No other film industry does scandal quite like Bollywood. Whether it’s terrorism charges, misguided publicity stunts, or just family drama, Bollywood does scandal the way it does everything else – oversized and melodramatic. 2009 saw some of the usual suspects up to their old tricks (Salman and Sanjay never have a dull moment) and the painful process of globalization causing some problems. The Internet has become a democratizing force in the media and producers, directors, and actors have taken to the web to either put forth their views or dispute bad reviews. Let’s take a look at some of the top news-making scandals of the year!
SRK detained at Newark Airport
On August 15th, Shahurkh Khan was detained at Newark Airport for questioning while on his way to the South Asian Carnival in Chicago. Ethnic and religious profiling at US airports in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 has been an ongoing problem for South Asians and Muslims trying to enter the United States. Adding insult to injury for the general public was that not even world-famous actors were above suspicion of terrorism. While skeptics claimed that the incident was a promotional stunt for My Name is Khan, later reports emerged that Shahrukh might have been stopped due to the organized crime connections of the South Asian Carnival organizers but the initial outrage tapped into the frustrations of South Asians worldwide.
Ashutosh Gowariker humiliates Priyanka Chopra at the IIFAs
The IIFAs are generally a much tamer affair than the Filmfare Awards or the Stardust Awards and are seem like more of an excuse for a big filmi fraternity party at an exotic location than anything else. One thing the IIFAs have been making the news for the last few years is being a Bachchan camp event. Shahrukh Khan, among others, has refused to attend the last few years. Another star who might not be making any further IIFA appearances is Priyanka Chopra. When accepting his Best Director award for Jodhaa-Akbar, Ashutosh Gowariker, who at the time was also working with Priyanka in What’s Your Rashee?, said, “Priyanka, you are a very hardworking actress but I was just discussing with Jaya-ji why Aishwarya did not get the Best Actress award.”
Karan Johar and the Bombay/Mumbai fracas in Wake Up Sid
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) party leader Raj Thackeray is never one to let a promotional opportunity slip by. Despite the fact that Karan Johar’s Wake Up Sid was, in part, a love letter to the city of Mumbai, when the film was released in early October, MNS party activists were sent to disrupt screenings. Why? In a few instances, the dialogues had characters referring to the city as ‘Bombay’ instead of ‘Mumbai.’ Karan rushed out to meet Thackarey to apologize and inserted a frame in front of the beginning of the film that apologizes for the mis-naming.
Akshay Kumar arrested for being un-buttoned
Akshay Kumar is known for being a lot of things but a troublemaker isn’t one of them. While his contemporaries make news for their high-profile break-ups, drunk driving, health problems, and various interpersonal feuds, Akshay Kumar usually flies under the media radar with his personal life. That’s why it was all the more unusual to see Akshay Kumar arrested for obscenity charges. On March 30th, Akshay, the brand ambassador for Levi’s jeans, walked the ramp to promote the new button fly jeans. He decided to spice things up a bit and walked over to his wife Twinkle, sitting in the front row, and had her unbutton the top button on his jeans. The stunt, which seemed harmless enough at the time, raised the ire of social activist Anil Nair, who filed a complaint with the Mumbai Police. Frustrated with the case, Akshay initially refused to comply and did some overseas shootings but eventually turned himself into the police on May 18th and paid a small fine.
Shiney Ahuja arrested for raping his young maid
While Shiney Ahuja is not the first Bollywood actor to be accused of abusing a young woman, his case was unusual for two reasons. One was the degree of seriousness with which the Mumbai police acted and the other was that the filmi fraternity did not rally around Shiney as they have done with other actors accused of acting inappropriately. In June, Shiney’s young maid reported that she had been bound, gagged, and raped by the Bollywood star. Medical reports confirmed her allegations and Shiney Ahuja was arrested. He remained in police custody for 110 days and was finally released on bail on October. The case has yet to come to trial but Shiney has been banned from returning to Mumbai in the meantime and has settled in Delhi. He will face a minimum seven year sentence if found guilty.
Sanjay Dutt runs for political office
Never known to be shrinking media violet, Sanjay Dutt was in the spotlight this year not for his six film releases but for his association with the Samajwadi Party and his aborted run for political office. One of the biggest surprises in Sanjay’s association with the Samajwadi Party is that the Dutts have traditionally been Congress Party supporters. Sanjay’s sister Priya, a Congress MP hinted in January that Sanjay’s new wife Manyata put him up to it. Sanjay fired back at her in the press saying that there is “only one Mr. and Mrs. Dutt on Pali Hill and it’s me and Manayata.” The public bickering continued through the spring as Sanjay played with the idea of running for the Lucknow Lok Sabha seat and gave a speech in Lucknow that tied his ideology with Munnabhai’s Gandhigiri and promised everyone ‘jadoo ki jhapi.’ The Supreme Court refused to grant him a dispensation to run for office, so he was appointed the party Secretary General instead in April and he has acted in that capacity ever since.
The Kurbaan shooting leaves hundreds of people unpaid in Philadelphia, PA
Although technically, Kurbaan shot in Philadelphia in the autumn of 2008, the scandal only emerged in March of 2009 when the Philadelphia Daily News reported that $500,000 worth of checks from the Australian company Swish, hired by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions to take care of the American schedule of filming, bounced leaving hundreds of people unpaid – from stuntmen to the Philadelphia Boys Choir. A suit was filed against Dharma in May by some of the unpaid workers. The case has yet to be resolved.
Slumdog Millionare wins the Oscar but India has a mixed reaction
One film that made global waves in 2009 was Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. Despite the fact that it wasn’t an Indian film, let alone a Bollywood one, much of the cast and crew was Indian and Bollywood embraced the film’s success even as it raised valid complaints about elements of the film. On his blog, Amitabh Bachchan theorized that a film like Slumdog made by an Indian production team would not have gotten such critical acclaim. “It’s just that the SM idea, authored by an Indian and conceived and cinematically put together by a westerner, gets creative globe recognition. The other would perhaps not.” The film did not connect with the Indian masses but through Slumdog Millionaire Anil Kapoor became a well-known face in the West and will soon be seen on the American television show 24.
The producer’s strike ground the industry to a halt for two months
Perhaps the biggest story in filmi news of 2009 was the producers strike that halted new film releases for two whole months. The problem had been brewing for a while. One of the biggest changes in the film industry over the 2000s has been the rise of multiplex cinemas. The distribution rules and profit sharing for these cinemas had been a growing point of contention for Bollywood producers, who felt that multiplex chains were unfairly acting like a monopoly and demanding increasingly unreasonable concessions from the film producers in exchange for showing their films in the cinemas. The strike began after the release of Akshay Kumar’s 8 x 10 Tasveer in the beginning of April and lasted through June, when the producers and multiplex chains were able to come to a mutually beneficial agreement. The strike had the side effect of making the Katrina Kaif, John Abraham, Neil Nitin Mukesh starrer New York a hit, as it was the first big film released after the strike ended.