Bollywood’s Voice Or Silence On important Issues — Does It Really Matter?Time and again, one has witnessed the megastars of the Mumbai film fraternity, who have the power to influence the masses, opt for silence over issues that matter.
We can’t help but fall in love with their heroism, daredevilry and larger-than-life persona on the silver screen as they take us into the magical world of cinema. But when it comes to socio-political issues in real-life, Bollywood A-listers, who often play the torch-bearer of justice onscreen, usually refrain from taking any stands.
Time and again, one has witnessed the megastars of the Mumbai film fraternity, who have the power to influence the masses, opt for silence over issues that matter. One such recent example is the Farmer’s Protest, which has been underway for over 100 days now and has become one of the biggest protests in history. Millions of farmers in India have gathered at different sites on the outskirts of Delhi to protest against the three agricultural reform laws that were passed in September without any consultation with them. As per the Indian farmers, the new farm laws threaten their livelihood. While a handful of celebs, especially the ones belonging to the indie tribe, have come out and spoken about the issue, the majority of B-townies have kept silent over the entire matter.
While the top stars of the country turned a blind eye on the issue, a western pop star brought the plight of the Indian farmers to global attention. It just took a few words from the songstress – Rihanna to rattle the entire nation. The pop icon along with a media report headlined — 'India cuts internet around New Delhi as protesting farmers clash with police’, wrote on her social media – “Why aren’t we talking about this?”
While actress Kangana Ranaut, the self-appointed mouthpiece of Hindutva, went hammer and tongs after the Barbadian pop star and questioned her interest in the whole matter, within a short span of time, some of our beloved stars took to their social media platforms and spoke against international criticism of India’s handling of the ongoing farmers’ protests.
A spate of near-identical tweets on farmer’s protest with a similar language and tonality with hashtags like #IndiaTogether and #IndianAgainstPropaganda were dropped by the likes of Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Suniel Shetty, Lata Mangeskar, director Karan Johar, and sporting personalities like Sachin Tendulkar, Saina Nehwal among others.
The supporters of the ruling party, obviously, hailed their pro-government stance, however, the ones supporting the farmers’ protest accused them of cowardice and being spineless. Soon after, hashtags like #SpinelessCelebs and #AntiNationalBollywood started trending on Twitter.
On the other hand, while those who spoke against the popular narrative and government diktat, too weren’t spared from the backlash. From being heavily trolled on the internet, to getting death and rape threats, to being labelled as anti-nationals — the wrath they faced on the internet was indeed despicable. The likes of Swara Bhasker, Taapsee Pannu, Diljit Dosanjh, Sonakshi Sinha, Sonam Kapoor are among the few celebrities who are vocal about their support for the farmers and as a result are being continuously subjected to online bullying.
Interestingly, the self-appointed social media police didn’t even spare the ones who have been keeping silent throughout the protest and called them out for their cowardice.
But amid all this online hatred, mindless trolling and embarrassing and ill-informed statements made by some of our top celebrities, one wonders, if influential actors should even participate in political activism? And we, the fans, who idolize them on screen, should even take their opinions on important matters as such seriously? They are entertainers who are good at doing their jobs, but is it wise to make them lodestars off the screen? Or to even put the onus of starting a revolution on to their shoulders?
“Before being celebrities we are Indians. We are as much responsible for our country as any other citizen. So, if there is something we see is going wrong in our country, we should speak about it without any hesitance, even if it is a political issue,” said actor Aarya Babbar, who has been a vocal supporter of the farmers’ issue.
The versatile actor, who has done several Punjabi and Bollywood films further added, “Being a celebrity rather comes with a responsibility. We have a voice that can influence a certain number of people and even communities. We have been gifted with this power, and it’s the people of this nation who has given us this power, and we should use this power in the right way possible. We should not forget that we use people’s emotions to make our projects work, we are, who we are today because of all the love showered on us by the public. So, if there is a political issue, where we can see this very public being exploited and their emotions being played with, we should speak up and not be cowards and keep quiet.”
