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Rewind 2017: Controversies that rocked the film industry

From a filmmaker being slapped on the sets to an actress being molested, 2017 has been a year full of controversies.

Mayur Lookhar

The film industry, never a sedate place at the best of times, saw more than its usual share of controversy in the year that just went by.

From a filmmaker being slapped on the sets to Kangana Ranaut fighting several battles and from the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) chief being sacked to an actress being molested, we saw it all in 2017.

Here is a quick reckoner of the major controversies that rocked the film industry in 2017.

1. The Padmavati row

Controversies have erupted over films in the past and some have even been banned, but it is hard to recollect sets being vandalized, a celebrated director being slapped and a leading actress being threatened with physical violence. Everything seemed to be going as per plan for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati until one fine day a group called the Rajput Karni Sena, claiming to be protectors of Rajput pride, decided to oppose it. The group claimed that the period film has a dream love sequence involving Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) and queen Padmini (Deepika Padukone).

No amount of protestations on the filmmakers' part that no such scene exists in the screenplay cut any ice with the protestors who went on to burn down a set in Jaipur, Rajasthan, where one goon even slapped Bhansali. The ugly scenes were repeated when some people vandalized the sets in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, as well. Bhansali then shot the film with tight security.

Most thought the group was merely seeking cheap publicity, but a few weeks before the film's release, hooligans protested on the streets, threatening Bhansali and the film's cast. One went so far as to offer a reward to anyone who chopped off the nose of lead actress Deepika Padukone. Another threatened to behead her.

All along, Padmavati had the support of the film industry, but the producers blundered by holding a private screening for some TV journalists. This riled the Central Board of Film Certification which did not hide its displeasure and stood on ceremony when the time came to certify the film, forcing the makers to defer its release.

The threat by the fringe group apart, Padmavati got caught in politics, with no party willing to upset the Rajputs in view of the assembly election in Gujarat in December. The film has finally been seen and certified by the CBFC with 26 cuts and a title modification. The buzz is that the filmmakers are targeting a February release. But they still have to get back to the CBFC on whether they agree with its recommendation or will challenge it. And the Karni Sena continues to oppose the film's release. More drama may be in store in the new year.

2. Kangana vs The Industry

Kangana Ranaut is Controversy's favourite child. She did the unthinkable when she took on star Hrithik Roshan, alleging that they had had a secret affair online. The controversy dragged on for close to two years and seemed to be dying a natural death when Ranaut made a sensational allegation against Hrithik Roshan in an interview to TV journalist Rajat Sharma. She did not spare the star's influential father Rakesh Roshan either. Barbs flew from both sides thereafter and it looks like the fight will carry on.

It’s Ranaut's other battle, though, that shook the industry. In February, she made her maiden appearance on Karan Johar’s popular chat show Koffee With Karan. One expected some pointless blabbering, but Ranaut stirred a hornet’s nest when she cheekily accused Johar of being the flagbearer of nepotism. Johar didn’t edit out that portion, but he riled the Queen (2014) actress in turn when, at a discussion at a London college, he said if she wasn’t comfortable, she should quit the film industry.

This led to a war of words with Ranaut dismissing Johar as one who is merely feeding on the legacy of his filmmaker father. She didn't miss any opportunity to attack Johar thereafter, or Hrithik Roshan, in her media interactions.

There was a lull for a couple of months until Johar got under Ranaut's skin at an awards do. What stunned the actress and most observers was that the tasteless ‘nepotism rocks’ joke at the function also involved Varun Dhawan and Ranaut's Rangoon (2017) co-star Saif Ali Khan. Dhawan and Khan apologized later but not Johar.

Kangana Ranaut found great support in the media, however, which went amok asking all and sundry, “What’s your take on nepotism?" 

Ranaut also courted controversy when Simran writer Apurva Asrani accused her of high-handedness and using her clout to throw him out of the film. Asrani did not hesitate to say that she even had director Hansal Mehta playing second fiddle. Ranaut denied the allegations but did give a co-writing credit to Asrani. When the film flopped, Asrani revealed that Ranaut had screwed up the original script.

