"By dubbing such movies in Marathi you are creating competition for local films, which are already facing problems. A Maharashtrian, as it is, follows Hindi. If he wants to see the film, he can watch it in Hindi."
So said Ameya Khopkar, president of the Maharashtra Navnirman Chitrapat Karmachari Sena (MNCKS) in reference to the upcoming MS Dhoni biopic (MS Dhoni: The Untold Story) that is to be dubbed in Marathi. MNCKS is the film wing of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
Khopkar’s statements are indicative of a broader truth (and no, I’m not going to resort to clichés like ‘the blind leading the blind’ to which, as I write these words, some loud and obnoxious talking head on a TV channel is resorting, in the context of something entirely irrelevant). And that truth is that the MNS hasn’t a clue about what it is doing anymore. Not a damn clue.
No, this isn’t a sanghi thing, it’s not a congi thing, it’s not a leftist thing, it’s not a bhakt thing, it’s not a manoos thing... it’s just a thing. A very real thing.
Aside from being established by Raj Thackeray — who embodies the spirit of his uncle Bal Thackeray far more than Uddhav does — to split the Shiv Sena vote bank, the MNS was ostensibly built on the planks of 'Sons of the Soil' and the primacy of the Marathi language. And now, the party seems to have lost its way. In fact, to say the party symbolised by a train engine has ‘lost its way’ is to be extremely gentle, not to mention disingenuous. That this train engine has run off the tracks, through a forest, across a highway, into a hill, then rolled into a river and now is floating into the wide expanse of the Arabian Sea is probably more apt. Here’s why:
In 2008 — two years after the party’s inception as a secular party, and one that would fight for your right to celebrate Valentine’s Day — came the party’s drive to give Biharis and North Indians what-for. As the months rolled on, the MNS was incredibly busy. If the party’s goons extremely respectable recruits weren’t railing against Chhath Puja or battling the (cough) noble battle against non-Marathi autorickshaw and taxi drivers, they were out trying to get shops, commercial establishments and housing societies to put up Marathi signboards.
And when gentle persuasion didn’t work, these fine recruits took matters into their own hands — a technique to which party supremo Raj Thackeray has oft-alluded as “the MNS way”. Or “style”, I forget which.
All of these are interesting facts, but it’s the issue of Marathi signboards that is most pertinent. As a civic correspondent from 2008 to 2010, I had a courtside view of the MNS’ posturing and fretting when it came to the issue of signboards in Marathi. Presumably, having the names displayed in Hindi was not sufficient — never mind the fact that the scripts are identical — considering the hue and cry the party’s various representatives in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) would raise on this issue.
It was in fact around this time that agendas for BMC committee meetings and press releases from the municipal corporation ceased to be in English and Hindi. They were only issued in Marathi. Not that the MNS had a major role in pushing this aspect of the agenda, because after all, the big (yet estranged) brother Shiv Sena was still pulling all the major strings.
But, the cumulative statement from the MNS appeared to be: Mumbai (maybe even Maharashtra, but I didn’t bother checking the then-fledgling party’s reach beyond the state capital) is for Marathi-speakers and no one else.
In September 2008, Thackeray took exception to a speech delivered by Jaya Bachchan in Hindi at a promotional event for the film Drona — that’s right, a Hindi film — and said, “If (she) wants to speak in Hindi, she better shift to Uttar Pradesh. In Maharashtra, she must learn Marathi. She should also learn to respect the sentiments of Maharashtra.”
Running through the full set-list of the MNS’ antics will take far too long, so let’s just skip through and tick off the main points.
- Demanding that only Marathi-speaking autorickshaw drivers receive licences? Check
- Raising the Marathi nameplates issue again and again? Check
- Slapping around Abu Azmi for his inability to take oath in Marathi? Check
- Threatening to ban films whose makers refuse to donate money to farmers in Maharashtra? Check, although this one is neither here nor there.
But the bottomline with the MNS has always been this sense of Marathi asmita and the demand that everyone speak Marathi, or else they have no business to be in the state.
