#BOYCOTT IS SO MUCH yesterday… move on!
I recently visited a popular hill station near Mumbai named Panchgani. It used to be famous for its strawberries. Today, locals proudly say, “Aamir Khan lives here.” The people of Panchgani are not the starry type. It is, after all, a British Zamana hill station, founded by Lord Chesson in the 1860s as a resort for goras sweltering in the heat of the Deccan. Aamir must have been charmed enough to buy a two-acre piece of land with a colonial cottage at Sydney Point, with sweeping views over a green valley. It was here that he married Kiran Rao in 2005 (they divorced in 2021). The cottage is a major landmark in Panchgani these days as tourists stop their buses to click pictures.
I thought of Aamir as I drove to the famous Table Land. What’s it like asking the public to boycott his latest film Laal Singh Chaddha? The movie worked on its own, without any help from the armies of trolls. But it’s about targeting an individual and getting moviegoers to boycott his film because his views aren’t compatible with theirs.
Aamir is not your typical Bollywood star. He is known as “Mr Perfectionist” in the film industry. Over the years he has invested in what he loves most – movies – and has given fans much to admire as a filmmaker/actor who follows his own vision. Some films have broken records and done outstanding business, but his latest clearly failed to capture the imagination of viewers. It’s the nature of cinema. There is no formula! Aamir has always done it his way. It is an artistic and commercial risk that relies on good returns at the box office. Aamir’s personal and political views are his own.
What the cancel culture is trying to do today is ugly and unprecedented. Calling on citizens to boycott movies, intimidate, stone halls, burn posters and effigies, come on! Whether it is Aamir Khan or Hrithik Roshan, this kind of targeting is unfair and a blatant act of hostility. The climate is such that any perceived slippage can be invoked to demand a boycott. Hrithik is in a soup for food delivery ad in which he mentioned “Mahakal”, a restaurant, not the temple of the same name. The reaction was quick and aggressive. The actor expressed his “deepest apologies” and it should end there. But will he? “Mahakal” restaurant in Ujjain does high volume business for Zomato who used Hrithik in the ad. Why was the restaurant not asked to change its name? If Roshan is accused of hurting Hindu feelings, it begs the question: how come the restaurant is thriving?
Every time an actor is pushed to apologize for an inadvertent “mistake”, a nasty message is sent to other celebrities to watch their every public statement, in case an interest group/ lobby would launch a hate campaign and pulverize the individual. Movie stars are the easiest targets in our country. Only the tallest are systematically slaughtered in this tyrannical manner. Shah Rukh Khan’s Pathan is already cursed, before its release.
What is strange about all the recent boycott campaigns is the stark contradiction they imply. Akshay Kumar’s Raksha Bandhan tanked with Laal Singh Chaddha. They would have hesitated whether or not to ask for a boycott. Word of mouth had done the job much more deadly and quickly. Digging up old interviews and remarks without providing context is a tricky tactic we should all be guarding against.
Aamir’s latest had an embarrassing open (Rs11.7 crore on Day 1). His Thugs of Hindostan (2018) opened with Rs52 crore, before sinking. It is the reflection of an idealistic filmmaker who is not in phase with the evolution of the tastes of the public. There is no alibi for failure in the world of cinema, not even boycotts.
A trip to Panchgani for intense soul-searching seems overdue.