Indian Army slams MNS for asking ‘penance’ fund from producers for featuring Pakistani actors

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Indian army on Saturday reportedly slammed the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) for asking film producers employing Pakistan artistes to pay INR50 million to its welfare funds.

“Don’t play politics with the army, which has a strong apolitical, highly-disciplined and secular ethos. The armed forces do not want to be dragged into such low-level political wrangling,” said a senior officer. “We only accept funds that are donated voluntarily, not through such coercion or extortion,” added another officer.

Officers said an “Army Welfare Fund Battle Casualties” fund was recently established after the force was approached by a large number of philanthropic organisations and individuals who wanted to donate money to assist the relatives and next of kin of soldiers who laid down their lives in the line of duty. “There was a surge of such requests after 10 soldiers perished in the massive avalanche in Siachen on February 3 as well as after the attack on the Uri camp on September 18 that left 19 soldiers dead,” said an officer.

Hindu radical party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) on Saturday gave the green light for the release of Karan Johar’s forthcoming film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil but said all producers who employed Pakistani artists must pay INR50 million each to the Indian Army’s welfare fund as atonement.

The decision came after Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ intervened in the matter, a day after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Mumbai to meet representatives of Bollywood.

MNS President Raj Thackeray further said henceforth all Pakistani artistes, including actors, singers, among others, shall be permanently banned from Bollywood. “Why should Pakistani actors be given the red carpet welcome when our soldiers are being killed on the borders? Was the Uri attack the first one,” an aggressive Thackeray said.

Fadnavis convened a meeting on Saturday which was attended by Thackeray, Karan Johar and Film and Television Producers Guild of India’s President Mukesh Bhatt, among others at his official residence, Varsha, to resolve the imbroglio.

MNS, however, imposed certain conditions to release the film. The party chief demanded a handsome contribution to the army welfare fund and “slides paying tributes to brave Indian soldiers before the start of the film in theatres” — to which both Bhatt and Johar reportedly readily agreed.

Asking all producers to ensure Pakistani artistes “don’t get entry to Bollywood”, Thackeray said producers must submit a written undertaking to MNS that they would not employ any Pakistani actors, singers, technicians, among others. “Producers will discuss the ‘atonement’ amount to be given with Fadnavis and inform us, but from today (Saturday) no more Pakistani artistes shall be hired. We will not tolerate any excuses on this,” Thackeray declared.

Earlier, the MNS said it would not allow the release of the film because it features Pakistani actor, Fawad Khan.