Boycotting Bollywood seems to be the flavour of the season. What started as a Twitter trend following Sushant Singh Rajput's unfortunate death has turned into a daily spectacle. The reasons cited for these virtual boycotts are often flimsy at best – recently, #BoycottVikramVedha was trending solely because the yet-to-release film's co-lead, Hrithik Roshan, showed his appreciation for the Aamir Khan-starrer Laal Singh Chaddha (2022), a movie that faced days of online hate.
Laal Singh Chaddha's lukewarm reception has definitely added to the industry's anxiety around what seems to be a deep disillusionment of Bollywood stars. As different stakeholders weigh in on whether the noxious trend has any actual impact on the business of a film, we look back at some films that faced similar hate in various forms and still emerged victorious.
Arguably one of the biggest controversies to hit the film industry in the last decade, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's magnum opus was embroiled in controversy since it began shooting. The film, initially titled 'Padmaavati', chronicled Sultan Alauddin Khilji's attempt to kidnap the beautiful queen Padmaavati, married to Rajput ruler Maharawal Ratan Singh. What started as threats from religious and political organisations, escalated to members of the Shri Rajput Karni Sena vandalising the film set and physically assaulting the director. After continued vandalism, burning of film posters, threats to decapitate the cast and calls for a country-wide ban, the CBFC finally cleared the film with a 'UA' certificate, a few cuts and the demand that the title be changed to 'Padmaavat'. Upon its release, the period drama raked in around Rs. 570 crores worldwide, making it one of India's highest-grossing films. Pamaavat imbues the phrase 'no PR is bad PR' with rejuvenated life.
Alankrita Srivastava's project saw many trials and tribulations due to its bold theme of female sexual awakening. The film's first hurdle came from the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) – no surprises there – which put a stay on the release of the movie, claiming that the film was too "lady-oriented". The then-Chairperson of the body, Pahlaj Nihalani, received tremendous public flak for this reasoning, which lost even more credibility when the movie won the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality, among other accolades. Lipstick Under My Burkha was also publicly boycotted by a group of Muslim leaders in Bhopal for allegedly mocking the Islamic culture and hurting their religious sentiments. Despite this, the film had already recovered its production cost – said to be around Rs. 6 crores – within four days of its opening and went on to earn over Rs. 26 crores at the box office, according to media reports.
Based on the iconic South Indian actress Silk Smita, The Dirty Picture starred Vidya Balan in the lead role. At a time when the body positivity movement didn't have the credibility it does today, Balan gained 12 kilos to play the fiery, rebellious sex symbol. One of the film's first posters showed her posing sultrily with the three male leads of the film (Naseeruddin Shah, Emraan Hashmi and Tusshar Kapoor), causing the criminal court of Nampally (Telangana) to book the actress for indecent photographs and representation. The petition against the actress also mentioned that the hoarding and posters of The Dirty Picture were corrupting the minds of people and causing harm to society. The claim was successfully quashed when the film opened to critical and commercial success. Made on a modest budget of Rs. 18 Crores, it went on to earn Rs. 117 Crores at the box office, according to media reports. Balan was hailed as the "hero of the film", making The Dirty Picture as one of the many vibrant feathers in her cap.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali is clearly – and unfortunately – a troll-favourite. The director's grandiose love saga Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, starring Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, was the subject of ire from multiple religious groups and communities. The film's title underwent multiple changes to appease complaints of "religious sentiments being hurt" – what was initially 'RamLeela' became 'Ram-Leela' before finally turning into the aforementioned title. After complying with demands from the Kshatriya community in Rajkot, changing certain "provocative" words in the film and deleting scenes suggested by the CBFC, the film went on to become a whooping blockbuster. It is said to have grossed over Rs. 200 Crores worldwide, making SLB's desi take on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet an abiding hit.
PK takes up an essential spot on this list not only because it faced tremendous criticism online and offline only to become a raging hit, but also because it still remains a bone of contention for Hindu extremists. Aamir Khan and Rajkumar Hirani's attempt at religious satire was not taken lightly, with allegedly offensive clips still periodically resurfacing on Twitter – most recently seen as a way to legitimise Laal Singh Chaddha's boycott. Soon after its release, the movie drew flak from Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad and theatres were vandalised in an attempt to stall the film's screenings, despite it being cleared by the CBFC. However, PK also saw significant support: the Supreme Court flat-out refused to ban the film, with Chief Justice R. M. Lodha saying, "Indian youth are smart enough to know that PK is fiction." The film minted over Rs. 854 Crores, making it the highest-grossing film of the time.
Vishal Bharadwaj's Haider witnessed extremely polarising opinions for its representation of the Indian Army and the separatist movement. The story, a loose adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet, unfolds against the backdrop of insurgency in Kashmir during the 1990s. It has many sequences of human rights abuse by the Indian Army, including torture, extrajudicial killings and detention of youths in illegal camps. While some saw the nuanced depiction of Kashmir and its anguish as an indication of India's growing tolerance for commentary on sensitive subjects, calls to boycott and ban Haider were raised as soon as the film was released. Despite the film's incendiary nature, it reportedly went on to earn a lifetime collection of over Rs. 56 Crores and garnered critical acclaim for its ability to not only portray a sensitive topic but also root it in a Shakespearean tragedy.