Actor Deepika Padukone is seen at a gathering in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, January 7, 2020(Vipin Kumar /HT PHOTO)
Actor Deepika Padukone is seen at a gathering in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, January 7, 2020(Vipin Kumar /HT PHOTO)

The immense integrity and courage of Deepika Padukone, writes Barkha Dutt

In a risk-averse and status-quoist industry such as Bollywood, it’s not easy to go against the tide
UPDATED ON JAN 11, 2020 05:27 PM IST

No matter which side of the debate you are on when it comes to the students’ protests across India and the turmoil we are seeing on some of our best campuses, you cannot deny the extraordinary courage that Deepika Padukone showed by making an appearance at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

In choosing to greet Aishe Ghosh, the young JNU Students’ Union president, whose skull was nearly broken open with an iron rod, with her hands folded in a respectful namaste, Padukone marked an important breakaway from her industry’s past apathy.

She was, however, not the first one to speak up. Other notables are Sonam Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Taapsee Pannu, Swara Bhasker, Richa Chadda, Farhan Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Anubhav Sinha and Zeeshan Ayyub — marking an evident generational shift. But she certainly made the most dramatic and risk-laden gesture.

If the worst you can say about her fiercely individual assertion to be at JNU is that it was a promotional stunt for her new film Chhapaak, you have no idea how the film industry’s public relations masters and brand managers think.

In fact, a few days ago, but before the violent assault at JNU, I met Padukone and the film’s director Meghna Gulzar at an event in Jaipur. They were surrounded by half a dozen advisers and publicity managers. As we sat talking backstage, both Gulzar and Padukone asked me thoughtful, reflective questions about the controversy around the new citizenship legislation and the proposed National Register of Citizens. Their minders worried that this would come up in our formal conversation. In fact while Padukone — who is also a producer on the film — and Gulzar seemed comfortable in taking these questions from an essentially young audience, everyone around them was positively paranoid. The one comment Padukone did make to me was about actors being a soft target. Why did we not demand the same accountability from our industry leaders or our sports stars or other celebrities, she wondered. Everything that has happened since then vindicates Padukone ’s point and reinforces the fact that she would have had a tough time convincing the multiple stakeholders around her about the need to go to JNU. They are more risk-averse and status-quoist than you can even begin to imagine.

In part, the credit for triggering this change must go to students across India who have generated a first-of-its-kind moral pressure on people, irrespective of political affiliations. Their optimism, their idealism in going to battle for constitutional values, the proud embrace of symbols of nationalism and the disturbing videographed images from Jamia Millia Islamia to JNU of the violence they have suffered — all of this makes neutrality a near impossibility, even for those who regard themselves as apolitical. But if the students have made the protests almost cool, Padukone’s presence has enabled many others to shun silence. Since her visit, others like Sunil Shetty, Varun Dhawan and Sunny Leone have jumped into the conversation.

Already, for the choice that Padukone has made, there have been calls to boycott her new release. Some ministers in the government have targeted her in the coarsest of language. Padukone could well be dropped from other government-linked promotional campaigns. And the hideous, sexist online trolling is relentless. If, for any reason, her film does not do well, you can’t even begin to count the number of so-called well-wishers who will argue that it was linked to her presence at JNU.

They will then advise her to zip up forever.

But Padukone has reflected a quiet-but-ferocious strength even before this. The very decision to transform herself into an acid attack survivor, in an industry where they often forcibly retire female actors in their thirties, is reflective of that stubborn strength. She told me that a top male director had advised her not to do Chhapaak precisely because she “wouldn’t look good,” in the way the industry defines it.

A few years ago, Padukone came out to me in an interview about an intensely private and anguished battle with mental depression. Then too, I asked her whether she was not scared of possible repercussions. But she had made up her mind. And there was no turning back. Her volubility is in unmissable contrast to most of the top male actors of her fraternity. In particular, Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan appear to have fallen silent since their straight-shooting on issues such as mob lynching of Muslims a few years ago caused them awful backlash online. I did one such interview with Shah Rukh where he spoke bluntly about the Dadri lynchings. Of course he was trolled viciously. A new release of his a couple of months later flunked the box office test. Later I found his managers believed that the interview was one reason for the flop. This is how minds and opinions and thoughts are controlled and curtailed in Bollywood.

