03 July 2021 10:21
The world knows about India through its films. For more than a century much of South Asia has been humming Bollywood tunes, eagerly awaiting the next hit. The influence of the Indian film industry extends beyond the subcontinent. Americans, Egyptians, Nigerians and millions of people around the world have been rocking to the rhythm of the dance scenes in his films. And of course they also got to know the country, to the extent that it is possible to do so through a screen. Very soon this could all change. In the coming weeks and months, the Bharatiya janata party (BJP), the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will increasingly suffocate the multi-billion dollar industry of cinema, which produces more Hollywood films every year. There are a couple of things that BJP doesn’t like in today’s cinema. The first is that the triumvirate of the three actors who have a typically Muslim surname such as Khan – Shahrukh, Aamir and Salma – dictates the law – who have acquired enormous decision-making power over the production and contents of the films.
Since Narendra Modi’s rule began in 2014, and with more conviction since his re-election in 2019, the BJP has clashed openly with Bollywood. Films that tell the stories of Muslim conquests and the Mughal dynasty (such as The Emperor’s Bride) are not easy to make, and those like Padmavaat, inspired by the epic poem of the same name written in 1540 by the Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi, have generated violent controversy. Bollywood filmmakers have learned the hard way that the easiest way to make a film while avoiding the interference of the BJP censors is to please the party. As a result, low-budget films overflow with unlikely entanglements in which India dominates Pakistan, and the patriots and heroes are all Hindus.
Modi needs to create a distraction for the population traumatized by covid-19
Recently, while it was busy dealing with the latest wave of covid-19, Modi’s government needed new propaganda tools. Modi seems to have reached similar conclusions to those of Goebbels, the Nazi leader who foreshadowed the use of cinema for ideological purposes. In India, television and the press have already been subdued to the point where they are called rise (licker), to indicate how accommodating Indian journalists have become to Modi’s Hindu supremacist agenda. Now the big stars and big producers of Bollywood must be transformed into “Godiwood”.
The goal is to replace the three Khans at the helm of the industry, and to produce films whose sole purpose is to exalt the virtues of the prime minister and his government, making known to the once secular Indian public, ancient myths and tales, which they can be linked to the sacred Veda texts or to the program of the BJP. Actress Kangana Ranaut, who has expressed a desire to attack Pakistan, or her colleague Priyanka Chopra, who embraced Modi at one of the events organized for her wedding, will be able to star in other films.
It would be comical if it weren’t true. When protests against India’s new citizenship law erupted, the Khans, despite all their power, did not dare to take a stand. What little they managed to say did not calm Modi. And the citizenship law was passed.
Modi needs to create a distraction for the population traumatized by covid-19. For weeks, too many have had to experience more tragedies than they experience in a lifetime. The Indians who blindly believed Modi’s promises had a bitter dose of reality: there are still millions of poor people in the country, health infrastructure is non-existent and there is corruption at all levels. They need an entertainment machine to distract them. The answer is Godiwood. With stars scared of controls, threats of arrest and censorship, Godiwood could produce the same songs and dance performances but with the aim of extolling the supremacist Hindu state that the prime minister has almost finished creating.
Fascists always try to control cultural production. Looking at the media, one wonders how so many Indians can drink the sectarian praise presented as news of the day. Godiwood will be something like this. There will be more attention to religious issues, to the evils of “induphobia”, to the devastation wrought by Pakistan, to the infamy of the Muslim rulers of the past.
If Bollywood was light and pleasant, Godiwood will be boring and mundane. If independent Bollywood was an emblem of India’s cultural importance, Godiwood will likely be the exact opposite. If the first was the symbol of a democratic and fascinating country, the second will be an empty apologetic project aimed at a manipulated population.
(Translation by Federico Ferrone)