When the Hindu Right Came for Bollywood

Samanth Subramanian in The New Yorker:

Filmmaking thrives in plenty of other cities in India, but “Bollywood” has become shorthand for Indian cinema as a whole, and for the thousand or so movies that the country releases annually. For nearly a century, Bollywood has also worn the warm, self-satisfied gloss of being a passion that unifies a country of divisions. Not only are its audiences as mixed as India itself, filmmakers will say, but Bollywood is a place where caste and religion don’t matter. The most piously presented proof of this is the fact that, in a Hindu-majority country, a Muslim man named Shah Rukh Khan has been the supreme box-office star for decades.

Even if Bollywood possesses this liberal fibre, the rightward swing in Indian politics has gnawed away at it. In Mumbai, people divide recent history into pre-“Tandav” and post-“Tandav” periods, reading the show’s fate—its bitter legal battles, its suspended second season—as a lesson in what can and cannot be said in Modi’s India. Their nervousness manifests in absurdities—in, for example, how Amazon Prime now discourages characters who share their names with Hindu deities—but also in decisions to put audacious film and TV projects into cold storage. Other filmmakers embrace genres that match the B.J.P.’s tastes: dubious historical epics that glorify bygone Hindu kings; action films about the Indian Army; political dramas and bio-pics, dutifully skewed. These productions all draw from the B.J.P.’s roster of stock villains: medieval Muslim rulers, Pakistan, Islamist terrorists, leftists, opposition parties like the Indian National Congress. Through Bollywood, India tells itself stories about itself. Many of those stories are now starkly different, in lockstep with the right wing’s bigotry.

More here.