From a near no-show to a full house for MNIK on friday, it took a bit of arm twisting and a bit of morale boosting by the congress. Here’s how the drama played out

By Ravikiran Deshmukh, Deeptiman Tiwary and Vickey Lalwani (MUMBAI MIRROR; February 13, 2010)

The State Government has claimed that My Name is Khan was screened at 13 multiplexes and single screen theatres. Sena claims its protest was successful. While Shah Rukh Khan claims he has stood his ground.

How did an impasse that did not look resolvable any time soon and threatened to throw the city out of gear, end on a truce within a day? According to sources, it took some massive backroom negotiations and a little bit of arm twisting by the government to achieve that.

Left to right: CM Ashok Chavan, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, Shah Rukh Khan

It was a matter of political prestige and the Democratic Front government had to put in all its might. Multiplex chains and theatre owners were threatened that if despite all security assurances they did not screen the SRK-starrer, the tax rebates they enjoy currently would be withdrawn.

Shiv Sena was allegedly cajoled to an understanding that it had had enough time in the sun and it was in the best interest of the party that it ceded ground.

Chief Minister Ashok Chavan’s office assured that the government would provide Sena an environment to claim a successful protest. A bit of pressure in the form a threat to treat arrested Shiv Sainiks as criminals and not political workers sealed the deal.

Police tries to restrain a Sena activist (Pics: Sachin Haralkar & Raju shinde)

As for Shah Rukh, he was reportedly asked to send another tweet regretting his comments that may have hurt sentiments without changing his stand.

The impasse all through was closely monitored by the Congress High Command in Delhi.

Backroom tactics

According to sources in the establishment and the theatre industry, when on Thursday evening it appeared that despite heavy force deployment theatre owners were reluctant to release the film, the government decided to take a strong step.

An exhibitor told Mumbai Mirror, “On Thursday evening a message was sent to all the exhibitors from the government that they could lose their tax benefits if the film was not released. It was reiterated on Friday.”

Similarly backroom negotiations with Sena were held. A senior functionary in the establishment said, “The Sena was told that it had had its protests and now it was a question of the government’s prestige.

R R Patil displays his ticket for an MNIK show

If agitations were not stopped, it would take unprecedented harsh action against Sena workers. So it was in the best interest of Sena to withdraw the agitation and the government would let it claim success.”

By Friday afternoon, SRK too was instructed to subtly apologise and so the tweet of regret: “If I have said anything wittingly or unwittingly, have disturbed any sentiments, I express wholehearted regret.” Even though he later said this was meant only for his fans.

The result: kudos for CM Chavan from the Congress high command. Rajiv Shukla, Congress Rajya Sabha MP from Maharashtra said, “If at all, full credit goes to the Chief Minister who handled the situation firmly.”

Elsewhere, the Sena issued a statement, claiming a successful agitation. “We never insisted Shah Rukh to apologise to Sena. Our stand was that he should apologise to the nation. The country is bigger (than anybody). We stood up against Khan out of patriotic fervour,” said a press statement.

SRK’s supporters turned up in T-shirts inspired by the film

What happened on the ground

However, the government had to move a lot of things on the ground as well to make the backroom negotiations successful.

To ensure minimal damage to the theatres, some 48,000 policemen were on the streets as it had become a prestige issue for Chief Minister Ashok Chavan who was seen struggling with the political juggernaut coming his way in the last two-three days.

The CM, who appeared fighting his personal battle with no Congress minister except Narayan Rane and Minister of State for Home Ramesh Bagwe speaking on his side, got some respite with Home Minister R R Patil coming in for help.

Sources said, Patil asked senior police officers to speak to the theatre owners and assure them of state protection even after the release of the movie. That made a significant difference, as it is the Home Department and the police that handles issue of the cinema licences.

R R Patil arrives at Regal Cinema

To restore the confidence of the theatre owners, CM Chavan, Patil and Bagwe visited a few cinema houses on Friday afternoon. MP Sanjay Nirupam went along with his supporters to watch the movie at Fun Cinemas in Andheri.

When contacted by this newspaper, the CM refused to elaborate on his plans for the release of the movie. “The government has made every effort to protect the theatres and the viewers who wanted to enjoy the movie,” he said. Though he did not speak much, he seemed a much relieved man as a non-release would have had an adverse effect on his chair.

Patil told this newspaper that the movie was released in almost 13 multiplexes and single screen theatres. “Our policemen have taken every care to stall any effort to disrupt the screening,” he said.

According to police sources, the movie released at Fun (Andheri), Inox (Nariman Point), PVR (Goregaon), Fame (Malad), Cinemax (Ghatkopar and Kandivali), Big (Wadala), Regal (Colaba), Ashish (Chembur), Kalpana (Kurla), Shreyas (Ghatkopar), Premier (Dongri and Parel).

A girl shows the eight tickets she bought for herself and her friends