India; Why the Election Commission should act on political films releasing near Lok Sabha Elections 2019

At the very least, can EC put a cap on films about political figures contesting in this election?

28-03-2019

Nairita Mukherjee

NAIRITA MUKHERJEE @notthatnairita

For laypersons — like yours truly — the Election Commission (EC) is like that babysitter that’s brought in when the parents want some quiet time for themselves, and the kids are instructed to listen to every word they say.

Here, when the sitter says, ‘Stop playing’, the kids are supposed to ‘Stop rallying’. When the sitter says ‘Go to bed’, the kids are supposed to ‘Let Bharat ki janta think about who they want to vote for.’

In the above parallel, if EC = babysitter, kids = numerous political parties of India — and parents = we, the people of India.

And, as most of us know, kids rule the house (politicians too. A different kind of house), not parents — and certainly not the babysitter.

Now, as per the code of conduct levied by the EC, in the run-up to polls, political parties cannot do what they usually do — so, no ‘Chowkidaar chor hai’ or ‘Pappu’ or ‘Gobbor’ for your entertainment, sorry. And they certainly cannot offer sops to lure the public into voting for them — free grain for everyone, or, if they’re particularly merry types, free booze.

Campaigns — in print or on air — using desh ka paisa are also not allowed.

But in all this, the one thing that the EC seems to be totally overlooking is cinema — as a means to propagate political agendas.

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Why shouldn’t EC have a say on films in election season too? (Source: Twitter. Artwork: DailyO)

Here are a few facts: 

The Vivek Oberoi starrer PM Narendra Modi, a film based on the life of our current Prime Minister, is slated to release on April 5, 2019.

My Name Is RaGa, a biopic of sorts based on Congress president, Rahul Gandhi is releasing in April 2019 as well.

A Bangla-language biopic — Baghini (Tigress) — on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was also just announced — and its first look revealed.

The Tashkent Files, a political espionage film, based on the unsolved mystery around the death of late PM Lal Bahadur Shastri, is releasing on April 12, 2019.

Modi: Journey of a Common Man, a 10-part web series based on the life of Narendra Modi, is also set to release in April, though the final dates are not yet announced.

Even retractors cannot deny that cinema is a powerful medium, and often precariously tilted towards a particular opinion. And that is pretty much the case with any biopic ever made in Bollywood — whitewashing the protagonist to make them look perfect.

Remember Sanju?

But I am not going to cry foul here, and assume none of these films are made with the intention of portraying the protagonist in a good light (or a deliberate bad light, like Rahul in RaGa).

Yet, it influences the minds of the audience, perhaps unfairly.

Shouldn’t this come under the jurisdiction of the EC? Shouldn’t the EC call for a ban of all such film — especially the ones based on political leaders contesting in the Lok Sabha 2019 elections?

It is like the babysitter sent the kids to bed — but is letting them play video games on their tablets from under the blanket!

Vivek Agnihotri (director, The Tashkent Files) thinks if the EC intervenes in this, it will be the “murder of democracy” — but I’d say how wrong he is! There is a reason why the EC’s code of conduct puts a cap on political campaigns so close to the elections. That is democratic. If today parties have found a workaround, the EC should update its rules too to take into account this kind of guerilla campaigning. 

And if you think the politics of cinema and the cinema of politics aren’t interchangeable, remember how a dialogue from Uri: The Surgical Strike, “How’s the josh?” flew off the screen and onto a rally stage? 

The article appeared in the Daily O on 28 March 2019

dailyo@southasiajournal.net'
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