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Sena needs to stop its vada-pav protests

By Neeta Kolhatkar
April 14, 2015 14:42 IST
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'It is time the Sena realises that voters can see through its divisive actions. It needs to have a wider vision before the party is reduced to a slapstick political comedy,' says Neeta Kolhatkar.

The Shiv Sena protest outside the building in South Mumbai where Shobhaa De lives

The Shiv Sena needs to stop playing its vada-pav politics. The party is actually making this lauded state dish stale and tasteless. Especially since the party cannot take criticism from a lady who is an integral part of this city and is very much a Marathi manoos.

Uddhav Thackeray, shobhat nahi tumhala! (this protest doesn't do you proud!)

The drama began after Maharashtra's Culture Minister Vinod Tawde announced that screening of Marathi films would be made mandatory during the prime time slot for all multiplexes in Maharashtra.

After which novelist and commentator Shobhaa De tweeted on April 7 against this move -- @DeShobhaa: No more popcorn at multiplexes in Mumbai? Dahi misal and vada pav only. To go better with the Marathi movies at prime time.

Sena legislator Pratap Sarnaik sought to move a privilege motion against De for hurting the sentiments of the state assembly. Sarnaik stated that the legislative assembly had whole-heartedly welcomed Tawde's decision.

The Sena's tactics did not stop here. The next day the party threatened to demonstrate outside her home. Till then, nobody spoke of the by-election in the Bandra East assembly constituency in north west Mumbai.

Bandra East is where the Thackerays live. The den of the tiger! Yet, the media was focussing on Narayan Rane, the Sena chief minister during the Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party tenure in 1999. He left the Sena to join the Congress and contested the election on that party's ticket.

The city and state are not new to the different methods adopted by the Sena to silence its critics, even if the critics are Maharashtrian by birth or residence. The irony is that the party has long shed its ideology as the party for the Marathi manoos.

After Atal Bihari Vajpayee became prime minister, Sena founder Bal Thackeray criticised the BJP for shedding its hardcore Hindutva agenda. Thackeray would say he was proud that his party was carrying the torch for Hindutva.

A lot has changed since Thackeray's death. His son Uddhav now heads the Shiv Sena while his nephew Raj has his own outfit, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which has made Marathi ideology its official identity. Initially, Marathi voters were impressed with Raj, but ditched him in the 2012 election. Marathi voters preferred to vote for Narendra Modi instead of the two Senas that had distanced themselves from its core Marathi voter base.

Since the Sena has forgotten its Marathi roots, its protests against De seem a ploy to ensure that the party remains on voters' minds.

Like news, politics is all about timing. A couple of days before voting in the by-election, the Sena held protests outside De's home. More than sending a message to De, it was a signal to Marathi voters that the Sena was still committed to the Marathi cause.

It was a tad too late and a miscalculated move -- De is a lady and a Marathi mulgi (lady) to boot.

What is wrong in with what De tweeted? One cannot force people to view any film, especially if it is badly made. Likewise, nothing can stop theatres from running full if the film is good.

I have covered Marathi films for an English newspaper that I worked for. I can vouch for one thing, it was not easy finding big space for these stories, but believe me with record-breaking films, it wasn't ever a fight.

The quality of Marathi films in the 1980s and especially the 1990s had taken a beating. Some young lovers of cinema took up bold themes and made successful films that ran well; even the multiplexes picked them up. I remember when Natrang, the film featuring Atul Kulkarni, became a hit, even single screen cinemas dedicated to showing English films in Mumbai ran shows of the Marathi film.

The Marathi film industry needs to introspect and ensure they do not repeat the mistakes of the previous two decades wherein filmmakers resorted to cheap, slapstick comedy. Today, people are more aware. If they can reject a government, it is not tough to reject a film.

The Sena should in fact take a lesson from this and lobby with the government to firstly help single screen theatres, ensure more funds are made available to good subject films and ensure the quality of films are on par with international standards. That is possible because there truly are some intelligent and highly creative filmmakers and writers in the Marathi film industry.

It is time the Sena realises that the voters and people can see through its divisive actions. It needs to have a wider vision before the party is reduced to a slapstick political comedy.

Image: Shiv Sainiks protest outside the building in South Mumbai where Shobhaa De lives. Photograph: Sahil Salvi

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