So how does that gel with Khopkar’s remarks that Maharashtrians are able to follow Hindi?
Well, from a logical point of view, it’s not something new to us. In fact, I’d venture as far as to say a not inconsiderable chunk of the Rs 100 crore that all of Salman Khan’s films seem to rack up these days come from a Maharashtrian audience. And unless I’m woefully mistaken, Salman has yet to act in a Marathi film (although there are some reports that he will have a cameo in Riteish Deshmukh's next) or one dubbed in Marathi.
From the MNS point of view, however, Khopkar’s remark is a massive hammer blow to an already brittle leg of that body that is the party’s agenda. By expressly stating that if they (Maharashtrians) wish to watch the Dhoni biopic, they can do so in Hindi, Khopkar has laid waste to the previous arguments spouted by the party that basically seemed to scream that people in this state only speak Marathi.
Oh yes, and Khopkar also added that “(if) they do not take back this dubbed version we will protest in a democratic way.” (That's the MNS idea of ‘democracy’, in case you were wondering)
The fact is that his party is doomed. This volte face on language would not have been a big deal were it not to have come from a regional party with such few political issues to raise. That this 10-year-old party — that has made the language issue its one and dare-I-say only — is now having doubts about the language part, speaks volumes about its future.
But wait, I hear you say, you’ve only picked up one sentence from what Khopkar’s had to say.
Alright, let’s revisit the rest of it.
Regarding the issue of Dhoni’s film being dubbed, he went on to say, “If one producer releases his film in Marathi, it will pave the way for the others too. That is a scary scenario since regional filmmakers already face a lot of problems in getting screens at multiplexes. Bharatmata Cinema, a single screen theatre in Lalbaug, plays only Marathi films. If they too start screening dubbed films, where will our producers and directors go?”
The renowned Marathi actor-filmmaker Sachin Pilgaonkar has weighed in on this issue. He was quoted last week as saying, “I appreciate the progress (of the Marathi film industry) but at the same time I am worried about the Marathi film industry as well. The number of films is increasing day by day but every film cannot be a Sairat.”
Quite right. Let’s keep listening.
“There are four releases every week and the audience is limited. Non-Maharashtrians went to watch Sairat, but do they go to watch every Marathi film — they don't. When you release three films together then audience is divided,” he continued.
Quite right, once again. I tell you what, this man has gone from strength to strength since the days of Tu Tu Main Main, but that's a digression.
His point is crystal clear. And that’s precisely why the Khans try not to release their films at the same time. Films — except for the occasional, unavoidable clash — are released in their own time-slots so as to give each one of them a chance to get public attention.
Khopkar’s point about the ‘scary scenario’ is therefore flawed for two reasons: It is misguided (see Sachin’s statement and my own further elaboration) and it deeply undermines the Marathi film industry, by suggesting that if the Dhoni film was to be released in Marathi, no one would get to (or would want to) see Marathi films. I think they’ll do just fine with or without competition from Sushant Singh Rajput’s dubbed adventure.
Now you’re going to tell me I don’t deserve to live in Mumbai with that attitude and that I’m just biased against the MNS.
Well, the first point is neither one into which I wish to get, nor is it one that you have the authority to make. As for the second, let’s just look at the numbers:
The year 2009 and its Maharashtra Assembly polls saw a sprightly young party pick up 13 Assembly seats — making it the state’s fourth largest party — and by the 2014 polls, that tally was down to one, with many candidates losing their deposits. The party had lost relevance even in the eyes of the people who voted its members into power. And with the Mumbai civic polls right around the corner, the party — or its brains trust, at the very least — feels the need to stay in touch with its core vote bank: The Marathi-speakers that got the party 28 seats in the last BMC election.
But the party has lost its relevance. It's lost its appeal. It's lost its momentary grip on the politics of the state.
To put it another way, by getting all worked up about a film where an erstwhile Bihari (who has never lost his sense of identity) will be depicted speaking in Marathi, the MNS has lost any credibility and identity it may have once had.
The end is nigh.