This December, it was Raj Kumar Hirani’s PK’s turn to be bestowed the title of the “boycott” movie of the month. Two months ago it was Haider that earned the same title. Haider-haters included Hindutva elements, along with those who thought the film unfairly represented the Indian Army. A Twitter hashtag— #BoycottHaider— was created to channelise all the anger and hatred.
This time the hashtag is #BoycottPK, led by the French ideologue Francois Gautier who on Dec. 20 asked his Twitter followers to protest against the Aamir Khan starrer since he was troubled by the sub-plot of an Indian-Pakistani love affair.
This is not the first time an Indian has been shown romancing a Pakistani in a Bollywood film. That also happened in Ek Tha Tiger and Agent Vinod. But what got the goat of Gautier and the thousands of Hindutva fans on Twitter is that PK also questions the ethics of “godmen” and religious leaders.
Many #BoycottPK supporters were offended by a scene in the film where PK is shown chasing an actor dressed up as Lord Shiva.
Others were offended by a dialogue delivered by PK; he says only those afraid of something visit temples. As a response, some Twitter users dug up images of Khan when he went on the Haj with his mother in 2012, following the death of his father.
There are some other offensive tweets sitting with the hashtag #BoycottPK, including those that directly attack Khan because of his Muslim heritage. Alas, all of that comes with free speech. And meanwhile fans of PK and Khan simultaneously developed the hashtag #SupportPK.
This is not the first time that people have raised concerns about a film that brings religion into conversation. The 2012 film OMG: Oh My God! with Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal had a character who sued God after an earthquake destroyed his shop. That film generated protests including complaints against Kumar and Rawal. For a while Kumar was even given police protection.
But there was no big boycott-OMG campaign on Twitter. That privileged belongs to PK. It is a bigger production, also its lead actor Khan is Muslim.
Run out of steam
But how effective are these Twitter wars in India?
PK’s opening box office for the first three days may have missed the Rs100 crore mark, but it still grossed a very healthy and respectable amount of Rs95.21 crore. Haider, was never expected to be a huge hit, but reports indicate that the film closed its theatrical business at slightly under Rs90 crore worldwide.
So it might be safe to say that the thousands of tweets that asked people to boycott these films really did not have much of an impact. As a PeerReach report showed last year, India still has very low Twitter usage and penetration—relative to the total Internet users.
There was a time—in the pre-Internet era, when Hindutva forces were a lot more active in getting films boycotted. And sometimes Canadian-Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s films experienced the brunt of their anger.
In December 1998 protests in Delhi, Mumbai and other cities outside movie theaters shut down the screenings of Mehta’s Fire. And a year later in February 2000, Hindu fundamentalist organisations drove Mehta and her crew out of Varanasi when she started to shoot Water. The film’s script and shoot was approved by the BJP-led government in Delhi, but that did not matter to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its supporters who attacked the film’s set.
It is possible that right now Hindutva groups have other pressing issues on their agenda—planning mass conversions of Christians and Muslims to Hinduism, for instance.
Perhaps, they hope Twitter can do their work with the least amount of effort.
And a Bollywood film like PK, which ultimately is not going to change the society, may have escaped their full wrath.