‘Watch MS Dhoni film in Hindi’: The untold story of MNS’ impending downfall

So said Ameya Khopkar, president of the Maharashtra Navnirman Chitrapat Karmachari Sena (MNCKS) in reference to the upcoming MS Dhoni biopic (MS Dhoni: The Untold Story) that is to be dubbed in Marathi. MNCKS is the film wing of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
Khopkar’s statements are indicative of a broader truth (and no, I’m not going to resort to clichés like ‘the blind leading the blind’ to which, as I write these words, some loud and obnoxious talking head on a TV channel is resorting, in the context of something entirely irrelevant). And that truth is that the MNS hasn’t a clue about what it is doing anymore. Not a damn clue.
No, this isn’t a sanghi thing, it’s not a congi thing, it’s not a leftist thing, it’s not a bhakt thing, it’s not a manoos thing… it’s just a thing. A very real thing.
Aside from being established by Raj Thackeray — who embodies the spirit of his uncle Bal Thackeray far more than Uddhav does — to split the Shiv Sena vote bank, the MNS was ostensibly built on the planks of ‘Sons of the Soil’ and the primacy of the Marathi language. And now, the party seems to have lost its way. In fact, to say the party symbolised by a train engine has ‘lost its way’ is to be extremely gentle, not to mention disingenuous. That this train engine has run off the tracks, through a forest, across a highway, into a hill, then rolled into a river and now is floating into the wide expanse of the Arabian Sea is probably more apt. Here’s why:
Raj Thackeray’s MNS was founded on the ‘sons of soil’ agenda. Image from PTIRaj Thackeray’s MNS was founded on the In 2008 — two years after the party’s inception as a secular party, and one that would fight for your right to celebrate Valentine’s Day — came the party’s drive to give Biharis and North Indians what-for. As the months rolled on, the MNS was incredibly busy. If the party’s goons extremely respectable recruits weren’t railing against Chhath Puja or battling the (cough) noble battle against non-Marathi autorickshaw and taxi drivers, they were out trying to get shops, commercial establishments and housing societies to put up Marathi signboards.
And when gentle persuasion didn’t work, these fine recruits took matters into their own hands — a technique to which party supremo Raj Thackeray has oft-alluded as “the MNS way”. Or “style”, I forget which.
All of these are interesting facts, but it’s the issue of Marathi signboards that is most pertinent. As a civic correspondent from 2008 to 2010, I had a courtside view of the MNS’ posturing and fretting when it came to the issue of signboards in Marathi. Presumably, having the names displayed in Hindi was not sufficient — never mind the fact that the scripts are identical — considering the hue and cry the party’s various representatives in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) would raise on this issue.
It was in fact around this time that agendas for BMC committee meetings and press releases from the municipal corporation ceased to be in English and Hindi. They were only issued in Marathi. Not that the MNS had a major role in pushing this aspect of the agenda, because after all, the big (yet estranged) brother Shiv Sena was still pulling all the major strings.
But, the cumulative statement from the MNS appeared to be: Mumbai (maybe even Maharashtra, but I didn’t bother checking the then-fledgling party’s reach beyond the state capital) is for Marathi-speakers and no one else.
In September 2008, Thackeray took exception to a speech delivered by Jaya Bachchan in Hindi at a promotional event for the film Drona — that’s right, a Hindi film — and said, “If (she) wants to speak in Hindi, she better shift to Uttar Pradesh. In Maharashtra, she must learn Marathi. She should also learn to respect the sentiments of Maharashtra.”
Running through the full set-list of the MNS’ antics will take far too long, so let’s just skip through and tick off the main points.
– Demanding that only Marathi-speaking autorickshaw drivers receive licences? Check
– Raising the Marathi nameplates issue again and again? Check
– Slapping around Abu Azmi for his inability to take oath in Marathi? Check
– Threatening to ban films whose makers refuse to donate money to farmers in Maharashtra? Check, although this one is neither here nor there.
But the bottomline with the MNS has always been this sense of Marathi asmita and the demand that everyone speak Marathi, or else they have no business to be in the state.
So how does that gel with Khopkar’s remarks that Maharashtrians are able to follow Hindi?
Well, from a logical point of view, it’s not something new to us. In fact, I’d venture as far as to say a not inconsiderable chunk of the Rs 100 crore that all of Salman Khan’s films seem to rack up these days come from a Maharashtrian audience. And unless I’m woefully mistaken, Salman has yet to act in a Marathi film (although there are some reports that he will have a cameo in Riteish Deshmukh’s next) or one dubbed in Marathi.
From the MNS point of view, however, Khopkar’s remark is a massive hammer blow to an already brittle leg of that body that is the party’s agenda. By expressly stating that if they (Maharashtrians) wish to watch the Dhoni biopic, they can do so in Hindi, Khopkar has laid waste to the previous arguments spouted by the party that basically seemed to scream that people in this state only speak Marathi.