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Lights, camera but action is off screen

By Priyanka Khanna, IANS

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Anupam KherThe lights are blinding and cameras are out in full force but the action is happening more off screen than on the marquees with the world's most prolific moviemaking industry getting embroiled in myriad controversies.

The unceremonious sacking of a veteran actor from a government appointment, a war of words between Bollywood's first family, the Bachchans, and the Indian polity's first family, an apex court order staying a state government's ban on "films-not-made-in-the-state", and the usual gossip mongering and backbiting are in the headlines emanating from the Mumbai-based industry instead of entertaining films.

Industry analysts said in the days ahead, the lines between politics and art would blur further with the amplification of the storms kicked off now.

"The industry is going through a rough patch. While business has touched rock bottom, peripheral issues are taking centre stage," said a trade observer.

The sacking of Anupam Kher as chief of the censor board brought to the fore the extent to which politics dominates cinema and the episode, which is likely to drag on, has incensed the industry.

"The issue has opened a Pandora's box of questions ranging from whether politics should be allowed into art to whether the censor board should be done away with all together," said an observer.

Rakesh Mehta, whose internationally acclaimed documentary "Final Solution" was recently passed by the censor board after he had to appeal to Kher, said: "The censor laws are archaic. The Cinematograph Act was established in 1952 but it is actually the descendant of a British act of 1918."

Anupam KherThough the delay in the clearing of Mehta's film could have been a flashpoint that triggered off Kher's sacking, the filmmaker has not blamed the actor-producer for the delay.

Even filmmakers like Shyam Benegal, who have from time to time run into trouble with the censor board, have come out in Kher's support. Benegal maintained the sacking was a politically motivated move and "in very bad taste".

Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt said he felt "very embarrassed" as he voted for the present government. "What they have set in motion is polarisation of an apolitical film industry," said Bhatt, echoing the concerns of many.

Kher said: "Dividing actors on the grounds of ideology is dangerous. Tomorrow, they might say that so and so should not be given work."

Politics caught up with India cinema in another unexpected way this week.

The decision of the national broadcaster to ask filmmaker Prakash Jha to remove statements against then prime minister Indira Gandhi in his film (commissioned by them) on then opposition stalwart Jayaprakash Narayan reopened a national debate about her tenure.

The debate snowballed and before one could call "cut", legend Amitabh Bachchan's wife Jaya told media that the Nehru-Gandhi family had betrayed his family during his short-lived unpleasant tenure in politics.

Away from the seat of power, the Supreme Court had to intervene when cinema houses in the southern state of Karnataka were attacked for showing non-Kannada films.

The state government imposed a seven-week moratorium on the release of non-Kannada films in the state. Some cinema owners, however, defied the ban due to mounting financial losses. Recently, these cinema halls were attacked by mobs and their owners appealed to the Supreme Court.

While all the action shifted off-screen, the trickle of box-office duds became a stream with more new releases failing to make the cash registers ring.

This week's release was an apology of a film titled "Dil Bechara Pyaar Ka Maara" by a debutant producer with a string of wannabe actors in the cast. The film was received with empty houses and poor reviews.


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