When it comes to taking a stand about burning issues, one can’t not mention the feisty actress Swara Bhasker, who has always shown bravery and never shied away from making her voice heard where it matters — be it the CAA protest, the students protest at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus or now the farmer’s protests. Swara strongly believes that as an actor and citizen one should participate in conversations that define our politics. She said, “I don’t see myself as a political activist, I don’t do anything. Honestly, it’s not like I am on the ground. This is perhaps the first time. But I am an actor and a citizen who is politically conscious and motivated because I feel that politics defines our future, so we have to define our politics.”
Veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah, who too has never been afraid of calling a spade a spade, shares a similar opinion. The actor in a recent interview said, “In the end, you will not hear the words of your enemies but the silence of your friends. To say that it is not a matter of personal concern would not be right at all. If our farmers are sitting on protest in the bitter cold we cannot turn a blind eye to them. I am sure that the farmer protest will gain momentum and everyone will join in. This will definitely happen. Being silent is tantamount to supporting an oppressor. I believe this.” He further said, “The towering personalities of our film industry are extremely silent over all this. They believe that they may lose something if they speak up. When you have earned enough to provide for seven generations, how much will you lose?”
In all fairness, it is not that our stars have not ever spoken on issues, they have many times in the past, but the repercussions for some have been quite nasty. Just last year, when actress Deepika Padukone paid a quiet visit to the JNU campus to stand in solidarity with the students protesting against a fee hike, the right-wing troll quickly labelled her as anti-national and demanded a boycott for her then-upcoming film Chappak. What’s more, it didn’t stop at that; the actress also received several death and rape threats.
Director Anubhav Sinha pointed out at a roundtable discussion, “We saw what happened to Shah Rukh when he used the word ‘intolerant’ or to Aamir when he was telling a benign story about his wife, and people selectively picked up one half of the statement. I am not even talking about them losing contracts, which is fine. They can afford to lose those contracts. Only people who get trolled that viciously will know what it means. Suddenly, you are identified with your religion.” Even the Indian media today doesn’t blink an eyelid before branding them as terrorist, anti-nationals, Pakistanis. Not to forget there are countless cases of journalists and stand-up comedians, who have been slapped with cases of sedition and put behind the bars for questioning actions of the government. In that light, it is not surprising that voices of dissent from Bollywood’s A-lister have slowly started to diminish.
Hence, in one sense it’s unfair to expect our celebrities to voice their opinions and be the torchbearer for our causes and battles. Highlighting this very point, Swara said, “Why do we need causes to be legitimised by celebrities in any way? What is this culture where a cause will only come to light and be discussed if a celebrity lends a name to it? And it happens everywhere in the world. Suddenly the Tibetan issue will be talked about because Richard Gere tweeted about it. Or Palestine becomes something because Rihanna said it or the Armenian genocide because Kim Kardashian wrote about it. But that’s problematic, right? I would go to the extent of saying, ‘don’t depend on us; don’t ever depend on actors. I’ll run away the day I have a film release. We should think about causes for their own merit.” True, after all, they’re artists at the end of the day. They can do social and political activism if they want, it’s an active choice but it can’t be expected from them.
Moreover, one needs to understand that like the rest of us, they too might have opinions for or against an issue. Sometimes they may be well-informed or sometimes they might come with half-baked information and make callous statements like calling the farmers – terrorist, or simply be the bigger megaphones for a political party.
Hence, it is important as a movie-going audience, or as their fans, for us to not get blindly influenced by their views and instead use our common sense and discretion before forming any judgements. We don’t watch actors for their political views, we watch TV or go to movies to be entertained. Not to have their opinions forced upon us. Actors taking a strong stand, after carefully understanding and educating themselves on the issue is a good thing. It certainly needs to be applauded, but it can’t be demanded from everyone.
Moreover, instead of blindly following our favourite celebrity we need to wise up and use our sensibilities and understanding of the issue before forming our opinions. Eventually, the responsibility to build a conducive environment for one and all is upon us, and not on the stars of the silver screen.
Photos : Courtesy of Varinder Chawla, Instagram, FACEBOOK of stars featured