Monday, January 16, 2006

Bollywood, animal rights activists share love-hate relationship

For those who may not know, Bollywood is the Indian equivalent of Hollywood.

Bollywood, animal rights activists share love-hate relationship

By Priyanka Khanna: Yet another controversy over the alleged unauthorised use of animals in a big-budget Hindi film has brought to the fore the love-hate relationship between animal rights activists and tinseltown denizens.

While Bollywood stars are the most willing and glamorous advocates for causes espoused by animal lovers, they are increasingly finding themselves in the dock for alleged cruelty to animals.

Some of the most loved Bollywood stars are active campaigners for vegetarianism and animal rights. Many like Amitabh Bachchan, Esha Deol, Raveena Tandon and John Abraham have participated in animal rights campaigns.

But the increasing number of campaigns by animal rights activists against certain films show that they make unlikely bedfellows.

The latest incident of activists accusing the makers of the Aamir Khan-starrer "Rang De Basanti" of not seeking permission to use animals came on the heels of Shah Rukh Khan, Karan Johar and Feroz Khan facing similar accusations for their ventures "Kaal" and "Janasheen".

The campaign against the Shah Rukh Khan-Karan Johar co-production "Kaal" alleged that tigers, lions, pythons, owls and monkeys were handled in the film in a cruel manner, and that they were used in the film without obtaining mandatory permission from the Animal Welfare Board of India.

"Kaal" starred Ajay Devgan, Vivek Oberoi, John Abraham, Lara Dutta and Esha Deol and had cameos by Shah Rukh Khan and Malaika Arora.

Aamir Khan's maiden production - "Lagaan" - had also drawn flak from animal rights activists who accused him of endangering protected species of deer during the shooting. Though the accusations made it to the front pages of newspapers, no official complaint was filed.

Accusations of cruelty towards animals against producers and actors are growing and in some cases causing delays in the release of films. The resulting financial losses are making the industry wake up and take note.

MP Maneka Gandhi, who is a well-known animal rights activist, says animal rights violations are rampant in spite of laws like the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Wildlife Protection Act.

In some Hindi films, hundreds of animals have died due to ill treatment meted out to them during shooting.

Till recently, most Hindi filmmakers pleaded ignorance about laws protecting animals in the face of such accusations. Now producers are using clearance by the censor board as a shield against any further censorship.

The battleground therefore is shifting from a tussle between activists and filmmakers to one between the censor board and animal welfare boards.

Gandhi says that according to a notification issued Dec 6, 1991 by the information and broadcasting ministry, the censor laws and the censor board have to examine the issue of cruelty to animals in any film they pass and ensure that cruelty to or abuse of animals is not presented needlessly.

But the perceptions of censor board officials almost never match those of animal lovers. Some producers go to the extent of saying that rights activists are running a parallel censor board.

The activists have approached the information and broadcasting minister to have representatives from animal rights bodies on the censor board. Their argument is that the members of the certification board have no idea of the Wildlife Protection Act, the Prevention for Cruelty Act, the Indian Penal Code and 200 other acts that forbid certain things.

For example, showing birds fluttering is strictly illegal and so is showing snakes, or dogs and monkeys doing tricks, or whipping an animal like a horse to make it go faster.

Till the government decides on suggestions by animal rights groups, Hindi films will constantly be in the danger of running into trouble with activists.


Shah Rukh Khan is setting a good example for the industry by abiding to the animal welfare board's guidelines in his productions post "Kaal".

The Khan's production company Red Chillies Entertainment used camels in his recent venture "Paheli" only after securing all requisite clearances.

"Paheli" is a rural story in which Shah Rukh plays a ghost who falls for a lovelorn woman abandoned by her husband. Rani Mukherjee plays the female lead in the movie. National Award-winning filmmaker Amol Palekar directed the film that is India's official entry for the Oscars in the foreign film category.


Film star Salman Khan's animal-related troubles are refusing to go away, leading him to voicing his frustration in courts.

Khan, who is facing a long-running case in which he is charged with poaching, told a court at Jodhpur in Rajasthan that he would rather be put out of his misery than have to go through with the trial that began in 1998.

"The court can hang me. I am tired of such lengthy proceedings," Khan told the court. He denied killing two black buck deer, a protected species.

"I am tired of this. It is a question of my career," the actor reportedly told the court. "I am innocent and the court can even convict me, but the judgement should not be delayed."

Lawyers for the Bishnoi community, who pressed charges against Khan, claimed there was strong evidence pointing to his involvement in the killing of the black buck.

The Bishnoi worship the animals and protested when the incident was first reported in the media.

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