Deepika Padukone risked her career at JNU, while Big Bollywood stood in silence
It is almost a week to when Deepika Padukone quietly stood with the students in JNU, hands folded and looking straight ahead. She didn’t speak; her silence is still reverberating. Political leaders, activists and opinion makers have spoken on her ‘right’ to stand with the protesters, concerted online battles have been fought over her political affiliations – real or imagined, and the box office performance of her recent film Chhapaak is being put through a magnifying lens.
As if fewer crores signifies people voting with their money on Deepika showing solidarity with the students. The audience does vote with its money – regarding the film’s cinematic capability, its merit and its heart. Deepika knows this – her Padmaavat went through the same wrench. There were threats to chop off her nose, a bounty was put on her head. The film was delayed and released amid violence on the streets. That is what makes her stand even more commendable; she is not only acting in Chhapaak but is also its co-producer.
Before the dust settles, the 10 minutes Deepika spent at JNU might have had an impact on her film, the brands she endorses and the way she is perceived by those in authority. It is a sign of times that we live in, where the lines are drawn in stone, she has too much at stake.
A fact that Shah Rukh Khan – who for years now has been deafeningly silent on all issues political, along with many of his A-list colleagues – had emphasised immediately after the Padmaavat controversy. Accepting that he had prescribed silence to Padmaavat’s makers in the face of roiling controversy, the actor had said, “As a 52-year-old father, I want you to come to the theatre safe and sound with your child and happily go, even if you don’t like the film. The experience should be fantastic. That’s my responsibility. So the hurtfulness is not because ‘I am worried about my film’ but I am worried about that girl watching the film’.”
His reluctance stemmed from backlash he and others have received after speaking their minds – his comments on growing intolerance led to his film Dilwale facing online ire. Aamir Khan was targeted after commenting on an increasing sense of fear and insecurity in India, and Karan Johar had to publicly apologise for casting Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.
“Solutions for this, somebody will find. And when they find it, they’ll tell me. I am not here to solve problems,” Shah Rukh told Reuters in a 2017 interview. “A movie can’t change your world. It’s not meant for that. You are giving it much larger perspective and responsibility.”
The debate about the responsibility of cinema, and those who derive their status from it, is over. A lot has changed in the past two years and the option to stay silent is perhaps a luxury few of us can afford, more so those with power to influence millions. In the last few weeks, many in Bollywood have taken a stand – if Swara Bhasker, Anurag Kashyap and Anubhav Sinha were trenchant critics of the establishment; those who were earlier spotted in well-calibarated selfies also spoke up – sometimes voicing their thoughts clearly, others only in platitudes.
A Carter Road protest saw Kashyap, Sinha along with Vishal Bharadwaj, Richa Chaddha, Dia Mirza, Zoya Akhtar, Taapsee Pannu, Hansal Mehta, Rahul Bose, Neeraj Ghaywan and Swanand Kirkire making their stand clear over poetry and music. Bhardwaj recited ‘Raat Mein Sooraj Laane Ke Wayde’ to applause; Varun Grover’s ‘Hum Kaagaz Nahi Dikhayenge’ has become an anthem for the resistance.
However, it is Deepika – Bollywood’s biggest female star, (apologies for making it gender-specific) – whom we will remember, standing there quietly. In a recent interview, the actor had asked me why people don’t remember the good things that Hindi cinema puts forth, but happily use the industry as their favourite whipping boy. That was a good question, indeed. Deepika stood up and was counted, without saying a word. Now, leaving Bollywood aside, will you and I make our stands clear?
(The views expressed by the writer are personal)