'Boycott Bollywood' shadow looms over 'Pathaan'

FWICE urged the Centre to "intervene and stop” the 'Boycott Bollywood' trend

Pathaan-new-rev Poster of the movie 'Pathaan'

On January 6 this year, the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) issued a press release condemning the ongoing trend of boycott Bollywood and sought immediate protection against the "hooliganism in theatres and the threats to producers".

As per the release, "such trends are influenced by those who believe in hatred and who do not support peace, harmony and unity". It further said that people have been barging into theatres, threatening the public and forcefully vacating theatres and that while the FWICE "appreciates people boycotting films for their right and reasonable objections, this indiscriminate boycott of Bollywood films will not be accepted and allowed at any cost. This should end somewhere".

The federation urged the government to "intervene and stop" the 'Boycott Bollywood trend', which picked up pace on Twitter and other social media platforms off late, starting with Aamir Khan's Laal Singh Chaddha which released last year. But, at the moment, it is mainly targeting Pathaan, an upcoming film starring Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone. Ever since the release of its first song, Besharam Rang, on December 12, the film has been garnering hate from those who have taken offence to multiple aspects, right from the saffron colour of Padukone's bikini to the lyrics to the choreography saying that the film hurts Hindu sentiments at various levels.

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Soon after, boycott Pathaan began trending and tweets urging 'Hindus to boycott Pathaan' began doing the rounds. The controversy soon took a communal colour with many calling out the song and the choreography to be "anti-India," and "against the Hindu cultural mores".

Meanwhile, Shah Rukh Khan made an appearance at the Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) 2022, which was timely as his film was facing facing boycott calls on Twitter. Without mentioning Pathaan, Khan addressed the “narrowness of view” on social media and said that "social media is often driven by a certain narrowness of view that limits human nature to its baser self. And it's somewhere that negativity increases social media consumption and thereby increases its commercial value as well. Such pursuits enclose the collective narrative making it divisive and destructive”.

Those who have been following the issue closely say that it is the people's angst against the entire Hindi film industry that is the culprit for such hate being spewed against Bollywood films off late. "In the past year if you notice, Bollywood has failed to give a single good film which can be worth the money spent for a ticket at the box office and people are extremely angry. These trends are a result of that," says Kalpana Swamy, founder of Nostalgiaana jukebox, and an industry insider who's worked as a public relations consultant in Bollywood for over a decade. "But, adding to the genuine angst among the audience, is the right-wing's wrath that is being spewed on Khan and his crew in the name of the film being anti-Hindu. This colouring of saffronisation in pursuits of creativity by the Hindutva brigade is concerning," adds Swamy.

With barely a fortnight to go before the release of Pathaan, Shah Rukh Khan finds himself under tremendous pressure to ward off any negativity surrounding his film. It is important for the film to do well, because none of his recent films have succeeded. The list includes, Zero, Jab Harry met Sejal, Raees, all of which were experimental films that were made on very high budgets. "If the film's content is good, no force can mar its success," says Jaideep Pandey, a freelance entertainment journalist.

The kind of hate being observed on Twitter against Bollywood films has turned the phrase, “any publicity is good publicity”, on its head, says film director Onir in an interview to THE WEEK. "I am sure this is the job of unemployed people who are getting paid to do this because otherwise this boycott of Bollywood films just does not make any sense. They are instilling fear among an audience which has otherwise been so secular that we didn't mind having a Salman Khan as Karan and Shah Rukh Khan as Arjun in Karan Arjun, one of the most iconic films of Hindi cinema. Why are these people sowing seeds of division and hatred?" asks Onir. "All said and done, we hope that the film stands its ground despite all the negativity surrounding it and that the strong and interesting content of the film offers enough reasons for people to consume it," adds the director.

If the boycott culture continues for too long, film producers fear it will eat into the business and that profits will be hit heavily. "The thing is that this boycott culture will turn brands away from investing in films and that will mean a major hit in the area of revenues and profits. This, in turn, would mean a curb on creative freedom in filmmaking which will not be a good news for India," says a leading Bollywood film producer on condition of anonymity.