Like the storyline in a regulation Bollywood movie, the good guys finally won. The Shiv Sena’s diktat that the Shahrukh Khan-starrer My Name Is Khan must not be screened in Maharashtra has been met with welcome defiance with a clutch of multiplexes and cinema halls premiering the film on Friday. Many more that were initially reluctant to screen the film due to fear of violence and arson by Sena hooligans have overcome their apprehensions, resulting in the blockbuster being released in many parts of the State. A good part of the credit for refusing to be terrorised by Bal Thackeray’s storm troopers must go to a spirited public, particularly in Mumbai, which flocked to the cinema halls not only to see the film but also to cock a snook at the Sena. The Maharashtra government must also be commended for providing the enough security to make the cinema hall owners feel it was safe to release the film. But it is Shahrukh Khan himself who deserves the most praise for standing up to the Sena and for refusing to take the easy way out. The actor and co-owner of the Kolkata Knight Riders flatly rejected the Sena’s absurd demand that he apologise for saying Pakistani cricketers should have been picked for the Indian Premier League, if they were to allow his films to be released in Maharashtra.
The Bollywood film industry, which is acutely aware that box office collections in Maharashtra are critical to a film’s success, has traditionally kowtowed to the Sena and like-minded organisations. A few months ago, My Name is Khan’s director, Karan Johar, was coerced into apologising to Mr. Bal Thackeray’s estranged nephew Raj Thackeray after his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena hooligans stopped the screening of another of his films because it used the word ‘Bombay’ instead of ‘Mumbai.’ A welcome consequence of Mr. Khan’s decision to stand firm is that it has emboldened a section of the film industry to come out in his defence. The strong backlash against the Shiv Sena for attacking Mr. Khan (Mr. Thackeray went as far as calling him a “traitor’) is similar to what the organisation faced after criticising another national icon, Sachin Tendulkar, for saying that Mumbai belongs to India. Politically weakened after Mr. Raj Thackeray left to form the MNS, Mr. Bal Thackeray seems to be locked in a contest of competitive chauvinism with his nephew, with each trying to outdo the other by aggressively searching for ways to be in the public eye. The widespread revulsion against this form of parochial politics should consolidate the efforts to isolate parties such as the Shiv Sena and the MNS and demonstrate that the rule of law will prevail over threats and orchestrated violence.