Bollywood has very often turned a blind eye to political turmoil in the country.The same was the story with the month-long protests against Citizenship Amendment Act. However, over the last few days, several leading ladies of the industry have been at the forefront of the ongoing nationwide protests against the country be it for JNU attacks or the anti-CAA protests. Will the male heroes of Bollywood now show some real-life courage?
Over the past few years, whenever India has been rocked by turmoil – political, social or religious – one group of people with considerable influence has been conspicuous by absence. The Indian film fraternity. The same was the case with the ongoing protests against brutal police attacks on students as well as the protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act that have rocked the nation for over five weeks now.
However, over the past few days, leading lights of Bollywood as well as other film industries not only boldly criticised the police action and the divisive CAA, but also joined the protests. One of the biggest surprises was when Bollywood mainstream actor Deepika Padukone went to the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, which has been embroiled in chaos and protests for the past few days, in order to show her solidarity with the students.
As expected, Deepika’s decision to take a call on one of the most boiling issues which has pitted the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and notably its leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and union home minister Amit Shah, against millions of youth, women and other protesters nationwide, was met with its own set of protests and shows of support.
Deepika’s appearance at the JNU was even more critically-timed as it came days before the release of a social film Chhapaak where she plays the role of the protagonist, victim of an acid attack. While the supporters of the Modi government called Deepika’s decision a publicity stunt and called for boycotting the movie while others felt that it was a strong move from the actress. #ISupportDeepika and #BoycottChhapaak have trended on social media ever since she made the appearance.
Atika Chohan, Chhapaak’s co-writer, wrote, “Imagine taking a stand two days before your film release when it is your money and hard work on the line. This is not publicity. This is an ardent call of the conscience. I Support Deepika Padukone for life, not just for Chhapaak.” Deepika had also faced right-wing fury over her 2017 film Padmaavat, where she had played the role of Queen Padmavati. Protesters vandalised cinemas and threatened to chop off Padukone’s nose, while a BJP leader had announced INR 100 million (USD 1.5 million) bounty on her head.
Long before Deepika Padukone made it to the forefront and showed solidarity with the students, it was actress Swara Bhasker who had not just voiced her opinions but also was a part of several march and addressed them too. On New Year’s Day she attended protests in Delhi against a new citizenship law perceived to be unjust to Muslims.
The Raanjhana actor, who has a history of losing work and endorsements for her stance on various public issues, has taken a strong stand against the government and worked tirelessly with protesters. Not just Bhasker but there are several celebrities who lost endorsements or shows merely for voicing their opinions.
Losing work for voicing their opinions
TV actor Sushant Singh was removed as the host of the daily-crime drama Savdhaan India for expressing his opinion against the CAA. Similarly, there were even reports of actress Parineeti Chopra dropped from Beti Bachao, a campaign focused on the girl child sponsored by the central government, after she called the police action on Jamia students ‘barbaric’. A few years ago, Aamir Khan, one of the biggest Bollywood names,had lost a big endorsement after a comment about how his family was worried about rising intolerance.
Among those who have been at the forefront of the current protests or are against the Act are filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, actors Swara Bhasker, Zeeshan Ayyub, Taapsee Pannu, Dia Mirza, Farhan Akhtar, Manoj Bajpayee, Huma Qureshi, Richa Chadha, Ali Fazal, Shabana Azmi, Kabir Khan, Sushant Singh, and many more.
“This has gone too far.. can’t stay silent any longer. This government is clearly fascist .. and it makes me angry to see voices that can actually make a difference stay quiet,” Kashyap had tweeted in December. From the South Indian cinema, actors Kamal Haasan, Siddharth and Parvathy Thiruvothu are among the ones who have been very vocal about opposing the Act. Actor-politician Kamal Haasan-led Makkal Needhi Maiam has filed public interest litigation in the Supreme Court last month seeking a stay on the new amendment.
No country for bold men
Despite the leading ladies of Bollywood taking a stand, their on-screen partners have so far shied away from uttering a word, perhaps fearing not just loss of some business, but perhaps due to the fear of a behind the scene whiplash from the powers that be. In a recent interview actor Ajay Devgn while promoting his movie Tanhaji said that “If we (himself and co-actor Saif Ali Khan) say something, it will offend someone and my film Tanhaji will be banned. Who will suffer? The producer, that’s me.” And then there are actors like Akshay Kumar who when recently asked about what he would want to ask union home minister Amit Shah had said “The only thing I would ask Amit Shah ji, is to take care of his health. He is a very important person in the country.” Akshay Kumar had earlier made his political leanings clear with a famous ‘interview’ with Modi, in the midst of the Parliamentary election campaign in May, where instead of posing questions about the electoral issues, he asked Modi about his mango-eating preferences.
The three Khans – Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan – have not even bothered to take note of the ongoing protests. The same can be said about a dozen other leading lights of Indian film industry who on screen are bold and daring, taking up causes for the society. Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, always vocal on issues, said, “It makes me angry to see voices that can actually make a difference stay quiet.”
Will the superheroes learn from their leading ladies, show some spine and finally take a stand on either side of the divide?