Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s forays into Maharashtra takes one back to the days of former Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and his being bedazzled with Bollywood.
At that point in time, Yadav’s comrade in arms, Amar Singh, introduced him to well-known names including Amitabh Bachchan. That Singh and Bachchan fell through later is common knowledge but way back in the nineties their friendship was a tale fit for story books: as was their rift.
Singh cried betrayal while the politically correct Bachchan said nothing. But then that is Bachchan’s style: to remain out of controversy and stay silent when he, as the face of Bollywood and a senior artiste, should be the first to speak up.
When Yadavs, Mulayam Singh and his son Akhilesh, ruled Uttar Pradesh, the state had its fair share of glamour. Prominent names from the film industry descended on Yadav’s native village, Saifai, for its annual festival, with Amar Singh as the organizer in chief. Singh was also instrumental in wooing industrialists and film stars to invest in Uttar Pradesh.
Yogi may not have a wheeler dealer by his side; or a Bollywood connect like Singh’s but he appears determined to get Bollywood to Uttar Pradesh. Taking a cue from his master in Delhi, Yogi wants to tap the film industry and sell Uttar Pradesh as a perfect film destination to Bollywood.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it may be recalled, is kind of star struck. Apart from flying kites with actor Salman Khan or talking about how he likes his mangoes in an hour-long interview with Akshay Kumar or liberally using Amitabh Bachchan for promoting government run schemes, Modi made it a point to attend wedding receptions of actor Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas and cricketer Virat Kohli and actor Anushka Sharma.
Last year, Modi invited a bunch from Bollywood to his official residence to discuss how Mahatma Gandhi’s hundred- fiftieth birth anniversary can be best celebrated: something even a junior minister could have done.
Unlike Modi, Yogi may not be a die-hard fan but he sure sensed the potential of getting Mumbai to Uttar Pradesh as it were. Expectedly, he flew to Mumbai and had key meetings with stakeholders both from Bollywood and the corporate world.
Yogi’s predecessor Akhilesh Yadav had covered enough ground, weaving in incentives for the film fraternity to make Uttar Pradesh their favoured destination.
Yogi, ofcourse, did not jump at the idea. If reports are anything to go he was initially reluctant to go that route but eventually he saw sense in building bridges. Whether it was if Modi can why can’t I syndrome or the state bureaucracy prevailing on him is difficult to say.
Irrespective, Yogi pulled out all the stops to make things work. He had already unveiled the proposal to develop a film city. Spread over a 1000 acres, the film city, which will come up in Noida, will flank India’s capital New Delhi. It will comprise the state-of-the-art technology, pre and post production facilities, processing labs, digital technology all under one roof.
The proposal is to divide the city into five zones complete with office and shopping complexes, budget and luxury hotels, outdoor locations for shootings, sets of villages, amusement parks and special effect studios. The last would focus on state-of-the-art facilities, green and blue screen halls and underwater stages to facilitate water filming.
The idea: make every aspect of shooting possible under one roof to cut out the local- hunt through travelling.
The game plan: Match, rather outshine, Mumbai, fill in its gaps and liberally add what it does not offer.
In other words, sell Uttar Pradesh and pull the rug under Maharashtra’s feet.
Expectedly there are conflicting views: those who met Yogi obviously welcomed the move; others were dispassionate.
Actor turned politician Shatrughan Sinha said it is “easier said than done”. He saw little logic in people leaving Mumbai for Uttar Pradesh: “It is a long haul…a dream that may remain a dream. Rome was not built in a day” Sinha said while adding that the state should set its own house in order before venturing into anything new. In this context, he said that the existing Noida film city was a non- starter.
The first film city in the state wherein a 100-acre area was earmarked has been reduced to housing offices and studios of TV news channels. It is not a patch of what was conceived.
This may not be music to Yogi’s ears who is clearly on an overdrive, injecting sufficient doses of religion to what is now being dubbed as a dream project.
In his pitch Yogi said that Uttar Pradesh is the where Ram and Krishna were born. He also said that the film city is proposed in the “Hastinapur region of Bharat, after whom the country is also referred to as Bharat”, not to forget his mentioning various religious sites in the state including Mathura. Pitching the film city as an “ideal case”, he said that world class facilities that would be on offer would attract film makers and producers to make a bee-line for Uttar Pradesh.
Whether that would happen, however, remains to be seen. But Yogi made the right noises and right moves: he met several producers and actors to tap the investment potential in the new project. That Akshay Kumar did not think it important to wear a mask and Yogi chose not to notice is another matter.
But then Bollywood is a law unto itself. The demi gods of the screen do as they please and the law enforcing agencies seem somewhat subservient.
A case in point is the recent hullaballoo over the free flow of drugs in the infamous Bollywood parties with big names like Karan Johar, Deepika Padukone thrown up.
In what promised to be an explosive revelation has perhaps fizzled out. While Padukone was questioned, Johar was not even called for one round.
Karan Johar and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s son Aaditya’s friendship is well known. Actor Kangana Ranaut has alleged that Johar was kept out of the investigations because he is Aaditya Thackery’s “best friend”.
A case that grabbed eyeballs 24×7 seems to have suddenly lost potency. The investigative agencies need to explain their silence as also what is happening to the involvement of big names in Bollywood and their drug dealings? What is the pace of investigations? Or is it yet another case of dirty secrets being buried at the behest of the mighty, influential and powerful? It has happened in the past so there would be no surprises if History repeats itself: yet again.
Sadly, politicians seem oblivious. If anything, there is a tug of war between two state governments, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, for the prize catch: in this case Bollywood. Maharashtra’s ministers are crying foul and alleging a conspiracy to “shift Bollywood” or “forcibly take business away from the state”. Yogi meanwhile said it is “open competition”.
True, it is the jingle of money luring state governments and with good reason too. Uttar Pradesh is cash strapped and Maharashtra has its share of problems. But the moot question remains: Is Bollywood the golden goose that irrespective of its anomalies needs to be wooed? Golden goose it certainly is but how far can we go in brushing the rot under the carpet is the question. This is not in any way to damn the entire industry or paint it with one brush but there certainly is a case for separating the wheat from the chaff and expose the underbelly of Bollywood.