Debutant director Ajay K Pannalal and producer Tony D’Souza were arrested for hurting religious sentiments amidst the buzz surrounding the release of their film Behen Hogi Teri. The bone of contention was regarding a digital poster that was shared on social media by the film’s other producer Amul Vikas Mohan, which showcased Rajkummar Rao, the protagonist in the avatar of Hindu deity Shiva.
The controversial poster featured actor Rajkummar Rao dressed as Shiva riding a silver motorcycle with the number plate of north Indian state Uttar Pradesh. The poster was subjected to public scrutiny and outrage, which resulted in the arrest of the director-producer duo. The situation was described as ‘bullying’ in the name of religion. An official statement released by the makers of the film stated, “Our poster wasn’t put out in front of cinema halls across the nation, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has also passed the movie. But still it’s so easy for anyone to have their way which is truly shocking. We hope our stand of not bowing down to this bullying goes on a big way.”
Even though the duo was reportedly granted bail as of Tuesday, the film initially scheduled for a worldwide release on May 26 has been delayed till June 9. However, the legal battle is far from over as Pannalal and D’Souza have been summoned for a court hearing in Jalandhar with prominent lawyer Darshan Singh Dayal representing their cause.
This brings us to an extremely interesting juncture: one featuring religion and Indian sentiments with reference to cinema as a recurring ‘scapegoat’. Speaking on the same, Amul Vikas Mohan commented in a newsroom debate, “India’s pass-time these days is getting offended.”
This is not the first time that a Bollywood film has ventured into the comical portrayal of Indian Gods and Goddesses or mocked a certain religion. Refer to PK starring Aamir Khan that mocked the Hindu concept of multiple deity worship among other things and was opposed by certain segments of the Indian society; or a certain Oh My God starring Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal, which reportedly mocked Hindu sentiments. A petition was issued which alleged that the film made derogatory references to the said religion.
Note: PK was one of the highest grossing films in the Indian film history.
However, playing with religion in cinema is not something readily accepted by the Indian audience or the CBFC. The situation is worse for several Indian films that failed to make the cut of the censor board and thus never saw the light of the day. For instance, the critically acclaimed Lipstick Under My Burkha directed by Alankrita Shrivastava , was initially not cleared for general screening and consequently denied a release in India by the country’s CBFC citing, “The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above [sic] life. There are contanious [sic] sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society.” Recently, the FCAT has directed the CBFC to issue the certification for exhibition of Lipstick Under My Burkha, within the next seven days, in an order dated May 26, 2017.
Note: A burkha is a garment typically covering the whole body from head to feet, worn in public by Muslim women.
Suyatra Mukhopadhyay, a film student and independent filmmaker argued, “I think, considering the current scenario of our country and the imminent xenophobia that especially the conservative section suffers from, the fact that religious sentiments can get hurt by a mere film poster is not unbelievable. This may, of course, in turn contribute to the promotion of said film, obviously, as any kind of publicity does. I do however feel that if it is a conscious PR move, then it is a smart move, if not considering the ethical view. Our country really needs to grow up and raise voices about the causes that really need to be brought to attention. If it is not, and somebody is actually taking advantage of this immaturity, then you cannot really fault them. Honestly, I was not really aware of the film till the poster controversy actually took place.”
Priyam Biswas, Creative Director at Orion Entertainment, spoke on similar lines. “I believe such religious controversies gather moss easily and the Indian audience digs it. I believe it is nothing short of a publicity stunt prior to the release of the film. Who are we to decide if Lord Shiva riding a bike is offensive? Why are no questions raised when we so conventionally portray the same Gods and Goddesses riding on animals? Animal Rights violation, anyone?”
A common tendency was however observed and debated across social media fuelled by the Behen Hogi Teri poster controversy, “Why are only Hindu Gods and Hindu religion being mocked by Bollywood films? Are we scared of hurting religious sentiments of the minority?”
Meanwhile on Twitter:
#jokesongod They should show jokes on other religion too. If Hindus Unite then all these jokers would run away. Time will come.
— Vibhushan Kulkarni (@vvkul67) May 28, 2017
— RanjitMand (@RanjitSMand) May 28, 2017
All these make us think, are films really the scapegoat to bullying in the name of religion, or is it more political and economical than we give it credit for.