Activists belonging to the Palestinian rights group, Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions – known the world over simply as BDS – camped in Bollywood last month to forewarn the Indian film industry about the pitfalls of succumbing to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's overtures during his recent state visit which included a stopover in Mumbai to party with movie stars.
Besides counseling Bollywood, the BDS delegation comprising General Coordinator Mahmoud Nawaja’a, International Secretariat Member Maren Mantovani and South Asia Coordinator Apoorva Gautam, interacted with civil society in Mumbai Delhi, Calcutta, Trivandrum and Hyderabad to counter Israel’s Netanyahu-led cultural propaganda and campaign for freedom, equality and justice for Palestine.
Netanyahu’s January tryst with Hindi film stars at the Shalom Bollywood event is epitomized by his Hollywood style selfie with Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Karan Johar, Prasoon Joshi, Randhir Kapoor, Vivek Oberoi, Sara Ali Khan, Imtiaz Ali, Madhur Bhandarkar, Nikkhil Advani, Abhishek Kapoor and Subhash Ghai which the Israeli premier uploaded on his twitter account.
Significantly, the Khans of Bollywood – Shahrukh, Salman and Aamir – publicly snubbed Netanyahu by boycotting the Shalom Bollywood event whose real objective was to fight the boycott of Israel in the world of global entertainment business by roping in the big guns of India’s film industry.
It’s difficult to guage the success of BDS’s counter-offensive in Bollywood as the group is cagey about releasing the details of its engagement with Indian film personalities last month.
Speaking to Al Arabiya, Gautam described the group’s meetings with the film industry as “strategic” to justify secrecy. She parried all specific questions on the pretext that “names and what was discussed can’t be revealed without the consent of individuals we spoke to”.
An uphill task
BDS faces an uphill task and Gautam’s cautious approach is perfectly understandable in today’s socio-political climate in India with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other heavyweights of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party openly exhibiting their love for all things Israeli in a marked departure from India’s tradition of whole-heartedly backing Palestine.
But Gautam – without getting into specifics – said: “We have discovered that within Bollywood there is widespread solidarity with the Palestinian cause and a clear unease with Israel’s attempts to use the Hindi film industry. This silent majority in Bollywood does not want to take part in Israel’s propaganda and we have discussed with it ways to express its opposition”.
According to BDS, Netanyahu released his selfie with Bollywood stars to deflect the world’s attention from human rights abuse and oppression of Palestinians. Speaking in Calcutta before flying to Mumbai, General Coordinator of BDS, Nawaja’a asked Bollywood actors to “stop being complicit” with Israel.
Nawaja’a warned that Palestinians and Arab countries are likely to boycott Bollywood movies featuring Bachchan and other actors who cosied upto Netanyahu as “there are 15 satellite channel in the Arab countries dedicated to Hindi films”. An analyst remarked that Bollywood is spineless compared to Hollywood and the left-liberal lobby in USA is far more powerful than its Indian counterpart.
He said that while a mega star like Bachchan has no qualms about publicly embracing Netanyahu who Palestinians want to be tried as a war criminal, Hollywood stars last year turned down Tel Aviv’s offer of free trips to Israel.
Tour packages, each costing thousands of dollars, were offered to 26 Oscar nominees like Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Sylvester Stallone and Kate Winslet. But BDS’s prodding ensured that all of them – except Lawrence who passed on the invitation to her mother – rebuffed Israel.
According to the Indian Express, “Netanyahu wants Bollywood to shoot films in Israel and offered tax breaks and facilitation. The collateral benefit will be creation of jobs in Israel — as Bollywood is known to work wonders for tourism in the country. The template available to Israel is Yash Chopra’s showcasing of Switzerland in the ‘80s and the projection of Spain in [the movie] Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.”
But a BDS statement says “This in-your-face attempt to use Indian art to promote the political agenda of the Israeli occupation is an insult to the integrity and self-respect of every Indian artist”.