Hindi Features

When Socio-Political Issues Become Handy Promo Tools: Sidharth Malhotra’s Tweet On MSG Verdict Is Just Another Bollywood Problem

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On August 25, actor Sidharth Malhotra wrote – “People of Punjab ! Please take care and stay safe” – on his Twitter page. Then, he added a few more words – “Hope you can see our film soon #AGentleman #PeaceAndLove”.

The tweet immediately kicked off a controversy, and the young actor was slammed for insensitively promoting his film without any concern for the violence that was unfolding in Panchkula and other parts of north India in connection with a CBI court proceeding against Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh (now convicted in a rape case).

Malhotra was certainly foolish to have posted that tweet, but his actions shouldn’t come as a surprise, for the film industry he is a part of, is infamously insensitive to social issues. He was one of the stars who came under criticism for performing at Saifai Mahotsav, a high-profile cultural programme organised by the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in 2014. The event happened at a time when the victims of Muzaffarnagar riot were reported to be living under dismal conditions in rehabilitation camps.

It was in the same breath that Twinkle Khanna, former actress, star-wife and a celebrity author, tweeted the photograph of a man taking a dump on a Mumbai beach, with the caption, “Good morning and I guess here is the first scene of Toilet Ek Prem Katha part 2 “, a nod to her husband’s latest release, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha.

 Ajay Sharma of Arre rightly posed a question in his piece: “How could this man simply be pooping on her beach? Especially since her husband had just eradicated the problem of open defecation in his own million-dollar movie?” Khanna’s tweet seems to have stemmed from a lack of concern for the millions of urban poor who live in Mumbai’s crammed slums where a built-in toilet is considered a privilege. 

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Marketing films is a giant department that continues to grow taller and wider. From a modest age when there were just movie posters or pamphlets, we now have teasers, trailers, motion posters, teasers of trailers, song teasers and more. In the age of social media, stars have taken upon themselves the responsibility of luring and herding the audiences into the theatres to watch their films. The male stars on whom the big-budget projects often ride, are all over the place when the film is due for release. 

Hritik Roshan tagged his Bollywood friends and organised a video challenge ahead of the release of his Bang Bang, and the makers of Prem Ratan Dhan Payo launched a series of videos of Bollywood stars shaking a leg to the title song of the film. Shortly before the first look of Jab Harry Met Sejal was released, Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma, the lead stars of the film, indulged in a buddy chat on Twitter, discussing the film’s title. Stars like Alia Bhatt joined the fun conversation, and names like Ranbir Kapoor were slyly mentioned, creating a rosy picture of Bollywood. The camaraderie between the stars that the Twitter chat projected, garnered way more attention than the film when it was finally released in August 2017. All India Bakchod, in a funny video, took a dig at this Bollywood camaraderie. “We will ask Arjun to post a video challenge on Twitter, and tag Alia and Sraddha. That way, everyone will think Bollywood is full of BFFs,” says one of the comedians in the video.

These promotional strategies, however, are benign when compared to those that conveniently use a socio-political issue to promote films. Often, a star, who has never been known to be socially conscious, speaks up for a certain cause before the release of their movie, only to forget about it later.

Aamir Khan, whose marketing skills are regarded as the best in the industry, joined the Narmada Bachao Aandolan, a people’s movement against the Narmada Dam, in April 2006, two months after his film, Rang De Basanti hit the screens. Khan played a young revolutionary who took up arms to fight corruption in the film. However, his film Fanaa hit the screens in May and Khan had to face the ire of the BJP party in Gujarat, who refused to let the film be screened in Gujarat. Khan was never heard speaking of Narmada ever again. 

Salman Khan has enthusiastically proved his social commitment time and again, especially after he launched a charity brand, Being Human Foundation in 2007. In 2012, shortly before the release of his film, Ek Tha Tiger, a spy-thriller set against the backdrop of India-Pakistan conflicts, Salman Khan launched an online petition for the release of Sarabjit Singh, who was then serving a prison sentence in Pakistan. Never before had Khan spoken of Singh, who was arrested by the Pakistan police in 1990 and convicted on terrorism charges. 

Amitabh Bachchan’s open letter to his grand daughters shortly before the release of Pink deserves a mention, too. The letter begins with an emphasis on the girls’ paternal ancestors, Dr Harivansh Rai Bachchan and H P Nanda, and Bachchan reminds the girls of the valuable legacy they carry on their shoulders. The letter doesn’t mention the women in the family, and social media quickly called him out for hypocrisy and using feminism to promote films. Months later, at an event, Bachchan was asked if the letter was a promotional ploy. He’d said, “You can look at it the way you want to…Shoojit (co-producer Shoojit Sircar) said, ‘why don’t we take the essence of the film and put it in the form of a letter and why don’t you write it to your granddaughters’… It will be a nice gesture and it will be something that we will be able to convey to the audience without revealing the story. So what you saw in the letter, was the essence of Pink.”

Meanwhile, Sidharth Malhotra’s A Gentleman seems to have had a dull opening weekend, despite all the promotions and a pre-release rumour that the film had a long kissing scene that got longer because the lead stars, Malhotra and Jacqueline Fernandez, ‘couldn’t stop kissing‘. The film, according to reports, has collected only Rs 8.40 crores at the box office in the opening weekend. 

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