh responded by making the right noises in his tweets. Everything was so well orchestrated and sweetly timed that when the film hit the screen, nobody was left in any doubt as to how the entire drama had been stage-managed — and by whom. Needless to mention, the film gained hugely from this controversy.

History of gimmicks

Such gimmicks are however, nothing new. Cooking controversies is one of the oldest tricks in Bollywood’s book, dating back to V Shantaram’s and Raj Kapoor’s times. In those days, much was made of rumours of romantic liaisons between the lead pair of films or pictures of heroines in plunging necklines and rising hemlines appearing in movie magazines.

Today, the stars and filmmakers are infinitely more bold and brazen. An actress could complete her part in a film and then disown it because a body double was used in some scenes, as was the case with Manisha Koirala in Sashilal Nair’s Ek Chhoti Si Love Story. And what would you say of the recent imbroglio over the story credits of Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots?

Significantly, all such controversies tend to break on the eve of a film’s release. The irony of the situation is that even when the media is aware of being taken, it faithfully reports such incidents because no other news story grabs public eyeballs like the ones related to films. Filmmakers also know too well that in these desperate times, every media house hungers for sensation and to miss out on a salacious story can amount to conceding an unfair advantage to rival organisations. The objective of both the media and film industry is to capture the mind space of the reader/viewer in the fastest and cheapest possible manner and all else, including professional ethics may well be damned!

Not surprisingly, news bulletins on national television are hijacked by utterly inane and inconsequential stories on one star sucking up to another, why a Khan boycotts another Khan’s girlfriend, whether a certain actor has lost weight or hair... or his head. Quite simply, the idea is to keep the pot on boil. Is it any secret as to who “leaked” the story of Hrithik Roshan having an affair with his Latino co-star of Kites, Barbara Mori in the distant deserts of Mexico? Or is it just a coincidence that while the promos of Housefull are being aired, producer Sajid Nadiadwala should now be slapped with a legal notice for “stealing” the ‘Apni toh jaise taise’ number from Laawaris?

It would however, be wrong to surmise that all film controversies are the creation of devious minds. Some just happen unintentionally. Shekhar Kapur did not get Arundhati Roy to raise a stink (remember, The Indian Rape Trick?) over Bandit Queen, thereby prompting Phoolan Devi to extract her pound of flesh. Amrit Nahata did not get Sanjay Gandhi to destroy the master prints of Kissa Kursi Ka during the Emergency. Likewise, Gulzar did not expect Indira Gandhi to go hammer and tongs after Aandhi and eventually ban the film. Other well known victims of controversies include Deepa Mehta (Fire and Water), Karan Razdan (Girlfriend), Kunal Kohli (Fanaa) and Rahul Dholakia (Parzania).

The upshot of all this is that every controversy, whether manufactured or not, has an immediate snowballing effect, too obvious to be overlooked. It polarizes public minds. It raises questions and triggers debate. You are forced to take sides one way or the other, thus drawing attention to the film in question. Its inherent merits, production values, acting, the performance of other artistes, direction... everything becomes irrelevant. The film turns into a crowd puller, simply because everybody wants to know why everybody else is talking about it. The sad part is that a seriously good film, incapable of generating a controversy, gets left by the wayside.   

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