Bollywood is the land of paradoxes. Actors change their stance after a flop, and women artistes who speak of equal wages work with the most misogynistic of stars. But then, one needs to make compromises to survive in this place – at least as far as superstars are concerned.
The Rajasthan high court on Monday acquitted Salman Khan, the reigning king of the box office, in two cases of chinkara poaching on the outskirts of Jodhpur in 1998. Many celebrities, directly or indirectly related to Khan, became unusually happy. A flood of tweets drowned our timelines.
In contrast, Bollywood witnessed widespread outrage last year – when a Mumbai court sentenced Khan to five-year imprisonment in the infamous 2002 hit-and-run case. The actor’s car, on that instance, had run over a few people sleeping on the pavement – killing one and injuring four.
If Salman didn't do it, who did? One dead person. Four injured. Surely, someone is guilty?— Shobhaa De (@DeShobhaa) December 10, 2015
But where was all that outrage when Salman Khan made the raped woman remark? Even the few who reacted appeared sheepish in their approach. They seemed to suggest that the 50-year-old actor had made a juvenile mistake.
This wasn’t the first instance of Bollywood cherry-picking the issues it wants to support. From the workers union strike of the ‘80s to the Udta Punjab-CBFC row, the film industry has been very selective – and biased – in its approach. Hardly ever do any of its big names take on powerful individuals or ruling parties.
The ‘80s strike was called to protest the steep hike in sales tax, but the biggies didn’t bother to lend a hand. Even with the Udta Punjab controversy, biggies began reacting only after witnessing the huge public uproar.
Bollywood is an industry peopled with snobs who speak of setting international standards of filmmaking while creating silly movies that sometimes border on the vulgar. What’s more, they audaciously defend their products in the name of ‘popular cinema’.
Watch: Salman Khan, Anushka Sharma in a song from Sultan
These celebrities carefully pick their words when a popular singer shares a cowardly letter on the social media, but people like Sona Mohapatra are not defended when they put out their thoughts. Every big star has essayed stalker roles in their films, and it’s only now that they are apologising for it. But that’s still a minor issue.
When a veteran film actor’s son – who has been named in an abetment to suicide case – was launched last year, many of Bollywood’s stalwarts came out to bless the new guy on the block. Not a single voice of suspicion was levelled against him. Later, it came as no surprise when the same guy received the best newcomer award for his below-average performance in a lacklustre movie. After all, the film industry is a close-knit family, and what happens in a family should stay in the family.
People who seem outspoken on other issues keep mum on all things related to Khan, or any big name for that matter. Not a single word of protest. They seem to have realised the power of staying together, and keeping the big ones happy.
They talk, of course, but only when Tanmay Bhat comes up with a Snapchat video or AIB does a roast. Instead of saying “it’s unfortunate” or “in a bad taste”, they simply demand a ban on the comedians. It’s like advocating freedom of speech with a gun in your hand.
Salman Khan is a cottage industry in himself. His latest venture – Sultan – is also breaking records, and it makes sense to be in his good books. Hypocritical Bollywood can continue to be so, that’s their choice, but they should stop trying to hide their cowardice behind that much-maligned flag of righteousness.
Interact with Rohit Vats at Twitter/@nawabjha