Growing a spine!
On a welcoming note, an increasing group of Bollywood artists are now vociferously communicating their stand on issues in public interest
William Wordsworth famously said that a poet is "a man speaking to men". Here, a poet is generally accepted to mean an artist who communicates truth to fellow men and women. This is the duty of the true artist — to not only strive for artistic excellence but to paint reality to the rest of us. Historically, artists have always expressed their stance on politics and current affairs. In India, Bollywood happens to be the biggest collection of artists. However, most of our big stars are often seen to be cosying up to governments and politicians. They lend their brand to government campaigns, they enjoy the perks of being in the good books of power, and more often than not, respectfully observe a guarded silence to the goings-on of the country. But this may well be changing.
Some of the younger starlets have displayed neither intellect nor acumen to take a stand on the nationwide anti-CAA/NRC protests. They are perfectly content in their Instagram world of pouts, apparel and foreign travel; disappointing our very souls with their superficial existence in an alternate universe. Thankfully, a clutch of Bollywood actors, directors, and artists are slowly but finally growing a spine. Other than the usual dissenters such as Swara Bhasker, Anurag Kashyap, Siddharth Suryanarayan etc., there are finally more artists such as Farhan Akhtar, Dia Mirza, Kabir Khan, etc. taking a leaf out of her Hollywood counterparts and taking a vocal stance against the excesses of the administration.
This week when A-lister Deepika Padukone stood strong with JNU, her silence spoke volumes. She did have a new film awaiting release, and as anyone in brand-building will tell you, any publicity is good publicity. But by wading into the super-charged JNU issue, Deepika definitely showed guts. Speaking up for one's beliefs should be an ordinary act but in an acerbic, troll-ridden, hashtag-trending environment, this normal act is courageous.
The risks of taking a stand are palpable, more so, if that stand is critical of ruling governments. You may be dropped out of a show (Sushant Singh was dropped from Savdhaan India though Star Bharat claims otherwise), polarised masses may promise to boycott movies such as Deepika's 'Chhapaak', and work that should come your way may be shelved with no explanation. Aamir Khan, who had spoken about rising intolerance in India, learnt it the hard way after Snapdeal snipped his contract; he has stayed shut ever since.
To be honest, it doesn't matter what's one's beliefs are, what's most irritating is when superstars choose to stay quiet. At least an Akshay Kumar wondering if the most important leader of the country savours his "aam" (mango) is an unabashed endorsement but take others — they neither endorse nor react; remaining mute spectators to everything that happens in the country. Internet shutdown, economic slowdown, lack of jobs, attack on students — they remain comfortably tucked under their blankets of delusion. It is shameful when iconic actor and Dadasaheb Phalke awardee, Amitabh Bachchan, remains with his blinkers on. Not when government projects have to be endorsed, not when government awards have to be taken, but complete, pin-drop silence for incidents related to police brutality and apathy. Not even the attack on students in JNU, AMU, and Jamia Milia Islamia ruffled Big B's perfect toupee. Some well-known film stars and even sportspersons (such as Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Virat Kohli etc.) have too much to lose or simply don't care. Neither blood-chilling screams nor sloganeering enter their self-constructed bubbles; they remain impervious to everything.
Mind you, it's even better to be a Kangana Ranaut and Payal Rohatgi (sorry, she's not really an artist but you get the drift) who are freakishly right-wing. Nothing wrong in that either; at least they are taking a stand and we see them for what they are. It's the deaf and dumb variety that gets my goat! Because these are the people that we place on a pedestal; that our people worship, and younger generations follow. How drunk on your own vanity and selfish interests can you be to not be affected by socio-political issues? You don't deserve to call yourselves 'artists'; just cinematic mercenaries that only care about personal ambitions.
Shutapa Paul is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are strictly personal