By Chitra Ahanthem
As the days go by and turn into weeks and months and then years, I get more and more convinced that despite all the advancement in technology and communication thanks to which we have roads and means of transport and various mediums of talking/interacting with one other, nothing matters in the long run for we have not learnt one basic thing: tolerance. Even as all the progress in the technology and communication sector has put us in touch with one another, we seem to be losing the art of really communicating with one another, the art of respecting someone’s opinion and giving room to that opinion no matter how different that may be from the one we hold ourselves; the art of thinking through things before we react.
My writings have lately focused on how online hate and abuse has become the order of the day on various social networking sites with opinions being hurled left, right and center. But much before I got into social networking sites, I was subject to great online scrutiny on a popular website that carries feeds from Imphal Free Press. Whenever I was seen as ‘stepping out of line’ (which ranged from my writing about my love for Hindi films to questioning why most of us in the region react to rape of our own but not to rape as such), there would be constant snide attacks on my mental equilibrium, how I needed to be ‘reined in’ and what type of woman I was. I was even told that there was a discussion where some online comments said I ought to be banned from writing. Looking back on those times, I can say that phase was easy. I could choose to be disconnected from all the abuse and I did just that, continuing to write what I felt about things and incidents and not really looking at what people commented on. But with social networking sites that I am a part of, the abuse that I face now is much more up front and personal.
I distinctly remember an editorial that I wrote on the Mary Kom movie that talked more of the Hindi film ban in the state, how actors from the state are barred from acting in Hindi films but the mere mention of three lines (“There have been many voices questioning the casting Priyanka Chopra instead of someone from the region whose looks would be more in line with the way the diminutive Olympian looks like. But those who follow the business of cinema will know that producers and film makers alike put in their finances and efforts behind what are known as bankable actors and those whose association with a venture will bring in better returns. This is true not just for the Hindi film industry but also in other film scenarios across the world”) evoked a ‘you are too biased to write an editorial’ to a series of response that hinted at my intellectual inefficacy to see things as they are on one social networking profile. I was in a sense, under attack for not seeing the ‘racial undertones’ of the film etc etc because of its casting of a non mongoloid Priyanka Chopra as Mary Kom.
When one popular web portal asked me to write a piece on the ‘alleged’ incident of staff of the NE region being asked to stay away while the Chinese Premier was a guest in this many starred hotel, there was a remark that those who were fine with the Mary Kom film had no business talking or questioning how the Government was being insensitive and discriminating in its clamor to placate its powerful visitor. I use the word ‘alleged’ in quote un-quote fashion here because a major newspaper reported the incident quoting police sources and hotel management and top police officials refusing to comment. Someone I do not know and who is not from the region has written on another social networking profile of mine that a hotel spokesperson has refuted the said story and that my writing was total innuendo, remaining blind to the fact that after the many condemnations to the said incident (and happily, not just condemnation from folks in the NE region but beyond), no service/agency would ever own up to what transpired.
As for the Mary Kom film: I don’t know about others but my reading of the Hindi film industry is that it is not really known for its aesthetic sense or its sensitivity. Its only allegiance is to the box office returns and what is known as ‘formula fare’. A more deeper study would be required on the subject but I can well stick my neck out and say that the ‘minority’ (which can be religious, linguistic, regional, caste et el) have mostly been sidelined as mere caricatures in Hindi films: just look at how Nepalis are sidelined as watchmen and security guards or how Muslims are often the ‘baddies’. That obsession with box office returns is all that it matters and that is the only cardinal truth for the Hindi film scene-which is why formula films reign on the basis of ‘star power’ and cock a snook at cinematic aesthetics or sensibility. And as to why I bristle over a MoS in Modi’s Cabinet being asked to stay away from the official banquet for the Chinese Premier because he was from Arunachal Pradesh, a place that is contested by the visiting man’s Government and not the film; there is a huge chasm between an elected Government representative being shoed away, from a film that has prosthetics and far too much veering away from the way things are in the state in the life of Mary Kom.