Pathaan Soars High as Islamophobes' Hate Campaigns Hit Rock Bottom
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Throngs of fans, critics, and, cinema lovers filled to the brim the massive PJP Cinepolis at the V3S mall in Delhi’s Laxmi Nagar on January 25. “We do not remember the last time we had seen such a huge crowd. All our screens today are reserved for Pathaan,” said a staff member at the mall. With the very first glimpse of Shah Rukh Khan on the screen, the hooting and cheering for the star began. It continued all the way to the end where a small surprise cameo from the Shah Rukh-Salman appeared with the message: “We cannot leave the industry as of now…”
Pathaan has been doing well across the country and abroad; it has ended up breaking records at the Box Office on its opening day itself. However, before the film could be released, much controversy was peddled over it by several right-wing groups in the country.
In this film, Shah Rukh plays the role of an Indian spy agent. The movie, in several instances, talks about patriotism and ends with the words ‘Jai Hind’. But before people could even watch the film, there were attempts full of hatred to stop the release – rooted in the islamophobia directed at the legendary star. From boycotting a song to boycotting Bollywood and Shah Rukh Khan, no hashtags of hate were spared.
The story of hate began with a ‘colour card’. This was directly targeting the first song released for the film ‘Besharam Rang’ where Deepika Padukone was seen wearing an orange bikini. No sooner was the song released, than objections were raised about the colour of the bikini she wore. While some had problems pertaining to nudity, others circulated the poster where Padukone could be seen wearing an orange bikini saying that this was an attempt by the makers to malign the saffron colour, considered holy by the Hindutvawadis.
People from verified accounts with blue badges took to social media platforms, especially Twitter, where they targeted Padukone and asked for a complete boycott of the film. Among them, one to target the song indirectly was Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri, maker of The Kashmir Files. He tweeted, “First Instagram reels used to look like bad copies of Bollywood songs. Now Bollywood songs look like bad copies of Instagram reels.”
Not just the people from the same fraternity but politicians also took a dig at the song and the film. One to lead them was none other than the Home Minister of Madhya Pradesh Narottam Mishra. Mishra called out the lead actress Deepika Padukone for wearing an orange bikini, which, according to him, is disrespectful to the saffron colour. The minister also expressed his displeasure with the inappropriate scenes and too much nudity in the song and hinted at banning the film in MP if the scenes were not replaced.
There were also instances where in certain parts of the country, effigies of Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone were burnt. This was around the same time the actors were promoting the film. Interestingly, the pre-release promotions coincided with the FIFA World Cup where the final was played in UAE between France and Argentina. And to present the victory cup, an Indian ambassador was chosen. This person was none other than Deepika Padukone herself. The actor became the first Indian to unveil the cup. She paid no heed to the targeted witch-hunt and continued to make the country proud.
Numerous attempts did not stop the makers of the film from including the scene where Deepika was wearing the orange dress. It was just another part of the movie, and when in the theatre people from across religions sat together in Laxmi Nagar, no one made any noise about the colour controversy.
While Shah Rukh Khan did not respond to any of the hate comments about the film, he did make a statement at the International Film Festival organised in Kolkata. He said, “Social media is often driven by a certain narrowness of view that limits human nature to its baser self. I read somewhere that negativity increases social media consumption. Such pursuits enclose the collective narrative making it divisive and destructive. No matter what the world does, people like us will stay positive.”
And he did indeed. He continued to spread love via the very popular #AskSRK he does on Twitter. The idea is to interact with the people and answer their questions or have a fun chat. Sometimes for five, and some for 15 minutes. Post the release of the song, and before the film release, Khan did at least five #AskSRK sessions where the message was clear – all he wanted to do was spread love.
Battling all the hate narratives, the movie reached its next stage, the release of the trailer. The spewing of the venom did not stop here either, but the number of views kept growing. Before the release of the film, different right-wing outfits started to persuade the crowds to not book tickets for the film that was supposed to be hitting theatres on January 25, 2022.
On the release day, reporters of Sudarshan News, owned by Suresh Chavanke, reached theatres in Connaught Place, Janakpuri, and other hotspots in the National Capital. On the same afternoon, videos from outside these theatres were posted on Twitter where the reporter was seen saying that no tickets were being sold at those theatres. As clever as the reporter at Connaught Place was for concealing what was left outside the camera’s frame, people around the cinema hall recorded another video at the same place. They busted this false narrative and narrated how they are struggling to buy tickets as most of the shows were sold out. They even urged the channel to refrain from spreading ‘fake news’.
There were other videos from Faridabad and Patna where people were seen holding posters and asking for a ban on the film and shouting slogans like “Shah Rukh Khan murdabad” and “Pathaan film band karo (shut down the movie Pathaan)”. In Faridabad, Bajrang Dal members barged into a cinema hall and forcibly shut the movie. This led to a panic in the theatre and sensing a safety threat, viewers rushed out.
In a video, a reporter was seen speaking with a person present near a theatre. The latter claimed to have come to protest in the first place. However, since nobody from his group showed up, he ended up watching the film and accepted that he liked it. Cropped videos of reviews from the films Zero and Bramhastra were also circulated with comments suggesting that the SRK movie was not being received well by the people. However, fact-checkers found the original videos and published them in no time.
Even two-three days later, the “#FlopHuyiPathaan” [Pathaan has flopped] was trending in the entertainment section on Twitter with around 90k tweets. But that was countered with several netizens calling the hatemongers out and tweeting in favour of the superstar and his comeback. Others criticised the film, but nonetheless condemned the hate that was being spread. The owner of Sudarshan News continues to spew hate against the film even now, claiming that the film has flopped – even as it has broken records at the Box Office, earning more than Rs 200 crore in India and abroad.
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