Firstpost was the first to report how the impending box office clash between Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Shivaay (both films are slotted for an October 28, Diwali release) had already taken ugly overtones on social media.
Anti-ADHM phrases were trending on Twitter ever since the film’s teaser was released on 30 August.
While at least two of those trends — ‘Jaa Shivaay Kar De Vinaash’ and ‘Ae Dil Hai Bombay Velvet’ — took a more sporting aim at Karan Johar’s film, a third, which trended all through Wednesday, 31 August, were a direct attack on Johar and Dharma Productions.
This trend ‘Dirty Game By Karan Johar’ claimed that the filmmaker had paid influencers on Twitter to tweet positively about ADHM.
Some users attached screenshots purportedly from Dharma, that gave suggestions on how tweets could be sent out.
When Firstpost took a closer look at some of these tweets/screenshots however, it seemed to indicate that the influencers were being paid to tweet against ADHM — not in favour of it (take a look at the fragment of the 'sample tweet' included in the screenshot below).
While, in the absence of any statements from Ajay Devgn and Karan Johar or Dharma Productions, or a thorough investigation, a conclusion would be difficult to draw, Firstpost had stated that the battle for box office supremacy between the two films was about to get a whole lot uglier.
On Thursday evening, Devgn issued an official statement on his Twitter account. In it he alleges that self-styled critic Kamaal R Khan (the creative force behind such cinematic gems as Desh Drohi, who was last locked in a legal case with filmmaker Vikram Bhatt, who sued him for defamation) was paid — presumably by Dharma — to make negative comments about Shivaay on social media while promoting ADHM. KRK enjoys a sizeable following on both Twitter and Facebook.
Hear what self proclaimed no. 1 critic and trade analyst Kamaal R Khan has to say. https://t.co/wRc7moSlsZ
— Ajay Devgn (@ajaydevgn) September 1, 2016
Devgn shared an audio clip of a conversation between his business associate Kumar Mangat and KRK, in which the latter ‘confesses’ (when asked by Mangat why he has been tweeting criticisms about Shivaay) that he was ‘paid to do so by Dharma, as reported by Indian Express.
Devgn — not known to be a terribly loquacious man at most times — then issued a lengthy (for him) statement on his official Twitter account. In it, he spoke of his long association with the industry, starting from the times of his father’s work as an action director, and how people like KRK shouldn't be allowed to hold the film industry hostage.
At the very end of the statement, however, Devgn has also asked for an investigation into whether or not Karan Johar was involved in this matter. Here's an excerpt, as provided by IE:
It pains me to see that people like Kamaal R Khan are holding the film industry to ransom by spreading negativity about films to extort money from producers. It is very sad that people from our own industry are supporting such elements and spoiling the ethos of the film industry. I would strongly demand that this be thoroughly investigated by competent authorities to clarify if Karan Johar was indeed involved in this.
The statement speaks to Devgn’s anger — while he has repeatedly said that he was losing no sleep over the competition from ADHM, Shivaay is a terribly important film to him. It is one he has directed himself, after several delays and location issues and as he has mentioned before, when he announced its release date, no one else had ‘staked a claim’ to the coveted Diwali spot.
There's also the fact that the last time Devgn’s film clashed with another — we're talking about the Son of Sardar and Jab Tak Hai Jaan collision — his side didn't come off too well. The Shivaay-ADHM clash isn't the only one he's facing; there seems to be a trend of sorts where Devgn’s films have found themselves in direct competition with Dharma’s.
The situation is compounded by the relationships between the parties involved. Devgn has never been part of the Johar ‘camp’ (as allies in Bollywood are referred to). However, his wife Kajol has been a Dharma/Johar leading lady several times, and has had some of her biggest hits with them.
The thing about the film industry is, its denizens don't usually speak out against each other. If the mafia had its ‘omerta’ then there's a similar. if diplomatic, principle that rules Bollywood. The last time someone publicly issued a statement against another — we're talking of Vivek Oberoi’s press conference about facing harassment from Salman Khan, the former’s once promising career took an abrupt about-turn.
So if Devgn has issued a statement in the public domain that includes Karan Johar’s name, there are a number of inferences to be drawn. None of the reports on the contretemps that were published as of Thursday night had Johar’s response to the allegations.
As the controversy now threatens to shake up Bollywood and its equations, the ball is now in Johar’s court to give it a (hopefully dignified) end.