Thereafter the actress seemed to have cooled off, but in early December she caused eyebrows to be raised again when she refused to sign a petition initiated by veteran actress Shabana Azmi condemning the death threat to Deepika Padukone in connection with the Padmavati row. At first people thought it was Ranaut's rumoured dislike for Padukone at play. But it turned out that it was Azmi who had riled Ranaut. She issued a statement that she backs Padukone but refused to be involved in the 'left-wing versus right-wing' politics whipped up by Azmi and slammed her for having indirectly warned her not to take on the Roshans.

3. The 'sanskar' of Pahlaj Nihalani

Film producer Pahlaj Nihalani's appointment as chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in 2015 was hailed by the industry. Little did it know what lay in store. Nihalani became the prime villain when the CBFC refused to certify Udta Punjab (2016). The film was eventually cleared by the courts, but the industry knew that darker days were ahead. And they arrived when it was the turn of Alankrita Shrivastava's Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017). Objecting to the film’s content was fine, but when the CBFC chairman said he would not certify it as it is a "lady-orientated film", he was bound to rile the fair sex. The courts cleared this film too, and its success proved Nihalani’s line of thinking wrong.

The CBFC courted controversy again when it expressed reservations over Nawazuddin Siddiqui's Babumoshai Bandookbaaz (2017). The board was embarrassed when one committee member allegedly made a sexist remark against producer Kiran Shyam Shroff. The angst against Nihalani was piling up. Something had to give.

It wasn’t Babumoshai Bandookbaaz but the CBFC’s reservations about Madhur Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkar that proved to be the last straw. A former CBFC member told us Nihalani objecting to Indu Sarkar was his undoing. Newly appointed information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani was cheered when she replaced him with lyricist Prasoon Joshi.

Nihalani went but not without throwing a punch or two of his own. He hit out at Irani and revealed that it was not he but the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party that did not want Udta Punjab to be cleared. Nihalani also alleged that the government was not in favour of clearing Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) but he had overruled the diktat.

Nihalani may well be telling the truth but it was too little too late. The filmmaker had not helped his cause with the autocratic manner in which he led the board. He is certain to go down as one of the more controversial chairmen of the CBFC.

4. Sexy Durga's battle

Filmmakers are often left battling the CBFC, but in a rare case, a film cleared by the CBFC with a title change found itself left in the lurch because of the orders of the Union information and broadcasting minister. The CBFC had cleared Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Malayalam film Sexy Durga and changed the title to S Durga, but Smriti Irani's department blocked its screening at the 48th International Film Festival of India in Goa. This after IFFI jury members had chosen the film to be the opening film.

Sanal Kumar approached the Kerala high court and got a favourable order, but the ministry used all the bureaucratic guile it could muster to avoid showing the film at the festival. In a final blow, the CBFC headed by Prasoon Joshi cancelled the film’s certification at the last minute.

Marathi film Nude, which was also taken off by the ministry despite the jury choosing it for the festival, did not put up any fight and continues to struggle to get certification for a theatrical release.

5. An award for Akshay Kumar

As someone who isn’t fond of the National awards, Akshay Kumar found himself in unusual territory when the National awards were announced in April this year and he was named Best Actor for the film Rustom (2016). The choice was surprising, to say the least, for Akshay Kumar was not even nominated for the popular Filmfare awards earlier in the year. The National awards jury was headed by Akshay Kumar's friend and veteran filmmaker Priyadarshan and drew flak for ignoring Aamir Khan's fantastic performance in Dangal (2016) which won most of the popular awards and also received critical acclaim.

Priyadarshan defended the jury but could not gloss over the fact that there were better contenders for the award. The controversial decision to award Akshay Kumar and have a Special Jury mention for Sonam Kapoor in Neerja (2016) caused eyebrows to be raised. There have been some bizarre decisions in the past and this year's controversy revived the questions over the credibility of the awards.

