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Controversial films rule the roost

IANS [Friday, May 20, 2005]
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Bollywood seems to be going through a period of unprecedented controversies.

Almost every week there's a call to ban one film or another. While last week's "Jo Bole So Nihaal" was in the eye of a storm for allegedly insulting the Sikh religion, this week's two films - "Nazar" and "Naina" - have got themselves into various degrees of trouble.

"Nazar" has been skirting headlines for some months, thanks to its Pakistani leading lady Meera, who was apparently kissed by her Hindu co-star Ashmit Patel for a scene in the film.

The supposed smooch has kept "Nazar" in the public gaze until its release.

For one reason or another, all of Mahesh Bhatt's productions have found themselves in controversial postures. 

To take three recent examples, "Murder" was blasted for its sexual content, while "Zehar" and "Rog" (produced by Pooja Bhatt and her father respectively) were pulled up for their suggestive posters.

The cash counters jingled, at least for "Zehar", which has been declared a profit earner. "Nazar" too seems to have generated enough curiosity to make it a commercially viable proposition for the Bhatts.

The sudden eruption of controversy about the content in "Naina" is the last thing its producers and distributors needed. Even while distributors all over the country were receiving prints of the film, a surgeon in Mumbai filed a case against "Naina", claiming it would scare off potential cornea donors.

A spokesperson of the film's distributors Columbia-Tristar said: "The doctor couldn't have seen the film. So, like all protests in this country against movies, his comments have to be based on hearsay rather than personal perceptions. Fortunately, the verdict went in our favor.  Or we would've been in a serious crisis at the last minute."

The question now being asked by concerned sections of Bollywood is: Does controversy boost a film's sales tickets?

"Not at all!" explodes Vinod Pande, whose "Sins" was declared blasphemous by Christian priests who, needless to say, reacted without seeing the film.

"Pre-empting audiences' responses and creating a stir where none exists is one of the most damaging eventualities in our cinema. The tolerance power of the moralists is going down. Or maybe they've nothing better to do than to create controversies where there are none, Pande contended.

He has a point. The plight of "Jo Bole So Nihaal" is baffling. Why the film offends any part of the Punjabi community is explicable only to those who cried foul against it.

So then who started the fire? In any case, the film couldn't generate any interest in spite of the heated controversies.

Sections of the industry are expressing alarm over the way films are being prematurely hauled over the coals. Three films in two weeks have been in trouble with moralists   and other custodians of social mores.

And we can't really use the loopholes in our legal system to create problems for an industry that invests millions of rupees on creating dreams for the masses.

A top filmmaker has the last word.

"While harmless films like 'Jo Bole So Nihaal' and 'Naina' are being obstructed, no one raised an eyebrow when the visual and verbal vulgarity in 'Kya Kool Hain Hum' was cleared," the filmmaker said.




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