The Pakistani film Bin Roye, which was to have opened on July 18, will not be released in Maharashtra because Pakistan supports terrorism, says a spokesperson of the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. This fine gesture will save the people of Maharashtra from our neighbour’s evil intentions, which seem to have now manifested as some sort of a movie takeover of India through a romantic drama starring Pakistani heart-throb Mahira Khan.

What better way to get back into the public eye than by attacking Pakistan? Not really attacking Pakistan, of course. But saving Maharashtra from Pakistan is apparently enough. The rest of India, one assumes, is on its own with this one. The plan, well-meaning as it is, is fraught with all kinds of problems. This wicked, modern age that we live in has, more or less, eliminated geography from our lives. The internet has increased accessibility to almost everything. And smart phones have taken the internet so much further than computers.

So what the MNS is in fact doing is preventing cinema hall owners in Maharashtra from making any money from this film. By giving into threats from the MNS, Bin Roye’s distributor in India, B4U Films, is not just catering to hooliganism of this sort, but it is also making life difficult for those who want to stand up to such bullying in the future.

The Shiv Sena had perfected the art of staying in the news in the years when it was happy to stay out of power. Bandhs, protests, dharnas, threats and violence marked its hold over Bombay at first and then Mumbai and then, to some extent, Maharashtra. The targets changed over the years, but the methods remained the same.

The Sena under Uddhav Thackeray has been re-modelling itself. We now hear that Bal Thackeray’s grandson and Uddhav’s son, Aditya, is going to play a bigger role in the party. For all their bickering, the Shiv Sena is part of Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Maharashtra.

So where does that leave Raj Thackeray, who once thought he was the heir apparent? Looking for windmills. He did have some success initially. But as the decade wore on, public interest waned. Even his admirers got bored with the idea of attacking toll booths. This attack on a movie seems like one more way to stay relevant.

Double standards

But there is a far more insidious mindset at work and a fair amount of hypocrisy as well. The MNS did not threaten anyone when Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif arrived in India for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. There is no doubt that India’s relationship with Pakistan has been fraught with anger and animosity from day one. But it is also true that various governments at the Centre have tried to address this issue. Modi is one in a long list.

Trying to dictate to India’s external affairs from Mumbai was an old Bal Thackeray trick, but it is unlikely that the MNS has the same sort of clout or leeway. It has become an irritant, trying to make its presence felt in the most trying way possible. Modi and Sharif, for instance, have just met in Ufa in Russia. There are high-level discussions on about border issues within India. If the MNS was so concerned, it could have approached the Central government with its ideas.

But we all know that the ban has nothing to do with that. There is that ever-present underlying Hindu-Muslim issue. There is a tit-for-tat childishness that perfectly mirrors the attitude of many in Pakistan, who do not like the influence that Indian entertainment has on their society. They don’t allow our films, so why should we allow theirs? They often don’t.

Bin Roye had been given permission for an India release. The MNS, however, is trying to be above the Government of India. They could, if they were mature enough, rejoice in the tremendous hold that Indian popular culture has over Pakistan, and appreciate that one film from Pakistan is hardly going to lead to the end of the world as we know it. Pakistani television serials have been popular in India for decades now. I had the pleasure of meeting a Pakistani writer last year, who is thrilled that her maiden novel is being made into a Bollywood film. I think we’ve already won that war.

If the MNS was really mature, it would appreciate that cultural exchanges can do more to break down barriers than government efforts. But you know and I know that by using the word “mature” in this context, I’m talking hooey.

Film buffs can travel to neighbouring states where Bin Roye has not yet been banned. Just don’t bring back a ticket stub.

The writer’s twitter handle is @ranjona.

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