The day this went to press, the right wing’s virulent poster boy Vivek Agnihotri announced that the Boycott Bollywood movement was a “cultural revolt”. It was a telling comment, establishing how peripheral are the “issues” that seemingly animate the boycott calls and how central is the desire to wreck a certain strain of popular culture.
Bollywood has always been that outlandish cousin who embarrassed you with loud clothes but had his heart in the right place. Its wildly optimistic stories envisioned brothers brought up as Hindu and Muslim giving blood simultaneously to the symbolic mother/nation on the hospital bed. Khans and Zeenats jostled with Kapoors and Singhs for stardom. Hindi/Urdu film songs threaded fans from Kottayam to Kolkata on a single skein of fandom.
Of course, none of it was real — Yusuf bhai had to become Dilip Kumar for success and screen heroes were still predominantly Vijays and not Aslams. But it foregrounded a kind of innocence that made pan-religion Indianness a distinct possibility.
It is the offer of this possibility that makes Bollywood such a threat today. As with all zealous dispensations, this one too seeks to overturn popular culture with a simulacrum that feeds its own anxieties, sharpens the edge of anger, and whets the appetite for reprisal.
Frontline examines this unfolding drama from various angles.
Don’t miss our other stories either. There’s the exclusive report on how tribal panchayats are being converted into municipalities in gross contravention of the PESA Act, 1996; the rampant greed that is behind Bengaluru’s floods this year; and the threat to fishing livelihoods in Manipur’s Loktak Lake. Book reviews, a poignant tribute to Godard, Pa. Ranjith’s latest film analysed, I will leave you to discover these and more.