Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath wants to set up a film production centre to rival Mumbai’s Film City. Adityanath flew into Mumbai on Tuesday to meet potential investors. During his visit, Adityanath is expected to meet “several film personalities regarding the infotainment city to be built on 1,000 acres of land in Sector 21 of Yamuna Authority of Noida”, according to Hindustan Times.
Uttar Pradesh already has the privately-owned Noida Film City. The state’s notorious crime rate and anarchic gangland wars have inspired numerous films. Several web series have been shot in Uttar Pradesh’s cities, such as Mirzapur in Lucknow and Varanasi and Aashram in Lucknow, Ayodhya and Faizabad.
Adityanath’s visit to Mumbai comes at a time when the Hindi film industry is under sustained and incessant attack from internet trolls and the Hindutva ecosystem. Ever since Sushant Singh Rajput’s death by suicide in June, Hindi film celebrities have been accused of murder, conspiracy, drug-taking, embezzlement and generalised forms of traitorous behaviour.
Their alleged sins have been linked to the very nature of the city that has nurtured the film industry since the 1920s and provided it with its uniquely cosmopolitan character.
In the eyes of detractors, Mumbai is a den of vice that produces degenerates and seditious souls. For dispassionate observers, it is Mumbai’s ability to welcome all shades of migrants and allow them to live and work in peace that has allowed entreprise to flourish.
The assault on Bollywood – often thought to be a monolithic block but actually a fragmented collection of filmmakers, production companies, family-owned businesses and corporations – has gone hand in hand with attempts to undermine the Maharashtra government. The Shiv-Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Party-combine prevented the Bharatiya Janata Party and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis from assuming a second term in power.
The film industry is one of the city’s economic engines, providing employments of lakhs of individuals. By setting up a film city in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP and Adityanath hope that Mumbai – and Maharashtra as a whole – will lose one of the jewels in its crown.
However, cinema is not merely an industrial activity. The term “Bollywood”, while reductive, also indicates a state of mind. You may create state-of-the-art shooting facilities and provide all kinds of production facilities, but movies are made by people, not machines. These people need to operate in a climate that is free from the kind of social divisions and law and order problems that characterise Uttar Pradesh.
The Hindi film industry is one of the exemplars of Indian secularism, with broad support for Constitutional values on the screen and countless inter-faith marriages between those who work in it in real life.
Adityanath wants a province that is proud of its majoritarian policies and muscular intolerance to nurture an art form that can only thrive on creative ideas untrammelled expression.
His government has been busy cracking down on alleged forced conversion through the newly minted UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020. The ordinance’s goal, to legally further the conspiracy theory revolving around “love jihad”, has already resulted in the arrests of Muslim men.
If there is something in the very water of Mumbai that has produced its cheerfully anarchic cinema, what can one say about the soil in Uttar Pradesh? Perhaps it’s a question that can be best answered by Akshay Kumar. Reports stated that the business-savvy actor and producer was “the first to call upon the chief minister” after Adityanath arrived in Mumbai. They had an enjoyable chat, according to the chief minister’s official Twitter handle.
Another photograph posted by the ANI news network showed Kumar leaning forward to show Adityanath something on his laptop screen. Film professionals have stooped to conquer markets and squeeze profits out of deals for decades, but this is one contortion that will be difficult to carry off.