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How Bollywood rebelled against the Emergency
Ranjan Das Gupta  26th Jul 2014

A still from Aandhi, one of the films to have been banned during the times of the Emergency

anoj Kumar's frustration and anger against the Emergency was growing a few months after it was proclaimed. "One morning, I received a call from the I&B Ministry to direct a pro-Emergency documentary written by Amrita Pritam. I point-blank refused to direct the documentary and even asked her directly if she had sold out as a writer," he recalled over a telephonic conversation two weeks ago. An ashamed Amrita Pritam sincerely apologised and requested him to burn the script.

Solely responsible for clearing Sholay with the censors after a request from G.P. Sippy, Kumar did enjoy a good rapport with Vidya Charan Shukla, the I&B minister at the time. And hence it was believed that he was a supporter of the Emergency. But even he was not spared. Shor was the first Hindi film to be telecast on Doordarshan during the Emergency. Soon after the telecast, its second theatrical release drew a blank and failed at the box office.

An angry Kumar protested strongly. The result: his Dus Numbri was banned, just like Gulzar's Aandhi. He stayed back in New Delhi valiantly fighting his cause, spending lakhs in the process. When the Emergency ended, the Janata government came to power, and L.K. Advani cleared Kumar's case in his favour, making him the only filmmaker in the nation to win a case against the Emergency.

Umpteen such tales lie unearthed about how the Indian film fraternity suffered as a result of valiantly fighting back against the dreaded Emergency, the black days of Indian democracy. Kishore Kumar, for instance, refused to sing at a major musical function organised by the I&B ministry. His refusal created a huge furore and was flashed in all the dailies of the late '70s. His songs were banned from All India Radio by Sanjay Gandhi and Shukla. He remained undaunted. Later, Mohammed Rafi and Manna De took up the case on their own with Gandhi. "Rafi even questioned Gandhi how he, being the grandson of a great man like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, could indulge in such an act," Manna De told me in an interview for Paribortan, a Bangla daily. "The ban was ultimately lifted."

The filmmakers of West Bengal also spoke out against the Emergency. In an interview to Blitz (a cine-weekly published from Mumbai) in January 1991, Satyajit Ray openly criticised the Emergency. He had also refused Indira Gandhi's offer to direct a documentary on Jawaharlal Nehru. The government couldn't dare to touch a filmmaker of Ray's stature. Though a leftist, Mrinal Sen also strongly opposed the Emergency despite the CPI's support for the same. Even pro-Congress film personalities such as Tapan Sinha and Uttam Kumar never supported the Emergency. Sandhya Roy, now an MP from the Trinamool Congress, used her fame as a top actress of the time to openly protest against the Emergency.

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Dev Anand formed the National Party to combat the Emergency. Old timers will never forget the huge applause he received from the masses while delivering his first speech against the Emergency at Juhu. Later, he abandoned the party due to lack of support from his own fraternity.

However, compared to the film industries of West Bengal and South India, the Hindi film industry bore the maximum brunt of the Emergency. In an interview to The Statesman in 1997, Dev Anand remembered how he had opposed the diktat of the then government by not campaigning for the Emergency on Doordarshan. In return, he faced a number of hurdles from the ruling Congress while shooting Des Pardes, especially in receiving permission to shoot his film in London. He was also strongly supported by his brothers Chetan and Vijay, Pran, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Shatrughan Sinha and Danny Dengzongpa.

Dev Anand formed the National Party to combat the Emergency. Old timers will never forget the huge applause he received from the masses while delivering his first speech against the Emergency at Juhu. Later, he abandoned the party due to lack of support from his own fraternity. When I interviewed Vijay Anand for Cine Advance, an entertainment weekly, in 1989, he recounted his turbulent brush with the then government — how he had repeatedly criticised V.C. Shukla's decisions and was even threatened to be imprisoned. Vijay Anand didn't budge; he challenged the government to put him behind bars.

Other anti-Emergency protesters from the film industry included V. Shantaram, Raaj Kumar, Gulzar and Vinod Khanna. Raaj Kumar, in particular, vehemently opposed the Emergency. "I was told by the government to use my rhetoric to highlight the Emergency. I put my foot down and openly said I would use the same to support the reverse," Raaj Kumar told me over in 1995.

Almost four decades have passed since the Emergency was imposed. It's not only the film fraternity; the entire nation prays that such fearful days never come back.

 
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