Saturday, October 8, 2016



The post-Uri demand for a boycott of Pakistani actors calls for a crucial debate. One rider: let’s ditch the cliches in the current liberal discourse on freedom of expression.

By Anna MM Vetticad

So a once-popular singer — I will not sully this column by naming him — has expressed his ‘nationalism’ by tweeting thus about Bollywood director Karan Johar’s association with Pakistani actor Fawad Khan: “Another #lovejihad .. Mehbooba #KaranJohar is in depression ..pak lover fawad ditched bechari Mrs @karanjohar khan” (sic). The comment is designed to mock Johar for his assumed sexual orientation and for a brush with ill-health that he discussed in a recent interview.

Homophobia and inhumanity are apparently the new measure of patriotism in India.

This salvo was fired just days after the Indian Motion Picture Producers’Association (IMPPA) called for a ban on Pakistani artistes and technicians in response to the recent terror attack on Uri that killed 20 Indian soldiers. IMPPA’s decision came shortly after the right-wing Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) reportedly issued an ultimatum to Pakistani artistes to leave India within 48 hours.

It is not this column’s contention that people do not have a right to their boycotts. The question under discussion here is the right of individuals and organisations to coerce others into following suit.

IMPPA, for instance, should not curb filmmakers who wish to work with Pakistanis, MNS should be punished for acting as an extra-Constitutional authority, and its veiled threats of violence ought to be condemned. Hindustan Times reported on September 23 that the party has “kick-started protests against Karan Johar’s film Ae Dil Hain (sic) Mushkil as it stars Pakistani actor Fawad Khan... MNS vice-president Shalini Thackeray said wherever shooting for films or tele-serials with Pakistani actors was on after the deadline, MNS activists would go and stop them.” Anyone who knows their track record knows what that means.

Let us be very clear about one point: freedom of expression includes the right to boycott artistes you are politically 
opposed to for reasons unrelated to their work, however illogical, irrational or even foolish your approach might be. Unfortunately, liberals in India have become so used to violence-prone religious and political bodies targeting art over the years, that now every critical response to art or an artist is being mindlessly described as an attack on freedom of expression. It is not.

Since abuse, personal attacks,
 threats and violence against artists are second nature to fundamentalists, it has become a reflex action for liberals to cry “free speech” in response to every move involving artists, even non-violent moves, by extreme right-wingers. This has brought the discourse on free speech to an all-time intellectual low in recent years, following the mainstreaming of fundamentalist forces in Modi’s India.

So when the Hindutva brigade uninstalled the Snapdeal app in droves to protest brand ambassador Aamir Khan’s observations on intolerance in India, some liberal journalists went to the extent of dubbing their campaign “commercial terrorism”. Actually, for a change, these right-wingers were acting within their rights. Their indifference to Aamir’s concerns was inconsiderate, and their communal epithets for him were repulsive, but they did have a right to boycott brands he endorses. All pressure tactics cannot be deemed coercive and the word “terrorism” should never be used lightly.

This unthinking stance by liberals has harmed the very causes they seek to uphold. And so it was that when some writers opted out of the Bangalore Literature Festival 2015 because one of the festival organisers had, among other things, decried the award wapsi campaign, the writers were dubbed “intolerant” by the same media. “Intolerant”? Because they exercised a democratic right to withdraw from an event?

I am not getting into a debate here on the value of India-Pakistan cultural exchanges. Our artistic ties have played a role in maintaining goodwill among the citizenry even when political forces have tried to breed hate, but that is a separate discussion. This column is simply a reminder that each of us should be free to non-abusively, non-threateningly, non-violently protest – in  political, social and cultural matters – in whichever way we deem fit, and that neither IMPPA nor MNS should impose their choice of protest on us.

