New Delhi, October 23 (Hindustan Times): The Indian army is not comfortable with being dragged into the politics surrounding the release of Bollywood movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil after the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) demanded that producers of films employing Pakistani artistes should pay Rs 5 crore to an army welfare fund as “penance”.
Several serving and retired officers Hindustan Times spoke to said the army is an “apolitical and secular” organization and attempts should not be made to exploit its name for scoring political brownie points.
Former Northern army commander Lieutenant General BS Jaswal said, “The army doesn’t go around begging for funds. If a film producer wants to donate, he can do it like any other Indian citizen. But it’s unacceptable in such a manner.”
Jaswal added the government should have the last word if the matter is too sensitive.
“Let’s keep the army out of politics. We have stayed that way and would like to stay that way.”
Karan Johar’s movie is finally set for a Diwali release after Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) President Raj Thackeray rolled back his threat to block the film. The climb down came after the assurance that a share of the film’s profits will be donated for the welfare of army personnel.
The MNS also demanded that producers of movies employing Pakistan artistes pay INR 5 crore (US$ 747,221) each, even as the Producers Guild of India promised not to hire Pakistanis any longer.
The MNS began its protests more than three weeks ago after 19 Indian soldiers were killed by Pakistan-based militants in Jammu and Kashmir last month. India blames Pakistan for sheltering these militants and even used diplomatic avenues to isolate the neighbour over the matter.
The MNS’ conditions, which were agreed upon in a meeting between filmmaker Karan Johar, Producers Guild of India president Mukesh Bhatt and Maharshtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Saturday, went viral on social media with people comparing it to extortion.
“Anyone can contribute to the fund but it has to be voluntary. You can’t force people to make donations and the army wouldn’t like to accept such money,” said a senior officer at the army headquarters.
Kargil war hero Brigadier Khushal Thakur (retd) said national sentiments should not be exploited like this.
“If something is wrong, it is wrong. How can a forced donation of Rs 5 crore make it right? But the bottom line is the army’s name should not be misused for political gain,” he said.
Echoing similar views, another officer said films release every Friday and it’s best to resist the temptation of playing politics under the pretext of supporting the army.
“If the producers have been arm-twisted into paying the money, there’s no way the army will accept it,” he said.
The army recently opened an Army Welfare Fund Battle Casualties bank account for families of battle casualties after several organizations and individuals approached the defence ministry with contributions.
In a release issued on October 17, the defense ministry said, “The contribution to the fund is purely voluntary in nature.”
Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil will release on schedule next week after Bollywood producers agreed not to hire Pakistani artistes in future, giving in to Maharashtra’s mercurial politician Raj Thackeray who had threatened to block the film.
The producers also agreed that under-production films featuring Pakistani actors will pay Rs five crore to an army welfare fund as “penance”. This could apply to Shah Rukh Khan-starrers Raees and Dear Zindagi.
The producers also agreed to include a tribute to Indian soldiers at the start of Johar’s film, which stars Pakistani actor Fawad Khan. But the so-called compromise triggered outrage on social media with many describing Thackeray’s monetary condition as “extortion”.
Peace was bought on Saturday morning after a meeting involving Thackeray, Johar and the producers’ guild president Mukesh Bhatt at Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ residence.