People have been talking about Bollywood celebrities silence on the burning issue(s) of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and its subsequent fallouts in Jamia Millia Islamia University protests and Delhi police violence on the Jamia students. They have chosen to keep quiet at a time when the youth, who are their target audience, is looking up to them to come out and raise their voice against a discriminatory act.
But the industry was not like this always.
Almost a decade ago, the Khans - Shah Rukh and Aamir - did voice their concerns, but they had to face the brunt of voicing their opinions. When the former, seen as a Congress loyalist, spoke on Pakistani cricketers inclusion in the IPL, not only was he threatened but his film 'My Name is Khan' also almost got banned in Maharashtra. SRK, today, weighs his words before speaking on any topic that may have anything to do with the establishment. He is also West Bengal's brand ambassador, which is already a dangerous path to tread on. Actors like SRK are seen as larger-than-life figures, making them soft targets for any political party and in the present scenario, social media trolls and their toxicity.
Aatish Taseer was expecting Shah Rukh Khan to speak and taunted them too. But Taseer does not know the ground reality and what happens to celebrities especially big names like SRK and Aamir Khan.
Aamir, in answer to a question on intolerance at an open forum, admitted that he was 'alarmed' by incidences in the country which prompted his wife, Kiran Rao to suggest that they should leave the country. The actor, who was simply sharing a moment in his life, found himself in the centre of a storm - online and off it - where he was branded 'unpatriotic' and 'anti-national'. He was reportedly ousted as the face of the government's 'Incredible India'. Today, he refuses to say anything on any political and social issues. One also recalls the time Amitabh Bachchan’s house was attacked by MNS workers when he chose to inaugurate a girls' college in UP. It's not just the male stars who faced the brunt of taking a stand on issues. Deepika Padukone had to face death threats after she defended her role in Padmaavat.
And yet, the fact that the industry holds such sway over the hearts and minds of millions is precisely the reason why they, as high-profile public figures, should stand up to be counted. If film stars can line up to be brand ambassadors for government-sponsored programmes like Swach Bharat and Incredible India, what stops those same stars from using their clout to speak up when the basic right of free expression is stifled by self-styled vigilantes with tacit political support?
The film industry is clear that if they speak it has to be in favour of the government and those few voices we have been vocal on social media, are only offering lip service. Those who were seen at the protest march in Mumbai were the ‘usual suspects’ like actors Farhan Akhtar, Huma Qureshi and Sushant Singh. The latter had to pay the price for speaking out against CAA - he was unceremoniously removed from Saavdhan India. However, the loss of job has not stopped the actor from participating in the anti-CAA rally and speaking against the draconian act.
We now hear that even Parineeti Chopra is no longer the brand ambassador of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign, the reason being her participation in criticising the CAA act.
Though the seniors still continue to be silent and don't want to take any kind of panga with the government that does not tolerate criticism, the younger lot, a handful really, have started taking a stand against the establishment. As a veteran writer advised, "It is best to keep quiet and not have a for or against opinion, otherwise life will become hell for us."
It's a complete 360-degree turn by a Hindi film industry that used to be the secular face of India and worked as one unit. Mahesh Bhatt had once told us how the industry came together during the riots to boost the morale of the Muslim actors who were scared and wanted to leave the country.
Actor-politician Sunil Dutt played a vital role in keeping the industry as one unit. There's a huge chasm today, where we see the likes of Vivek Agnihotri and Madhur Bhandarkar widening it, playing partisan to the government and are sitting in positions given to them by it. But there is a movement happening. Anurag Kashyap, who has been trolled and threatened with dire consequences, has returned to social media and is taking on the likes of Akshay Kumar and Vivek Agnihotri. It is important for the film fraternity to realise that the establishment is only taking advantage of it by using the British policy to divide-and-rule.