Bollywood’s moment of reckoning?

The industry has shown a united front because its interests are being compromised

The Hindi film industry, or Bollywood as it is popularly known, has finally woken up. To counter the smear campaign launched by certain news channels to tarnish its image and invade the privacy of its leading actors, several producers and actors have filed a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court. This suit has been filed against two English news channels and their star anchors to restrain them from attributing certain terms and behaviour to the industry and people involved with its functioning.

A new soap opera

The campaign launched by these news channels with unsubstantiated claims has been derogatory and disrespectful to say the least. It is nothing less than the grotesque soap operas that play on several Indian channels every evening. Many of these serials are derived from or try to mimic the iconography and vocabulary of similar Hindi films. Television news in contemporary India is often the new soap opera where willing suspension of disbelief is its raison d’être.

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The campaign that has irked and damaged the image of Bollywood and angered its leading players is a result of the ongoing controversy over Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. It was a well-designed campaign to divert attention from pressing issues at hand and other raging debates in the country such as the farmers’ agitation, the citizenship debate, the COVID-19 pandemic, the rights of migrant labourers, women’s safety and the killing of Dalits, and focus on the untimely and unfortunate death of a promising actor who did not belong to the power cliques of Mumbai.

These news channels thus found the perfect plot to be developed across months of prime-time television news where a young actor’s aspirations are “crushed” by a powerful Bollywood lobby. This is the same powerful-powerless binary that Hindi cinema has sold to us for decades without delving deep into the power structures of society.

When these news channels found very little to link their dubious claims with the death of the actor, the focus of these shows turned to some big names, their apparently amorous lifestyle and purported villainy.

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It is easy to attribute qualities to the film industry about which very little is known. Even the little we do know about the lives of filmstars and the rumours and gossip pertaining to their films is often the handiwork of their PR machinery for visibility of their films. Hindi cinema by itself is responsible for furthering the myth about the industry. It needs more transparency in its dealings to counter such an image.

Others joined the nepotism debate blaming certain industry children, or ‘star kids’, for being favoured and privileged over outsiders. The campaign was relentless and malicious.

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Perhaps there’s no antecedent to an event like this in the history of independent India when an entire industry with enormous soft power has been vilified by some news channels to serve their narrow gains. Also Bollywood is a big draw to win the TRP race. Unsuspecting audiences believe that the news channels are on the path of satyagraha to perform an act of cleansing.

Reason for protest

Bollywood’s collective action to expose the fake media trial is welcome. The industry has shown a united front because its interests are being compromised. The news campaign might have an effect on the movie business leading to the boycott of certain films. This collective outburst shouldn’t be misconstrued as a unified condemnation of the quality and health of television news in the country. It is a protest to ensure that Bollywood’s economic interests aren’t undermined.

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Further action should lead to boycott of film awards and magazines that belong to the same media conglomerate that also owns one of these news channels engaged in spewing venom against the industry. While there may not be a radical shift in Bollywood, we certainly hope that this intervention will help to reduce the toxicity of some news channels and their anchors if not obliterate it.

Kunal Ray teaches literary and cultural studies at FLAME University, Pune


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