And this is why Padukone has shown such remarkable integrity.

Barkha Dutt is an award-winning author and journalist
The views expressed are personal
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
Elections in Kerala are punctuated by several controversies, both past and present (File Photo)
Elections in Kerala are punctuated by several controversies, both past and present (File Photo)

Espionage to smuggling, scandals spice up every poll in Kerala

By Ramesh Babu, Thiruvanathapuram
PUBLISHED ON MAR 03, 2021 07:26 PM IST
  • controversies and scandals were part of the state polity in the last three decades and mushrooming digital media also played its part in amplifying them, said a political observer.
Close
The 1962 baggage at the turn of century was such that for 40 years, subsequent governments did not dare build border roads on the ground that these could be used by the Chinese army to enter the hinterland in case of a conflict.(PTI)
The 1962 baggage at the turn of century was such that for 40 years, subsequent governments did not dare build border roads on the ground that these could be used by the Chinese army to enter the hinterland in case of a conflict.(PTI)

Why 2021 political rhetoric is no match for 1962 fighting in Ladakh

By Shishir Gupta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 03, 2021 02:15 PM IST
  • India and China came close to war last year after Indian army commanders atop Rezang La-Rechin La ridge threatened to fire at the advancing PLA tank regiment that sought to dislodge the Indian troopers.
Close
Approximately half of the countries use population for delimitation, while another third use registered voters. Nowhere is it based on area and for good reasons (HTPHOTO)
Approximately half of the countries use population for delimitation, while another third use registered voters. Nowhere is it based on area and for good reasons (HTPHOTO)

J&K delimitation: Go by the population rule

By Haseeb Drabu
PUBLISHED ON MAR 01, 2021 06:39 PM IST
Having already decided on the number of electors as well as the number of elected, the only part of delimitation that has been left to the Commission is the electoral cartography — the redrawing of boundaries and enclosing people within the constituency framework. Notwithstanding these debilitating infirmities in the context of J&K, the redrawing of the constituencies is an extraordinarily complex and highly contentious exercise. It can potentially alter the electoral demographic balance.
Close
Representational image. (AFP)
Representational image. (AFP)

Congress needs to worry more about rebels than opponents in Puducherry

By Abhishek Jha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2021 06:32 PM IST
The only time the Congress has lost Puducherry, it has been because of a rebel. The Congress and DMK together have won over 50% seats in every assembly elections in Puducherry since 1980, except in 2011
Close
At a January meeting to review projects, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed displeasure at the process-driven bureaucracy (ANI)
At a January meeting to review projects, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed displeasure at the process-driven bureaucracy (ANI)

Behind PM Modi’s stinging critique of the IAS, a Jan meeting holds the clue

By Shishir Gupta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 17, 2021 09:35 AM IST
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given bureaucrats an earful at a January meeting of the country's top officials and underlined the price that India paid for their slow pace.
Close
PM Narendra Modi was emotional while giving a farewell to Ghulam Nabi Azad from Rajya Sabha.
PM Narendra Modi was emotional while giving a farewell to Ghulam Nabi Azad from Rajya Sabha.

Salute to Ghulam Nabi Azad underlined PM Modi’s personal ties with rivals

By Saubhadra Chatterji | Edited by Abhinav Sahay, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 14, 2021 03:37 PM IST
  • Leaders from the Congress and other Opposition parties have many stories to show that the Prime Minister has maintained personal rapport with leaders cutting across political boundaries.
Close
Officials carry out search and rescue operation at Tapovan Tunnel, after a glacier broke off in Joshimath in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river on Sunday. (File photo)
Officials carry out search and rescue operation at Tapovan Tunnel, after a glacier broke off in Joshimath in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river on Sunday. (File photo)

Not just climate change, Chamoli disaster was human-induced

UPDATED ON FEB 08, 2021 12:15 PM IST
Stone quarrying, blasting of mountains and digging of tunnels in the base of the mountain system for two dams on Rishi Ganga and Dhauli Ganga rivers played havoc with the local ecology
Close
In this file photo, a man hangs on to pole holding a Sikh religious flag along with a farm union flag at the historic Red Fort monument during a farmers protest against new farm laws in New Delhi(AP)
In this file photo, a man hangs on to pole holding a Sikh religious flag along with a farm union flag at the historic Red Fort monument during a farmers protest against new farm laws in New Delhi(AP)

