(Saswat Pattanayak picked from Social Media)
First published on December 27, 2017
When Nawazuddin Siddiqui valorizes Bal Thackeray or Deepika Padukone glamorizes Padmavati, it’s not just about actors showcasing their talents. Its a new trend to normalize Islamophobia where Hindu royals and Hindu hooligans are portrayed as heroic, with active promotion by the most sought after actors who are otherwise known for their liberalism, secularism, and immense talents.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui of course takes cues from the Padmavati controversy by first acquiring permission and blessings of the Shiv Sena (the goons whose past deeds must have inspired Karni Sena at the first place). Kneeling while being asked to bend, Siddiqui then goes on to reassure the Sainiks with a cringeworthy statement, “I know it’s a big responsibility, but I will not disappoint you. It’s an honor and pride to portray the Real King of the Country on the screen…”
In case he fails to disappoint with his religion (which last checked was not Islam, but “100% Human” per some PR stunt, perhaps to woo the Shivaji bhakts), what about his language? For that too, he has the Sena on his side with the following – “For everyone who is wondering how I’ll speak Marathi or if I will get the diction right, I want to tell them that Balasaheb Thackeray will give me the inspiration and his blessing.” And if that were not eeeeks enough…and, what if the Sena forgives him and Bollywood hesitates…,he invokes the First Man of the industry, Amitabh Bachchan, who himself has been a lackey to Thackeray’s philosophy for decades anyway. “Any actor would want to play him because of the legacy he left behind,” says Siddiqui with a fan-boyish conviction that is just plain terrifying. He adds, glorifying Thackeray on-screen would be the “Ultimate Dream of an Actor” and that in doing so he is “the most fortunate in the whole world”.
However, none of this should have come as a surprise to that tiny segment of media that professes shock. When Nawazuddin Siddiqui was being hailed by the liberal press for pointing out racism in the industry, he was already engaged with the contrary (his tweet “Thank you for making me realise that I cannot be paired along with the fair and handsome because I’m dark and not good looking” was in fact making equivalences that are problematic in the way they were furthering stereotypes while purporting to do just the opposite). On Kapil Sharma shows, he has said more than once how he “now wants to be paired with romantic heroines…because…soft soft sa lagta hai”. Laughing off at the “rewards” of kissing the heroine as a “shameless romeo” for one movie, he offers his film’s actress to Sharma in these very words, “take my heroine and she will seal your lips too.”
When Kapil asks Nawaz if he ever thought he would get a white heroine like Amy Jackson, Nawaz instead of taking exception to such a racist question, goes on to thank his producer and to the god, because he got a “heroine who is a foreigner”…
This is the same man who sensationalized his commercial memoir by dropping names of women he used to “go to for (his) needs” and later threatened to sue them if they opposed the circulation of those narratives.
Colorism, racism, sexism…and now the on-screen and off-screen admirer of the communal goon who called hindu terrorists the sons of the soil. All these traits go together, unsurprisingly.
But even sadder is the biting reality of Nawazuddin being still a pawn in the game. It’s the larger-than-life imageries of Thackeray that continues to engulf the imaginations of Bollywood bigwigs, which makes him in the words of Siddiqui, a “King of the Country”. And just like we can’t resist worshipping Rani Padmavati and Chhatrapati Shivaji, so also we can’t wait to endorse our superstars and celebrate yet another Royal addition to our emboldened feudal landscape, come 2018, in the form of King Thackeray.