6. The lusty godman-filmmaker

How one wishes this man was not an actor-filmmaker, for that would have saved us the ignominy of writing about his dark deeds. Self-proclaimed godman Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim Insan was convicted of rape in a case dating back to 2002. Though delayed, justice was not denied. Gurmeet Singh's followers went berserk and brought parts of Punjab and Haryana to a standstill with their rioting. But none of these wild protests deterred the court from handing out stringent punishment, increasing his sentence from 10 to 20 years. Gurmeet Singh and his adopted daughter Honeypreet’s explicit video all but confirmed the baba’s dubious character.

7. Dileep arrested for actress’s abduction

Indian cinema in general and Malayalam cinema in particular were left embarrassed after the star Dileep was arrested for plotting the abduction and molestation of an actress from the Malayalam film industry. Dileep allegedly took this step to settle a personal score. He held the actress responsible for his divorce from first wife Manju Warrier, now one of Malayalam cinema's biggest stars. The episode shocked the industry and also exposed Dileep, who has a murder case as well against him.

8. Kamal Haasan's political comment

Southern star Kamal Haasan stunned one and all by declaring his intention to join politics ahead of contemporary Rajinikanth, who has been toying with the idea for over two decades but only decided on the last day of 2017.

Kamal Haasan met leaders from different parties but did not join any of them, hinting that he would float his own party. While that is yet to happen, the veteran began courting controversy with his socio-political comments. It was his 'Hindu terror' remark that created an uproar. 

Writing for the Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan, Kamal Haasan said: One cannot say there is no Hindu terror any more. The right wing cannot challenge anyone by saying show me one Hindu terrorist. Terror has spread into their camp as well. Such terror activities are not going to help them in any way.

Kamal Haasan made the comments in response to a question by Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who had asked the star his opinion on growing communalization in the country which seeks to destroy the Dravidian tradition of peaceful coexistence. Inevitably, he was dragged to court for allegedly hurting Hindu sentiments.

9. Nawazuddin’s sexcapades

If there is one Hindi film artiste who is going though a purple patch, it is Nawazuddin Siddiqui. So much so that it seemed as if he could do nothing wrong. Then he decided to write his life story. And all hell broke loose. The actor took some liberty and revealed explicit details of his affairs with Miss Lovely (2012) co-star Niharika Singh and theatre artiste Sunita Rajwar. The women in question were not amused and slammed the actor for cooking up shady tales to sell his book. Niharika Singh demanded an apology while Rajwar sued Siddiqui for Rs2 crore. Blasted on social media as well for not seeking the women's permission before writing about them, Siddiqui apologized to all those who had been hurt and pulled his book out. An Ordinary Life: A Memoir died even before it came to the stalls.

10. Vidyut Jammwal  gets RGV off Twitter

Twitter lost one of its controversial handles this year when fllmmaker Ram Gopal Varma quit the social networking site. The filmmaker had frequently riled fellow artistes and often took on contemporaries, but one day he triggered a Tiger Shroff vs Vidyut Jammwal contest and ridiculed Jammwal saying Shroff would finish him off with one punch. Bewildered Twitterati wondered what Jammwal had done for RGV to attack him thus. Neither Jammwal nor Shroff responded to Varma’s tweets.

A couple of days later, Jammwal and RGV were trending when, in an anti-climax, it emerged that Varma’s tweets were more to mock Shroff. The Commando 2 (2017) actor recorded his telephonic conversation with Varma and put the audio clip on social media. In the clip, Varma, perhaps inebriated, is heard saying that Tiger Shroff is a transgender. Remarkably, this episode happened when Varma was due to release Sarkar 3, which had Tiger’s father Jackie Shroff playing the antagonist. The Shroffs chose to play down the issue. Varma’s subsequent apologetic tweets did not cut ice with anyone. The filmmaker had so embarrassed himself by then that he decided to quit Twitter.