Bollywood actors such as Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra and other A-listers haven’t just been the stars of their films or in the lives of their fans. They have also ruled the social media for years with their promotional tweets, vacation photos and workout videos. It’s been the same with top performers in other roles too — singers, directors, lyricists.
But not anymore.
Bollywood’s backbenchers on social media, those mostly remembered and celebrated for their side roles in films, are now in the driving seat. By being the cheerleaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), they are enjoying the mass popularity they never had, and were almost invisible until the epidemic of hate began to sweep the country and they emerged like frontline warriors. People like Payal Rohatgi, Vivek Agnihotri, Manoj Joshi and others like them have descended on social media with lakhs of followers in tow, telling the A-listers of Bollywood their ways of winning ‘hearts’ are passé.
The mantra is simple: they can draw massive crowds by hurling a lot of hate towards Muslims and Christians (or anyone they think isn’t completely bending before their ‘Supreme Leader’), by viciously attacking their co-stars (mostly female), by targeting opposition leaders, and by sharing a lot of fake, made-up stuff that would seem out of place even in the most third-rate, senseless Bollywood flick.
New life, new fame
Who would have thought that tweets of Manoj Joshi, a Bollywood comedian (but an otherwise accomplished theatre actor) will get more retweets and likes than Salman Khan? Manoj Joshi has posted a flurry of tweets in the past two weeks. At first glance, you may mistake him for a BJP spokesperson. After all, he is either doting over Prime Minister Narendra Modi, targeting the opposition, especially the Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi, inciting violence, or simply passing bigoted remarks.
Similarly, Vivek Agnihotri, who has directed films like Chocolate, Hate Story, and The Tashkent Files is now popular for peddling fake news, engaging in social media fights, spreading hate against Muslims, and for his relentless use of a term called ‘Urban Naxal’. Recently, he posted a picture of Bollywood actor Sonakshi Sinha alleging that she has violated the lockdown. Sonakshi has sought an FIR against Vivek because he had used an old picture.
There is another purveyor of hate called Ashoke Pandit, a producer and director of TV shows such as Tere Mere Sapne and Filmi Chakkar who has taken the responsibility of being the chief troll for the IT cell. He relishes in targeting and humiliating people holding liberal and secular values. Of late, he has started attacking his colleagues from Bollywood. He demands an explanation from celebrated poet and screenwriter Javed Akhtar on almost everything. Only Ashoke Pandit can answer why he simply doesn’t call Javed Akhtar for tuition on national and international matters. After all, he is a ‘friend’ to him, as the latter said in one of his tweets in response.
Both Ashok Pandit and Vivek Agnihotri constantly target female actors such as Swara Bhasker, Richa Chadha and Sonakshi Sinha.
All these people relishing their new fame seem inspired by old, established names, mainly Paresh Rawal and Anupam Kher, the Yug Purushas responsible for this recent renaissance in Bollywood. Both accomplished actors who have mostly played side roles in Bollywood films became spokespersons of the BJP a long time ago. They are the unofficial ‘Social Media Inspectors’ of the Hindu Right. They attack the Congress and all political parties in opposition to the BJP, people who are liberal and secular, and go after every progressive view. The irony is that both actors have earned accolades for working in socially progressive and liberal films.
Earlier, much of this social media mockery and slandering was limited to Kamal Rashid Khan, who styles himself as KRK, the actor and producer who, after playing the lead in Deshdrohi, began to torment people with his film reviews, which is perhaps why he isn’t taken seriously by the public.
But the recent political and communal Samurais of Bollywood have a huge fan following and their posts and views are lapped up by people on social media with a frenzy, generating thousands of likes and shares within minutes. They have devoted followers who tag them everywhere, bring others’ posts to their attention, and exhort them to engage into fights with female actors and journalists.
Their social media images have overpowered their life and work. In a short span of time, they have become so powerful in their reach and impact that they could go after anyone, from the Khans to the Kumars to the older generation celebrities, basically anyone they wish to. And their fangs come out usually when someone talks logically or intends to spread love and brotherhood.
Their relentless, mostly hateful presence on social media has pushed the bigger and more popular stars of Bollywood into guest appearances, avoiding engaging too much with the public, limiting their interactions to largely promotional stuff. The backbenchers of Bollywood have claimed the space and are unstoppable now. The future will only see more of their likes entering this space where anyone not in support of Modi and BJP is attacked viciously.
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