• Bollywood Values Should Reflect the Triumph of Good over Evil

    People of India for Peace, Justice and Humanity

    January 11, 2018


    Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

    On the 14th of January 2018 a person who is the Prime Minister of Israel is actually not visiting India, rather a salesman is coming to sell the idea of oppression, injustice and inhumanity to the people of India. He is coming to sell the "idea" of Israel with a marketing strategy. A successful marketing campaign deepens the idea’s validity. The state can rely on its military, economic and political power but it’s the idea that actually requires consolidation through art, literature and culture. This campaign is not new to the world and was officially kicked off in Tel Aviv in 2005 through the Israel Foreign Ministry’s first ever "Brand Israel Conference". The then Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni appointed Ido Aharoni to head this campaign of brand management for which an additional budget of four million was allotted to the existing three million dollars budgeted for hasbara (propaganda).

    One should see Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India and specifically to Mumbai as an extension of the same brand management. At a time when most parts of the world are acknowledging the atrocities committed by the state of Israel as a colonial power occupying Palestinian homeland, and are observing a cultural, academic boycott of Israel, it is evident that Israel is looking at Indian artists and businessmen for seeking legitimacy. It is an irony that an occupier is turning towards a country which has itself lived through 200 years of British colonialism.

    Roger Waters, former Pink Floyd front artist once said that artists’ boycott of Israel is not about silencing artists but is about justice and human rights. The case for cultural boycott is simple as explained by the British musician Brian Eno who says that Israel has steadily exploited the idea of cultural exchange as a form of propaganda for its image makeover in order to camouflage its oppressive colonial character  (http://www.jpost.com/BDS-THREAT/Roger-Waters-Artists-boycott-of-Israel-is-about-human-rights-514818).

    Israel in 2016 entered Hollywood to lure its artists and failed miserably. The twenty-six Oscar nominees including Kate Winslet, Leonardo Di Caprio, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey and Sylvester Stallone who were offered free tour packages worth tens of thousands of dollars in return for their endorsement of Israel as a brand rejected the proposal except Jennifer Lawrence. Even she did not avail of the tour package and instead sent her mother. This was a clear stand on the part of these famous celebrities that their names cannot be used to whitewash the Israeli crimes. We must also remember that in no way is this a radical position fuelled by emotional outburst but goes perfectly well with the international laws and UN conventions which have time and again labelled Israel as an illegal occupier and also condemned its actions.

    It is being speculated that Netanyahu will meet many Bollywood artists and producers, directors during his visit to Mumbai to draw them to Israel in the garb of cultural exchange. This might come in the form of various incentives like subsidies, tax relaxations for Bollywood if they choose to shoot their movies in Israel or even simply visit the country. All these tactics are a hoodwink for its exercise in glossing up its global image and Bollywood will finally become a tool for image projection of Israel where celebrities are used as props.

    Film industries including Bollywood is a creative institution. Creativity and art has always stood firmly with justice, peace and humanity. The creative industry of Bollywood has displayed values reflecting the triumph of good over evil. The artists are mortal beings but their art and creations are there to stay forever and especially so in the case of cinema. In the future, coming generations will watch the cinema of today and when there will be questions regarding the political stand of artists, then the conscious decisions taken today will establish the values, principles and ethics of Bollywood forever.

    There are over 100 artists who have announced a cultural boycott of Israel and if Bollywood decides to stand on the part of justice today, then it will be an act of continuing the legacy of their counterparts in Hollywood (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/13/cultural-boycott-israel-starts-tomorrow). Three times Oscar winner actor Daniel Day-Lewis said, “Israel is a state of apartheid. It has taken less than a week for me to lose impartiality” after his visit to Gaza and expressed his solidarity with the Palestinian people (https://razanghazzawi.org/2009/01/06/daniel-day-lewis-on-gaza/). Similarly, Meg Ryan refused to attend Jerusalem’s 2010 film festival and the most recent is the singer Lorde’s decision to cancel her performance in Tel Aviv in late 2017. These acts should not be seen as betrayal of art or the silencing of it but should rather be understood as principled positions of artists listening to the voices of their conscience. The writer Kareem Estefan sees these acts of boycott as not ends, but beginnings in generating challenges and productive discussions rather than shutting down dialogue.

    A significant phenomenon was recently experienced when the unilateral decision of the US President to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was overwhelmingly rejected by a huge majority of the member nations of the UN in their act of standing with Palestine and with international laws and UN conventions (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/21/united-nations-un-vote-donald-trump-jerusalem-israel). In this context when the Prime Minister of Israel is visiting India, now, it is India’s turn to stand firmly with justice, peace and the Palestinian cause. There is a huge fan following of Bollywood in the Arab world and certainly in Palestine. Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Madhuri Dixit and Shah Rukh Khan are household names cherished in Palestine. For them Bollywood with all its movies and music appears as a window of joy and celebration amidst the everyday brutalities of the Israeli occupation. It is time for Bollywood to decide whether to expand this window or to shut it down.


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