Bollywood threat to quit Mumbai over violent attacks

Film industry officials are furious about attacks on actors and crews carried out by an offshoot of a right-wing, anti-Muslim party

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 August, 2012, 4:35am

Bollywood and Mumbai are as intertwined as tree roots, each inconceivable without the other. The label which denotes the Indian film industry was coined by combining Mumbai city's earlier name, Bombay, and Hollywood.

But some film industry professionals are now saying if local politicians keep assaulting actors and film crews and attacking cinema halls, the industry may move out of the city.

The threat to abandon Mumbai if the government fails to protect members of the industry came from Ramesh Sippy, head of the Film and Television Producers Guild and a film director, who warned Maharashtra state's chief minister, Prithviraj Chauhan, that if violence by local political groups did not stop, the industry may look for a safer city.

"It's going from bad to worse. It's no fun if you are always looking over your shoulder wondering when the next attack will be. I don't want people's bones broken or their lives endangered," Sippy said.

The threat to abandon Mumbai came after a series of attacks and intimidation by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a parochial offshoot of the right wing Shiv Sena party. Their son of the soil and anti-Muslim agitations have often ended with assaults on film sets and film crews.

On July 30, MNS supporters vandalised cars parked near Sippy's film set and smashed the van of actor John Abraham.

MSN leaders also routinely use the threat of violence to coerce multiplex owners into withdrawing films they do not like. If an actor makes a remark they disagree with, they burn his effigy.

Last week they demanded multiplex owners continue showing a local Marathi language film during prime time even though its run was over. Many owners bowed to the pressure.

Last February, the Shiv Sena warned the industry against hiring Pakistani actors, dancers or singers, saying it would "teach a lesson" to anyone who did so. And in 2010, MNS gangs burnt an effigy of superstar Shah Rukh Khan when he questioned why Pakistani players were not being allowed to play in the Indian Premier League cricket tournament and for his anti-MNS remark that "Mumbai was for all Indians".

"The violence and intimidation has been getting worse because the government doesn't send out a clear unequivocal message that it won't tolerate it. It keeps sweeping things under the carpet," said Komal Nahta, editor of Film Information magazine.

Throughout its 100-year history, the Mumbai film industry had been free of sectarian and political divisions, Nahta said. "It's always been secular and non-sectarian. Now these groups are politicising everything."

The film industry churns out 1,000 films a year, employs some 2.5 million people and is worth US$2 billion. The Maharashtra government would be unwilling to let it move out of Mumbai, if only because of the revenue.

Top Bollywood figures are planning to meet chief minister Chauhan to demand better police protection and more stringent action against the culprits.

Neighbouring state Gujarat has already offered itself as a new location. "Perish the thought," said New Delhi film fan Anisa Sharma. "That would be like Hollywood moving to Buffalo."