Mumbai police look to Bollywood for image makeover
Mumbai’s police department has deployed an unusual strategy to revamp its sagging reputation and to counter criticism that it hasn’t done a good job at solving crimes against women in the city – it called the biggest game in town and asked for help.
Top city police officers, including the police commissioner, have asked Bollywood producers, directors and writers to portray them in a more positive light than they usually do.
While films like “Ardh Satya” spoke of the pressures and frustrations of policemen, many mainstream films, which have the most reach, aren’t kind to the force. The police also have asked the studios to change how they portray the women in their films, hoping that this would cause men to behave better toward women.
The Mumbai police are much admired – and maligned. People admire how the cops have quashed the underworld that once flourished in the city, but criticized them for not being able to curb crime against women (Mumbai has the second-highest number of rapes in India after Delhi) or corruption in real estate.
Bollywood’s portrayal of policemen, either as pot-bellied, inefficient buffoons, or as angry young men out to play the role of the vigilante is doing them a disservice, they say. In the 2011 film “Singham” Ajay Devgn played an honest police officer who, along with his fellow officers, murders a corrupt politician. The film was one of the biggest hits of the year.
“I am not saying you play us as gods. We are not gods … but when you portray us in a way that demolishes the faith people have in us, we leave an image in his mind that this institution is not trustworthy. When you caricature police in this perspective, is it doing the police a service,” Joint Commissioner (Law and Order) Sadanand Date told a gathering last week.
“When we have praised you, we have praised you to the skies, showing police officers killing their own kin for their crimes. So when we criticize you, you should be able to take it too,” Akhtar, who has co-written several memorable roles about the police force, told the police.
The meeting was arranged by Cineyug, a company that organizes high profile Bollywood events, and is owned by brothers Ali and Kareem Morani. The latter was arrested in connection with the 2G scam in 2011.
“We have no motive in organizing this meeting. The police officials requested for this meeting, and we were only too happy to co-ordinate it,” Ali Morani told Reuters.
Police officials also said they objected to how Bollywood depicts women in their mainstream features.
A video shown at the beginning of a two-hour meeting showed images of scantily clad women as depicted in Indian cinema. A voiceover said “even when we have freedom of speech, we think before speaking. Why can’t we think before we show something on screen?”
After the rape and subsequent death of a woman in Delhi last December, activists and social commentators pointed to the often crass portrayal of women in Bollywood films, which have for long depicted heroes stalking and harassing women under the guise of professing their love.
Usually, the woman in the end sees that the man does this because he really loves her, and discovers that she has fallen for him too — all of which is often accentuated and heightened by dream sequence-style song and dance numbers to drive home the point.
This formula is responsible for generating huge box-office hits in India and in other countries where Bollywood films do well. Out on the streets, meanwhile, some men put what they learned to use in ways that offend — catcalling women while singing or whistling choruses from famous film love songs is one example.
“We get a lot of our references about love from films and popular culture, and there is a thin line between teasing and harassing. If we can introduce the concept of dignity in love, it might help all of us,” said Javed Akhtar’s son, actor-director Farhan Akhtar.