The Bollywood industry has long been accused by its naysayers for being a platform that only pushes a specific type of agenda, according to the whims of the rich and influential. Now a netizen named Vijay Patel has posted a nuanced thread dissecting how Bollywood through its movies and big production houses uses subtle messaging to play with and alter the psyche of the viewers.
Sharing documents of Office of Strategic Services (USA intelligence agency before CIA), the Twitter user showed how the USA had much before started using motion pictures as a form of a propaganda channel.
“The motion picture is one of the most powerful propaganda weapons at the disposal of the United States and can serve many diversified functions,” reads the document whilst further adding, “Motion pictures are an unparalleled instructional medium- they can present new facts concerning important problems on which people are ignorant and on which they ought to be informed; they can clarify complicated problems of which people are confused.”
According to WikiLeaks, in 2007 Two USA officials EUR Senior Advisor Farah Pandith and S/P Member Jared Cohen met with some people in the UK for future plans to work with Bollywood for their agenda. They wanted to make movies where they want to show Muslims in good light.
Pandith was in 2009 appointed by the Obama administration as the special representative to Muslim communities for the US department of state. The two officials visited Muslim areas in Leicester and other areas of Britain, and held wide-ranging discussions, including on involving Bollywood to promote the message of anti-extremism.
According to a US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks, “Bollywood actors and executives agreed to work with the USG to promote anti-extremist messages through third party actors and were excited about the idea of possibly partnering with Hollywood as well,”
In that meeting, one Humeira Akhter was present. She has strong links with the top echelons of Bollywood and she also remarked that some of the ‘stars’ were already interested to work with them.
No sooner than the leaks, Karan Johar’s Dharma Production in 2009 released a film named ‘Kurbaan’ starring Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan on a discussed subject by USA officials. While the movie was a big dud at the box office, its messaging was obvious and looked to tone down the views of the general public against the extremists. It is pertinent to note that the distribution of the movie at the time was with UTV. The Indian company is now a subsidiary of Hollywood goliath Disney.
A year later, Karan Johar churned out another movie on similar lines named ‘My Name is Khan’. However, this time around, Johar used a more established face that could drive the public to the theatres. Shahrukh Khan reprised the role of protagonist in the movie and the movie was a huge hit. It was the first movie for Fox Star Studios in India and they bought distribution rights for the movie at a mind-boggling price of 1 billion INR, in 2010, the highest at the time.
While the movie managed to do big business, it is important that the timeline to the lead up of the movie be chalked out. According to Vijay, in 2009 when Shahrukh was supposedly detained for two hours at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. He was travelling to the US at the time to publicise ‘My Name Is Khan,’ ironically about the racial profiling of Muslims.
Despite working for a US agency, Shahrukh was allegedly subjected to discrimination but with no real proof of the chain of events, Vijay terms it an elaborate PR exercise that was used to gain sympathy from the gullible audience.
Vijay says there are many such movies that Bollywood has churned over the years that pander to certain ideologies and ideas. Their sole aim is to create a favourable narrative while playing down the others.