Details of Meeting
On Saturday, October 22, representatives from the Film and Television Producers Guild of India Ltd., Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray, and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis met in Mumbai to resolve a month-long predicament facing film-maker Karan Johar and his soon-to-be-released movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. 

1. At the end of the meeting, Mukesh Bhatt, the president of the Producers’ Guild, announced that a voluntary donation of “a certain amount” would be made to the Army Welfare Fund, regardless of whether the film makes a profit or not. If the film turns in a profit, there would be further donations.

2. The Guild also agreed to not cast any Pakistani actor in their movies in future. Mr. Johar said he would put a slide to honour and pay tribute to the armed forces before the slide honouring his late father Yash Johar appears on screen.

Questions arisen on account of meeting
1.  What does it say about the state’s inability, or unwillingness, to stand up to extra-constitutional threats? 

The first is to ask is how the MNS (or any political party, for that matter) can presume, and be allowed, extra-constitutional power to enforce a ban on cultural expression, be it films, books, plays, cartoons, paintings, stand-up comedy, etc, solely because it does not cohere to its ideology, or because it allegedly hurts nationalist sentiments.

The Ae Dil Hai Mushkil episode is not the first time that the freedom of expression has been sought to be suppressed. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is different because it has a Pakistani actor in a small role at a time when India is attempting to isolate Pakistan diplomatically for state support to terror acts targeted at India.

2.  Should the Chief Minister’s office be used to broker a deal between two parties, instead of asserting its authority and standing up to hooliganism and ensuring law and order? 

Diminishing the Chief Minister’s office
Coming to the second question: why was the Maharashtra Chief Minister’s office — irrespective of who occupies it — used to mediate and broker a deal between a film producer and a political party? In fact, why did Mr. Fadnavis, who also holds the Home portfolio, not stand up to MNS hooliganism by assuring adequate protection to Mr. Johar for the screening of his film?

Brokering a peace deal between warring factions can be a noble cause. This wasn’t the case here. It was akin to a case of a school bully taking on a soft target, and the principal deciding to side with the former. With his inability to stand up for the politically weak and succumbing to threats of violence, the Chief Minister has set a precedent for similar protests in the future. 

It is a dangerous template, and enough vigilante groups will see the terrain to be easy for political pickings. Mr. Thackeray’s party, which has negligible clout in the State legislature or in policymaking, has been trying to retain its public relevance by consistently using threats of violence against chosen communities (migrant workers from north India, the film industry, etc), threats that are eventually ignored by the state.

3.  What does it tell us about Mumbai’s fading status as a hub for liberal, progressive political discourse when the Chief Minister plays mute spectator to what many would term political extortion?

The city has been defined by its various qualities, but three things stand out: it has historically stood for liberal thought, respect for law and order, and embracing newcomers as its own. This openness has been under attack for many years now. And by siding with Mr. Thackeray, the Chief Minister has struck another blow against the city’s ethos. It is for this reason that Mr. Fadnavis’s role in the Ae Dil Hai Mushkil imbroglio is yet more disturbing. 

Karan Johar’s Position
Mr. Johar was, like the rest of us, not aware of the sudden turn of events and the anti-Pakistan sentiment being whipped up. It is a simplistic explanation, however, to a complex situation. Therefore, we must get back to the questions at hand.