art and politics

Karan Johar’s video plea reflects our current crisis – and is a warning of things to come

A deconstruction of the filmmaker’s statement asking protestors to allow his movie ’Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’ to be screened without violence.

Karan Johar’s video statement on Tuesday pleading for his new movie to be allowed to run in theatres without disruption looks like a better lit version of the victim videos released by kidnappers and terrorists. As he reiterates his patriotism and beseeches protestors to allow Ae Di Hai Mushkil to be released without violence on October 28, Johar looks less like the master of ceremonies he often plays in TV shows and more like he is seconds away from an executioner's dagger.

The mood in the video, which runs one minute and 46 seconds, is appropriately funereal. Johar is dressed in a black t-shirt with white markings and seated against a deep grey background as he addresses his hyper-nationalist critics, many of whom are nested in the film industry. There are minimal hand and head movements. Johar’s tone is even but the despair is unmistakable.

To the demand that he stall the release of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil because it features Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in a few scenes, Johar points out that when he shooting the film between September and December in 2015, there was no sign of the hysteria that would wash over India months later, after a militant attack on an Army camp in Uri in September killed 19 soldiers.

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“The circumstances were completely different,” Johar notes. “There were efforts made by our government for peaceful relationships with the neighbouring country and I respected those endeavours then, those efforts then. And I respect the sentiment today.”

Having reiterated his loyalty to the nation, Johar cuts the final threads that connect us to the very brief (and very pleasurable) Fawad Khan era. “Going forward, I would like to say that of course I will not engage with talent from the neighboring country given the circumstance,” he promises.

The statement dispels lingering doubts that Pakistani actors or singers will be hired by Indian producers in the foreseeable future – or, possibly, ever. India discovered the bounty of Pakistani talent in scriptwriting, acting and singing through videotapes of television serials in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the internet brought Pakistani stars closer to India, and in 2014, the television channel Zindagi brought them into living rooms across the country. But Uri has resulted in an angry chorus demanding retribution: the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena in Mumbai has threatened violence against theatre owners who show films featuring Pakistanis and the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association has issued a ban on Pakistani talent being employed in future productions.

Zindagi has dropped Pakistani serials from its programming, while the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India has issued a directive to its members in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa and Karnataka against screening films with actors from across the border.

The decision of the exhibitors' association directly affects Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, and Johar’s statement seems to be aimed at assuaging distributors and exhibitors that they will not be guilty of sedition if they screen his quadrangular romance.

“Today I’d like to clarify that the reason why I’ve remained silent is because of the deep sense of hurt and the deep sense of pain that I’ve felt that a few people would actually believe that I’m being anti-national,” Johar said, stating the obvious. “I need to say this… and I say this with strength that for me, my country comes first, nothing else matters to me but my country.”

It's all about loving your country

Any disruption of screenings of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, which has been given a UA-rated certificate by the censor board, will only harm the 300-odd crew members who have worked on the film, Johar said. He “beseeched” his attackers to respect their “blood, sweat and tears”, even as he emphasised his respect for the Army. “I salute the Indian Army for everything they do to protect us in our environment. I respect them with all my heart, and I say that I condemn any form of terrorism, any form… and specially the terrorism that would affect my people in my country and me.”

Murmurs of the heart have inspired all of Johar’s films, and he seeks to broaden the understanding of love in his video statement: “We love and respect our country over and above anything else.”

Johar’s films are characterised by their unabashed celebration of wealth, beautiful people, attractive foreign locations, chart-topping songs, haute couture and occasional subversive digs at conservative values. With the video, the act of buying a movie ticket for Ae Di Hai Mushkil has become an expression of subversion and protest, like defying the diktats of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad to watch a documentary about Kashmir, Muzaffarnagar or Dalit killings.

The video provides an apt mirror to the Hindi film industry, whose celebrated secular fabric has been revealed to have gaping holes. There are many filmmakers, actors, singers and technicians in the film trade who suck up to power rather than stand up to it. There are others who rail against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led regime (but mostly on Twitter and Facebook). And there are still others like Johar who seek a live-and-let-live middle path.

All these filmmakers want to do is make movies and money, be featured on magazine covers, grace red carpets, and be the object of public adoration. But the increasingly divisive political atmosphere in the country makes distance from and indifference to social and political debates impossible. For Johar to sit in front of a camera and beg for tolerance and understanding is a new low. Some commentators might dismiss his effort as a craven compromise, made in the service of commerce. Others will regard the video with the same sadness they feel when they watch agitations by Muslim beef traders and striking students at the Film and Television Institute of India, whose acts of protest, major and minor, strengthen the spine of Indian democracy.

Journalists are already drawing up their lists of the most noteworthy films of 2016. This year, the candidates need to include Pahlaj Nihalani’s tacky thank-you notes to Narendra Modi and liberal-bashing videos by ultranationalists. To that ever-expanding roll of dishonor, let us add “Karan Johar breaks silence, speaks up on the Ae Dil Hai Mushkil controversy.” Save it on your desktop, for it is of this moment as well as a sign of things to come.

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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.