'Deshdrohi' set to cash in on anti-immigrant sentiment

Reuters Posted: Nov 05, 2008 at 1531 hrs
Mumbai, November 5: Violent confrontations between immigrants and locals in India's financial capital, signs of the problems arising from unequal economic growth, are the focus of a new "Bollywood" film about the hardships of immigrant life.

"Deshdrohi", or "Traitor", tries to make sense of the conflict that experts say is a sign of the strains that inequality is placing on India as some areas enjoy an economic boom and others are left behind.

Anti-immigrant tensions have simmered over the years in Mumbai as thousands from the countryside and small towns arrived in India's most cosmopolitan city seeking to eke out a living as taxi drivers or menial jobs like laundrymen.

Many local Marathis have resented the deluge, and a few politicians have made capital out of it.

Last month saw some of the worst violence by Marathis against immigrants from east and north India.

That was soon followed by reprisal attacks on trains bound for Mumbai. In one such incident a small boy was shot dead by police firing on protesters. About 100 people were hurt.

The film, without big Bollywood names, looks at hardships immigrants face in a city where rural migration has displaced Marathis, who now form less than 50 percent of the city's more than 17 million population.

"My film is the story of what happens in Mumbai. It deals with the Marathis versus North Indians issue," said Kamaal Khan, lead actor and producer of "Deshdrohi". "This issue needs to be brought out so that every Indian can see what is going on."

Much of the violence has been blamed on the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, a right-wing political party in Mumbai, whose leader Raj Thackeray stands accused of fuelling resentment with anti-immigrant rhetoric before elections next year.

The film's makers have also been accused of churning out a quick potboiler to cash in on the controversy.

"I want every Indian to see my film but I am not out to take advantage of the violence," Khan said.

"Deshdrohi" opens in cinemas across India on Nov. 14. Khan has complied with a directive from India's Censor Board to cut the word "Marathi" from some of the film's dialogue.

"There were some scenes that were derogatory to a particular community," said Vinayak Azaad, who heads the Mumbai office of the Central Board of Film Certification.