I love my soldiers, but I do not know how they gain if we reject Fawad Khan. This is a talented actor who, though a foreigner, made a remarkable contribution to India’s social evolution this year when he played a gay man in Shakun Batra’s uncommonly sensitive Kapoor & Sons, a role that had been rejected by several Indian stars. When I asked him about it in an interview in June, Fawad said: “By not doing such films we simply shut it (homosexuality) away rather than trying to understand it... Besides, with the kind of difficulties we’re facing as a global society where we’re having trouble getting along, if anything this is just more love in the system rather than adding conflict.”

This is the man you wish to shun because terrorists murdered our soldiers? The argument that he has not made a statement on Uri hardly holds water since Indian film artistes usually stay silent on political issues, and those who have spoken up – like Aamir – have been harangued for doing so by the same ideological group largely behind the demand for a comment now from Fawad. 

So let us make a deal: feel free to deprive yourself of Fawad or any other Pakistani artist you choose, just make sure you do not bully the rest of us into doing so too.

(This article was first published in The Hindu Businessline’s BLink on October 8, 2016.)

Link to column published in The Hindu Businessline:

Previous instalment of Film Fatale: It’s Not “Regional”, Dammit, It’s “Indian”


  1. I can't see it that way. It does help the Indian soldiers.I have nothing particularly against Paks and this is not in the same vain as Trump's self proclaimed friendship with the Mexicans. But why did the Uri attack happen. And that was not a one-off incident. To hell with the freedom of other people to work with the actors they want because, these are testing times. It's not like Fawad Khan or any others are living under death threats or fatwa. A boycott and possible deportation. It's my opinion that we don't have a real sense of danger because of the geographical and occupational advantage. Of course we get all blood shot and patriotic when we read the inshorts but for how long. It's more a fodder for evening conversations.

    The truce is constantly broken because they feel they can get away. The surgical strike did sent a message but a follow through was in order. Otherwise it won't stay. Probably most people living in Pakistan condemn the Uri attack and in all possiblity Fawad is one among them. But again individuals don't matter. This is a crisis.

    If some political party is trying to take advantage of the situation to showcase their street cred.. well tough luck. Even they don't matter. Nobodies ideologies matter.

    For a lack of better analogy, when MK Gandhi boycotted the western articles, would it have been right for a section to exercise their right to use whatever they want. Of course a lot of them did exactly that and that's why it took longer.

    The attacks on our force is not a trivial matter. I know nobody said it is, but when we bring individual freedoms to the equations, we are doing exactly that.

    The boycott would let them (not the country. just the terror elements) know that the relationship will change if they don't make sure cross border fires are prevented. They have been taking it too lightly for too long.

    1. But as we have seen from the blasts and school attacks in pakistan, the terrorists do not care if we hurt Pakistani artists or for that matter, even civilians. As long as there is distance and hatred amongst different countries, the terrorists win. So aren't we just letting them win by creating more distance between the two countries?

      If you want the terrorists to loose, cut off the funding the criminals in pakistan get through us when we buy pirated dvds we buy that are exported illegally from Pakistan (like those dvds branded with a sadaf logo.) If you want to help India, buy songs instead of downloading them illegally through an illegal popular websibe with .pk domain. The same people who are calling for artist bans have no problem funding the criminals in pakistan by buying their illegal things.

      This kind of selective banning makes no sense. People think they are supporting our PM by doing all this but they have no issues ignoring his swacch bharat abhiyan and littering around and literally painting the town red with gutka stains.

      I appreciate that you kept the comment civil. It's becoming a rarity these days. But if we feel pround when our very own Irrfan and Priyanka achieve success in hollywood, even we need to open our doors for international artist. That's just my opinion and of course, I would never impose it upon anyone.

  2. Why left is not thinking that ...people of Pakistan know that their government/ army supporting terrorist they are harming India they are not speaking up... Pakistani people see Let, Jem lakhvi hafiz masood are roming and harming India ...Pakistani media did one story to expose links between army anr terrorist (cyril Almeda)...and they put journalist name people speak out for one Injustice on favad khan there are thousands Injustice are there person killed and army javan become shahid... I request u left minded people ..we handle Pakistan your way till date.. please let us try our way and during this way we may look similar to what Pakistan doing to us but believe us we are doing good for all Indians