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July 13, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/ Tarun Vijay

'A star is a star and should not be labelled as Hindu or Muslimů'

A recent article in Panchjanya, a Hindi weekly published by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has stirred a hornet's nest. The article sought to compare Hrithik Roshan, the newest star on the Hindi film firmament, with the present three kings of celluloid -- Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan.

Panchjanyaeditor Tarun Vijay has defended the article. He strongly denies any communal bias behind the article and insists that the real villain is fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim who is forcing Bollywood to patronise its Muslim artistes.

Vijay agreed to an e-mail interview, with Associate Editor Amberish K Diwanji.

The article has created a storm of protest with people claiming it is seeking to divide the film industry along communal lines. Your comments?

The whole controversy started with a Jawaharlal Nehru University Leftist turned journalist giving a distorted interpretation to the story so as to drag in the RSS and the name of its chief, K S Sudarshanji into the controversy. This shifted the focus of the article from the dangers of mafia control in the film industry to those who were in fact trying to warn us against such control. The cover headline says 'MNCs and mafia of Gulf sow the seeds of disharmony'. In the beginning itself the story says the stars who are working against Hrithik (Roshan) might have been prompted by jealousy and not by any other consideration. Even Govinda or (Ajay) Devgan who are trying to be the number one in the industry must be feeling the heat in the same manner that Shah Rukh or Salman might be feeling.

After this, the story says the poison of communalism has spread widely among the common people. If someone drinks Coke or Pepsi just because Shah Rukh or Hrithik are campaigning for the drinks, that would be ridiculous. In fact the entire story warns against falling prey to the designs of the mafia's and the MNCs's dividing game. There is nothing against Shah Rukh or Salman in the article. The interpretations in a local daily by a JNU Leftist leader turned journalist were prejudiced and false for reasons driven by ideological differences.

We know one can compel a producer to hire a particular actor, but he cannot make him or her a star. Stars get the top slot by their own brilliance and hard work. Nobody in the world can make or unmake a genuine star. But a few media persons, with a resolve to give a bad name to and attack a particular ideology, distorted and misrepresented the facts and instead of highlighting the role of the mafia, they attacked us.

The role of the mafia in the film industry is too well known. How films are financed and the distribution network is influenced, how the extortion racket works, how entire shows are bought in advance to create a false sense of 'hit', the Dubai connections, these are the issues the story warns about.

And about the MNCs's hate ad campaign, even Time magazine has done a story. They don't have any stakes in a stable and harmonious Indian society. To make more money they can behave like the British did. They did not adopt the Gandhian way to kill the Indian soft drinks industry.

The article mentions that producers are being forced to hire Muslim actors by the mafia. Can this be substantiated? Producers are known to hire actors primarily on the basis of an actor's market value, regardless of his or her religion. Why do you (or your article) believe otherwise when you say that the mafia forces producers to hire particular people?

Certainly, the mafia which is responsible for the infamous Mumbai riots and which is working towards communalising the film industry has a final say in everything regarding the films they finance or promote. Without them there is no money for most producers. People are afraid to speak out for they fear for their lives. Hindus and their ideology are soft targets. Attacking them is fun and makes for good, saleable copy. Also, it is safe to attack them because they typically do not react violently. Remember Deepa Mehta and her film Water? Imagine what would have happened if she had tried to make a film on a Muslim topic like 'Triple Talaq' say, with Shabana Azmi playing Shah Bano.

So even if some senior producers express their fear of the manner in which they are pushed and compelled to take certain decisions, they dare not openly say so. They very well remember the fate of Gulshan Kumar. There definitely is a climate of fear.

The article also mentions that people of a certain community (I presume Muslims) prefer a particular soft drink simply because it is advertised by a Muslim actor. Firstly, is this claim based on any independent study? Secondly, other Muslim actors have advertised for other soft drinks. Thus, is not the claim fallacious?

It happens both ways and there is nothing religious about it. People try to copy their favourite heroes, whether they belong to film world or politics or to the software industry. It revolves around the charisma of the person and not around his or her religion. It was reported after a sample survey done by our team and we have already condemned for trying to bring religion into this tendency.

What is the writer's background? Is the writer knowledgeable about the film industry in general and the actors concerned in particular?

Yes sir. He is a gold medalist from IIMC (Indian Institute of Media and Communications, New Delhi).

Why is Hrithik Roshan seen as a Hindu star fighting against the Muslim (Khans) stars?

Who says that? A star is a star and should not be labelled as Hindu or Muslim.

If Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir (and also Saif Khan) are today among India's most popular stars, it is because millions of Hindus are their fans, just as millions of Muslims are fans of Hrithik, Govinda, and Ajay Devgan. Is the writer aware that fans do not choose their heroes on the basis of religion? Why has the writer missed that point completely in the article? Why exhort Hindus to be fans of Hrithik over the Khans?

We agree with you. Please read our article. Nowhere have we exhorted Hindus to be fans of Hrithik.

Any other comment you would like to make?

Calling oneself 'secular' has become a license for making unsubstantiated charges against anyone who has a different point of view. Those who call themselves secular should not try to whip up hate and disharmony in the name of countering it. There should be a reasonable hearing of all viewpoints.

It is in fact some of the mediamen trying to pitch one section of the film industry against the other by misusing a report on the mafia games who are guilty of spreading hate just so as to get good copy. The distrust, the insulting attitude, the loaded and prejudiced 'Gestapo' like inquiries, distortion and falsifying statements -- this is part of their 'arsenal' in the so-called war against a particular ideology. And that is not fair.

Even if a school of thought is wrong in its policies and expressions, no one has the license to counter it with wrong instruments. We must remember that the end does not justify the means.

I thank redifffor giving me the opportunity to set the record straight.

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