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Politics of star protests

ON THE afternoon of Friday, September 6, Bollywood star, Manisha Koirala, accompanied by her lawyer, Satish Maneshinde, walked into `Matoshree,' home of Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray. An hour later, she was out sporting a huge tilak on her forehead, applied personally by the Sena chief and thanked him warmly for his help. Manisha had complained to the Sena Chief about the `obscene scenes' in her film, ``Ek Chhoti si Love Story" directed by Shashilal Nair. This was her second meeting with Thackeray.

As the Sena chief's son, Uddhav Thackeray and party MP, Sunjay Nirupam, called for a meeting of the film's distributors, the Sena mobs were already out storming the theatres where the film was being screened and demanding the shows be stopped. The main target was `Gemini', part of the multiplex in Bandra. Sainiks went on a rampage, broke window-panes and manhandled its executive director, Manoj Desai, one of the senior most exhibitors in the city. As members of the panicky audience ran out of the auditorium, an obviously shaken Desai deplored the violence. ``The issue could have been settled peacefully," he said. ``The film was in the making for the last six months. Why did Manisha keep quiet so long about the `obscene' scenes? Why wait till the film is released and thousands of tickets sold?" he asked.

The film which had been in the news for the past one month dealt with a young boy's infatuation with an older woman and contained some `hot' scenes. At Manisha's request, the director replaced her with a `double' for these scenes. (According to some sources, Manisha was replaced because she was overweight and could not be shown in semi-nude scenes.) Manisha also argued that Nair had agreed to delete these scenes and went to court when this was not done. Justice F. I. Rebello of the Mumbai High Court, after viewing the film declared there was nothing `offensive' in the four scenes objected to by the actress. However, a Division Bench of the Mumbai High Court consisting of Justice R. M. Lodha and Justice Dilip Bhosale, acting on Manisha's appeal issued a stay order saying that the matter had to be considered in detail and posted it to a final hearing on October 5. The prints of the film were already with the exhibitors who decided to risk its showing. It was then that Manisha took her case to the Sena chief, who has become the Court of Last Resort for Bollywood stars.

It is well known that Bal Thackeray loves stars and revels in the publicity their association brings. The stars know that it is he who controls Mumbai and can help them, despite legal and law and order problems. Smita Thackeray, the Sena chief's daughter-in-law, is a powerful factor in the film industry. Thackeray has helped them when they have desperately needed help. Staunch Congressman, Sunil Dutt, found to his relief that while some of his party men were involved in the harassment meted out to his son Sunjay, he had the unconditional support of Thackeray. Despite his association with the Congress and the Gandhi family and now with the Samajwadi leader, Amar Singh, Amitabh Bachchan continues to be a faithful follower of the Sena leader. Professional or personal, Thackeray is willing to solve the problems of the stars and came to the rescue of former heroine Mala Sinha when her daughter was involved in a messy romance with a married music director. Thackeray `persuaded' playback singer Kumar Sanu to pay a decent alimony to his divorced wife. And if any stars threw tantrums on the sets, the producers always had the Sena Chief to put in a warning word to the errant stars. But in some cases, the Sena and its Chief were unforgiving. They almost ruined the career of Marxist character-actor A. K. Hangal by forcibly boycotting his films for being present at the Pakistan Deputy High Commissioner's office on Pakistan national day despite Hangal's explanation that he had gone there on some official work. The Sena did not forgive Dilip Kumar for accepting a national award from Pakistan. As a protest groups of Shiv Sainiks danced semi-nude in front of his house. The Sena Chief disliked outspoken, liberal stars like Shabana Azmi and saw to it that her controversial film, `Fire' was removed from the theatres. But stars like Dilip Kumar and Shabana are among the few who are not inclined to kiss the earth before Thackeray. If Bollywood is worried by the autocratic, unconstitutional tactics of the Sena in using muscle power and getting films off the screens, it is not complaining. Most stars are servile towards the Sena chief. They know that he has the power to destroy or seriously hamper their careers. On the other hand his friendship could bring them handsome rewards. That is why not one of them spoke against the Sena vandalism in disturbing the ``Choti si Love Story" screenings.

Manisha has had her moment of glory and media publicity. But now she has taken a step in the direction of curtailing the freedom of expression. Despite the absence of public disapproval, producers will now hesitate to work with her. She has rushed to the Sena chief once and she may do it again. It remains to be seen how Manisha manages her career from now.


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