Filmmaker Onir. Image Credit: IANS

Bollywood superstars and trade unions joining hands to file a lawsuit against two Indian TV channels and their lead anchors for their ‘irresponsible, derogatory and defamatory remarks’ against the Hindi film industry is a significant cultural moment, said a cross-section of prominent filmmakers.

National Award-winning filmmaker Onir described their lawsuit as completely justified. A total of 38 production houses owned by the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan and Ajay Devgn united to sue Republic TV and Times Now on the grounds of defamation during their coverage of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.

“This lawsuit should have happened long before … This unaccountable vilification of an industry constantly without anyone speaking up was not healthy in a democracy like ours,” said director Onir in an exclusive interview with Gulf News. While he has been tweeting religiously about the media onslaught against Bollywood, he’s happy that all forces in the industry — indiscriminate of a star’s political leanings — have acted as a collective.

“The kind of language, the relentless tarnishing and the kind of attacks on our industry by certain sections of media was abysmal. The way a few people in our industry were hounded, abused and humiliated wasn’t healthy … It’s OK to be critical of our industry, but making those ridiculous statements about industry wasn’t. Such vilifying of select group isn’t healthy and it feels good when the entire industry has come together now to say it’s not ‘OK’ to do that to us,” he added.

The suicide of Rajput on June 14 in Mumbai saw TV anchors such as Arnab Goswami and Navika Kumar scrutinise Bollywood stars and their questionable working culture.

“By this entire complaint, we are not telling the press to shut up. But why should they not be held accountable for what they say. In a civilised society, anybody cannot just say anything without being held accountable. So if media behaves in an uncivilised way, it should be held accountable,” said Onir, whose credits include ‘My Brother … Nikhil’ and ‘I Am’.

In the last few weeks, the narrative spun around those in Bollywood hasn’t been dazzling like the its musicals it is known for. The Hindi film industry has been portrayed as a playground for the rich, the bratty and the drug-fuelled.

TAB Director Ram Kamal Mukherjee-1602592083201
Ram Kamal Mukherjee.

“This lawsuit where producers, actors, directors and trade unions have joined hands is symbolic of us safeguarding our own sanctity … For once, the action taken by Bollywood is unanimous … It’s not just the bigwigs of Bollywood that has spoken up. All we ask is for factual representation of news. The role of the media is to inform and not to influence their viewers with their prejudices and narratives,” said director, author and former journalist Ram Kamal Mukherjee.

“Some news channels have been portraying us as some kind of heroes in ‘Baahubali’ part 3 … But for once, we have taken a stern measure in unity. We may not stand united when it comes to many issues, but we did this to safeguard our own sanctity … While selective outrage is common, it’s a relief to see all Bollywood stars and players unite for a common cause,” said Mukherjee.

An industry source, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes that the silence within the Bollywood fraternity as they were dragged through the mud and given labels such as ‘scum’ and ‘druggies’ was misconstrued initially.

“This is the whole industry speaking up … Our dignified silence was being misconstrued as an admission of guilt. This is not some handful of people joining hands but much the entire industry including 31,000 writers and CINTAA [Cine And TV Artistes’ Association] that has around 9,000 members who are actors … Our concern is not with official investigations or even a factual reporting of the same. But the same cannot be used as an excuse to paint the entire fraternity as druggie antinational criminals. Industry is made up of millions of hardworking individuals and this smear campaign is what we are protesting against,” said the source.

While the majority have hailed the decision to sue the channels for their smear campaign against Bollywood, a few believe that this lawsuit was a symbol of wanting to survive.

“Bollywood is all about goodwill and image building. The stars realise that their image is sculpts their brand in Bollywood and if they lose that to irresponsible and trashy reporting about them, then they stand to lose it all. It’s their way of remaining alive and relevant,” said another insider.

The lawsuit that was filed at the Delhi High Court also curried favour among actors, directors and producers from different leagues.

“I have said this repeatedly. Bollywood may have its issues, but the pale in comparison to what news media has become,” tweeted Ranvir Shorey immediately after the news of the lawsuit emerged. “That’s where the real cleaning needs to happen.”