Just when India started to gain global acceptance in terms of cinematic excellence with more and more internationally acclaimed maverick directors starting to explore various facets of our country, roadblock in the form indigenous hardliners seem to be emerging to impair the East-West bonding of art.
The case in point is the recent vandalism on the sets of the first woman director to win Oscars ever - Kathryn Bigelow, who contemplated on a more fiery artistic pursuit than her last ‘The Hurt Locker’, as she went about to make a film on the killing of Osama Bin Laden by American special forces in a compound in Abbottabad in Pakistan.
Let me add here that when I said maverick director, I meant Kathryn as one who has built a reputation for herself as leading film director whose work forms a fascinating bridge between the cross genre films and the intellectual practices that inform conceptual art.
The 60 years old Kathryn might be an established name for the whole world, but the self styled patrons of Indian traditions and morality don't seem to care much about the Oscar winning director.
After she was refused to shoot her film in Pakistan, Bigelow chose Chandigarh as the location of her forthcoming film 'Zero Dark Thirty' or 'ZD30' where the crew recreated the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.
The shooting, which began in Chandigarh's Sector 15 market attracted a lot of attention as Urdu written boards, auto rickshaws with Pakistani number plates, burqa-clad women and men in salwar-kameez, chappals and skullcaps were seen around the city of Punjab.
The members of the Hindu right wing group raised objections over the creation of film sets resembling a Pakistani market, including hoardings and banners, and flying of a Pakistani flag in the area, Manimajra.
Interestingly, even a Muslim group shared similar sentiments and objected to the shooting of the film which by every means could have been an exemplary attempt to witness the full range of a woman’s expressive power in films.
So, it’s really unfortunate that this kind of treatment was meted out to a director of Bigelow’s stature.
The VHP along with the Muslim hardliners made sure that India becomes worse than the likes of Saudi in terms of individual and artistic freedom. And they seem to be succeeding in a spectacular fashion.
Not only the protest against the film are illogical, I fail to understand how does mere showing of Pakistani flags on a film set in India become objectionable?
Of course, this Osama film will not feature Chandigarh as an Indian city, but still it will be helpful in bringing the city some fame in the Hollywood market, eventually which would open more windows of opportunity for India.
The VHP activists indulged in school boy arguments when they came protesting on the sets of the film. As if this juvenile act was not enough, Muslims began their protests saying that the film intends to show them (Muslims) in a bad light! How on earth are such arguments justified?
Bollywood filmmakers said they are “embarrassed” by the attack on the sets of Kathryn Bigelow’s film in Chandigarh.
Talking about the issue, filmmaker Pritish Nandy said, “This is ridiculous that a nation known for its creativity, has come to this level.”
Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt also raised his voice and said that the government and the film industry should take a stand against this kind of behaviour. “If the film is being shot in Chandigarh, it means that they have taken due permission. By attacking them, we are sending signals that we are a banana republic,” he said.
Filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma added, “With such acts, we continuously prove to the West that we still live in ancient times.”
That this film is being shot here, rather than on the other side of the international border, indicates how far we have come as a society. We can’t let stray protests sully that pride.
As a mature, pluralistic and liberal society where people of different religions have coexisted for centuries, India must show courage to allow Kathryn’s artistic freedom.