Perception is the truth in information warfare over farm laws

By Shishir Gupta, New Delhi, Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON FEB 04, 2021 01:42 PM IST
  • The Chinese were among the first to recognise the role of information warfare to weaken the adversary from within
Close
Union Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman. (Ajay Aggarwal /HT PHOTO)
Union Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman. (Ajay Aggarwal /HT PHOTO)

A new confidence about India reflects in a bold Budget 2021

By Monika Halan
UPDATED ON FEB 01, 2021 09:59 PM IST
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has chosen to spend on generating future income using the higher capital spending, which has gone up by 35.4% over the previous year
Close
Shaibal Gupta also made a pioneering contribution in explaining the historical roots and the evolution of Bihar’s politics, which have today become the staple of everyday political analysis. (FACEBOOK)
Shaibal Gupta also made a pioneering contribution in explaining the historical roots and the evolution of Bihar’s politics, which have today become the staple of everyday political analysis. (FACEBOOK)

The life and times of a Patna intellectual

UPDATED ON JAN 31, 2021 06:20 AM IST
Shaibal Gupta was rooted and cosmopolitan; idealistic and pragmatic; and an insider and outsider — all at the same time. Patna’s public life will not the same without him.
Close
Foreign Minister S Jaishankar's address on India-China ties is a reminder to Beijing that the bilateral relationship between the two Asian powers is not a one-way street.(AP/File)
Foreign Minister S Jaishankar's address on India-China ties is a reminder to Beijing that the bilateral relationship between the two Asian powers is not a one-way street.(AP/File)

Jaishankar yellow-cards China for violating pacts, spells out the India way

By Shishir Gupta, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 29, 2021 03:02 PM IST
  • S Jaishankar’s speech on India-China ties signals India’s determination to continue to stand up to Xi Jinping’s expansionist plans for Asia as an equal and makes it clear that nothing that Beijing does against India will be overlooked, or allowed to go unpunished.
Close
Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of China's Alibaba Group, in Chiba, Japan, June 18, 2015 (REUTERS)
Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of China's Alibaba Group, in Chiba, Japan, June 18, 2015 (REUTERS)

Jack Ma story: China’s deep strategic ambition

By Manoj Kewalramani
UPDATED ON JAN 29, 2021 04:50 AM IST
This statist vision of the future is very different from the government creating a level-playing field for private capital to compete and the market to do its job. It is about the State guiding capital and private entities towards what it believes are national strategic priorities, rather than allowing them to simply focus on generating greater revenue.
Close
A Nihang Sikh aboard a horse inside Red Fort on Tuesday.(Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)
A Nihang Sikh aboard a horse inside Red Fort on Tuesday.(Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)

Republic Day raid was pre-meditated, planned well in advance

UPDATED ON JAN 28, 2021 02:17 PM IST
With Delhi Police under firm orders not to open fire, the armed Nihang Sikhs provided the cover for the tractors to roll towards Red Fort.
Close
A video of an unruly tractor moving waywardly towards police personnel at ITO emerged on Tuesday as farmers protesting against farm laws deviated from their route and moved inside the Capital.
A video of an unruly tractor moving waywardly towards police personnel at ITO emerged on Tuesday as farmers protesting against farm laws deviated from their route and moved inside the Capital.

How unruly farmers tried to embarrass India on Republic Day

UPDATED ON JAN 27, 2021 02:09 PM IST
The tractor-borne unruly farmers were minutes away from India Gate when they were blocked by New Delhi Range police.
Close
How do we address this cyclical pattern of hailing and rubbishing financiers? It is time for an honest review of the entire issue (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
How do we address this cyclical pattern of hailing and rubbishing financiers? It is time for an honest review of the entire issue (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The policy landscape around digital and physical micro-lending

By Amol Agrawal
UPDATED ON JAN 25, 2021 06:08 AM IST
In 1870s, a similar backlash emerged in Poona and Ahmednagar districts of the Bombay presidency. The agriculture boom in the early 1860s led farmers to take loans from moneylenders
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP