Maharashtra is synonymous with two powerful entities - politics and films. Therefore, it unsurprising that the two have had an undulating relationship. Shiv Sena, the powerhouse regional party, and Bollywood, that made Mumbai its home, have clashed numerous times throughout history. At the same time, there have been innumerable moments of mutual admiration that went from sharing stages to a biopic on the Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.
The first instance of this clash can be traced back to 1971 when the Marathi film industry, determined to make a niche of its own, found itself at odds with Bollywood. Dev Anand’s Tere Mere Sapne replaced Krishna Kondke’s Marathi film Songadya at Dadar’s Kohinoor theatre, angering many. Sena’s film division has always been under criticism as numerous accusations of extortion have been made against them; however, the party has maintained that the division was established to ensure that Marathi films get proper representation in Maharashtra.
Dilip Kumar and Bal Thackeray had a famous fallout when the former accepted Pakistan’s highest honour, Nishan-e-Pakistan. The two icons were friends who bonded over good food. The list goes on with Dev Anand, Amitabh Bachchan, Manoj Kumar and B-Town bigwigs who maintained a friendly relationship with Thackeray. Famously, Sunil Dutt’s son Sanjay Dutt had found support in Thackeray after he was accused in the 1993 blasts case. Sanjay Dutt, in numerous events, has never shied away from calling the Sena supremo a “Wagh”.
Famously, Bachchan had publicly thanked Thackeray for supporting him when the actor was recovering in hospital after his near fatal accident on the sets of Coolie. “When I was flown in to Mumbai from Bangalore in semi-conscious state after Coolie accident, it was his ambulance that took me to Breach Candy Hospital. When I fought for my life after Coolie accident, he came to visit me in hospital, with a cartoon he had drawn - Yamraj defeated! Yamraj - God of Death, defeated by me… wish I was as proficient a cartoonist as he, I would wish to draw that for him…," Bachchan had tweeted.
Then there were instances of mutual agreement where films were screened or shown to the party members before release. While some may say that these events were out of fear and to keep trouble at bay, others feel the relationship started to turn warm because of these meetings between the two parties. Notably, Mani Ratnam’s hit Bombay was screened for Thackeray before its release. Ratnam dutifully incorporated the few changes suggested by Thackeray before releasing the film based on 1993 Bombay riots. Many hoped that the artist in Thackeray would force him to be lenient when it came to touchy issues. The Sena Supremo himself was an ace cartoonist and was well versed with classic English, Hindi and Marathi literature.
However, slowly, many started accusing the party of arm-twisting Bollywood merely to stay in the limelight. The first decade of the 21st century saw such a capricious relationship play out. This time, statements made by Bollywood stars could result in their films being forcefully removed from theatres in Maharashtra to Madhuri Dixit and Amitabh Bachchan sharing the stage with Bal Thackeray attracting throngs of starry-eyed followers. Films like My Name is Khan and Ek Tha Tiger ran into trouble with the party.
However, among the newer cadres of the party, Bollywood has enjoyed a friendlier relationship. This started to totter in 2021 when actress Kangana Ranaut’s office was demolished by BMC for illegal construction. Ranaut said the accusations were false and had previously tweeted that Mumbai felt like ‘POK’. Many termed this incident a one-off tussle rising from each party’s political inclinations. Otherwise, Aditya Thackarey, the scion of the powerhouse party, is close to many from Bollywood who constantly show up at events organized by the Maharashtra government. From Akshay Kumar to Tiger Shroff to Salman Khan, Bollywood has lent its hand to many initiatives in order to increase its popularity. While some rue over this development and call it the end of an era of fear, others feel this gentlemanly camaraderie is the way to go.
In 2020 Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamna published an article supporting Bollywood. It said that Bollywood has always encouraged talent and the accusations by Ranaut that the industry is “Islam dominated” were absolutely ridiculous. It had backed Bollywood when NCB started its probe after Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. Numerous actors were called into questioning by the agency for their alleged drug use before they were let off. Uddhav Thackeray, in a statement, had said, “Bollywood enjoys a following across the globe. The film industry generates huge employment. In the last few days, attempts have been made to malign the image of the film industry by certain quarters which is painful. Moves to finish off the film industry or shift it elsewhere will never be tolerated.” Most recently, the party called Aryan Khan’s arrest a vendetta against his father Shah Rukh Khan.