Anil Kapoor wears a so-called IAF uniform and behaves rather obnoxiously, on screen albeit, the IAF takes to heart and tweets out against the wrong portrayal of an IAF officer, AK apologises, IAF doesn’t react, public opinion is divided, media has a field day—sounds rather recent. Age-old debate about incorrect portrayal of character, or the uniform in this case, as versus creative liberty has always left the readers with unanswered questions and queries in spite of the ‘strong arguments’ put forward by both sides. Few questions which might still linger in one’s mind have been attempted in the succeeding paragraphs.
Did IAF jump the gun?
To some, yes, after all AK is claimed to have been playing an actor who happens to be wearing the uniform (closely resembling an Air Commodores’) when he gets the news of his daughter’s kidnapping. It has been argued over social media that AK was never portraying an IAF officer to have hurt sentiments, so why the anguish? Why the attempt to gag Creative Liberty? What was so wrong of an actor, who is one of the most respected in the industry, to have donned the ‘uniform’? The answer to these questions lies in the depth of the armed forces ethos and way of thinking which actually goes beyond the realms of imagination and comprehension of most who are not connected to the armed forces closely.
Was the uniform accurate?
First and foremost, Bollywood has burnt its fingers many a times, trying to dress up its actors like members of armed forces. A little research by the production team would have at least got them to get the shirt right, or at least have the necktie thrown in, if AK insisted on a full sleeve, if this was too much of a task a simple visit to any tailor at Gopinath Bazar would have solved most gaffes. Yes the uniform was inaccurate, though loosely portraying an IAF wear for the layman, it certainly didn’t win any points for accuracy. It was and will always be a “Costume” and nothing more. To explain further, you could have lengths of green, saffron and white cloth lying around but stitch them in the correct order and put in the Ashoka Chakra and you have an element which every Indian would love to hold upright. Yes, to most service officers that is the analogy.
What does uniform mean to services?
The service uniform has to be earned, it can never be gifted nor ‘bought’. An interesting fact about uniforms and its place in services can be appreciated from this—the National Defence Academy, the cradle of military leadership in India, has rolling and hopping on one haunches as forms of informal punishments for petty mistakes, no cadet worth his salt ever rolls, preferring to hop on his haunches, if he is donning his Squadron colour Tee or vest. Cadets can be seen rolling in all different attire, even Lounge suits, but never in squadron colours. This is the pedestal which members of armed forces put their official attire on, naturally the inappropriate and incorrect donning of one would certainly hurt them. This breed of men and women live by the motto of “Nam, Namak and Nishan” and certainly official attire finds a very high esteem in their lives entwined within the three ‘Ns’. For them it’s not just another piece of clothing.
Does it curb creative liberties?
Creative liberties is an essential part of every society, imagine life without it, our poetries would be rather drab, our prose lacking brightness and our movies rather dull. However, it needs to be appreciated that with every Liberty comes responsibility, the two are interlinked and cannot be enjoyed in isolation, in fact one would land up in an existential crisis without the other. The attire in question in AK vs AK could have been anything but it was what it was and that fact lends to it the responsibility. The script could have been anything from a subtle change of outfit, to the character shown as changing his clothes before stepping into the difficult journey of searching for his daughter, especially when he is adorning a costume and not a uniform. Creative liberty in this case would have rendered this controversy defunct.
Were the makers right?
The production team has all rights to plan and execute their product as they feel free, but in this free world a responsible team should and would weigh their actions and their effect on the receptors. One cannot deny the fact that certain professions leave a stronger impact on the onlookers than others, due to their sheer romanticism. Acting is one of them, piloting, defence, being some more which tend to hold this aura. This is the same reason you would often find commercial pilots walking to and from their aircraft, through the airport, dressed prim and proper, though they may loosen their tie or undo a couple of buttons on their shirt when inside the private confines of their cockpit. This is the responsibility being talked about here. After Top Gun was released, despite its inaccurate depiction of air combat and the cavalier lifestyle of fighter pilots, the leather jacket and aviator sunglasses worn by the protagonist became a phenomenon, AK himself has donned the costume of service uniform earlier for his act in Pukar and was very well received in all circles. This is the effect being indicated here.
Finally, the publicity and limelight factor cannot be ruled out. Did the IAF fall into the classic publicity trap? The IAF social media handles have more than a million followers. Endorsement or otherwise reaction, of any event results in as many views, which for a hungry producer is a heaven sent situation, classically exemplified by the recent KJ production on women pilots. This exploitation of the situation, if any, needs to be redressed by the IAF a little more closely.
Amit Ranjan Giri is a veteran of the IAF who retired as a Wing Commander. An erstwhile fighter pilot who has flown the MiG 27 and MiG 21 aircraft has served the IAF for 24 years. He has also been a Ministry of defence PRO based in Delhi before retirement. Currently, the Wing Commander flies for a commercial airlines and writes on defence-related matters in his spare time.