Bollywood has finally decided to show spine. But only because the fire had reached its own house. After years of political apathy, capitulation and Modi selfies, silence was no longer an option. As Karan Johar, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn filed a defamation suit against Republic TV and Times Now, it was the greatest dare ever. Would Indians boycott their beloved Bollywood now, just like they boycotted Tanishq, Surf Excel and Snapdeal?
After months of vilification by a certain section of media, investigative agencies, governments and the public at large, the bigwigs of the industry took the two channels to court for running slander campaign against the industry after actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. The 34 top Bollywood producers who have come together include the otherwise absent Khans and surprisingly even Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn, who have made it fairly clear what their political ‘preferences’ are.
Bollywood was safe, till it wasn’t
Bollywood actors’ apolitical and rather spineless character is fairly well-known. Most of them do not speak about political or social matters outside the purview of well-organised NGO-type events. Unless of course, it is an international movement that warrants an unavoidable Instagram post. One cannot let go of opportunities to garner international woke credits, na?
“We’re all here for love, girl,” to quote Priyanka Chopra’s (not) iconic line, is basically the principle that actors espouse. This can also be translated to: ‘I don’t want any trouble’. The actor was questioned by a Pakistani woman at an event for having supported India’s military action against Pakistan despite her being a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador.
And this business of steering clear of any backlash from the political class and the general public, made several people in the industry believe that they were safe from most the untoward events, which they were for the longest time. In the past few years, no massive controversy has surrounded Bollywood as an industry. Perhaps, Modi’s selfie magic works after all.
However, I am fairly certain they did not know that the Modi ‘magic’ had an expiration date. The moment actor Sushant Singh Rajput committed suicide, the entire Hindi film industry got embroiled in the eye of a rather unexpected but massive storm. Suddenly, Bollywood was the subject of every news channel’s prime time debate with discussions on prevalent nepotism and lack of opportunities. And as everyone knows, it soon devolved into mud-slinging and vitriolic hate.
All of this was combined with a drug probe into some of the industry’s biggest stars like Deepika Padukone and Shraddha Kapoor. Actor Rhea Chakraborty was arrested and spent a month in jail.
Speaking out as self-preservation
But the industry was fairly quiet for all these months, except of course those who are already known to be vocal about relevant issues. There was also quite a bit of noise from a certain actor who took the trait of ‘making everything about herself’ to the next level. The least said about Kangana Ranaut the better.
Now, however, the cream of Bollywood has decided to take matters into their own hands. Their own rather selfish hands at that. When someone comes for your livelihood and your space, you are liable to speak up and this is exactly what this defamation suit proves.
Recently, India witnessed the tragic death of a 20-year-old Dalit woman who was allegedly gangraped and brutally assaulted. However, not many of those from the film industry, with their millions of followers or outreach, chose to speak up.
But when the noose gets too tight to breach the comfort, there is little to do but take action. They didn’t speak up when Rhea Chakraborty was getting brutally vilified, nor when Kangana Ranaut peddled hate against everyone. This privileged lot of Bollywood chose to speak up only when there was a threat to their movies and their businesses.
As political analyst Zainab Sikander tweeted, “They (Bollywood) only speak up when they’re in danger of going out of business since everyone wants to boycott them. Till now, they were silent spectators to all sorts of bullying to different sections of society.”
Bollywood remains as selfish as I always thought it to be.
They only speak up when they're in danger of going out of business since everyone wants to boycott them. Till now, they were silent spectators to all sorts of bullying to different sections of society.
— Zainab Sikander Siddiqui (@zainabsikander) October 12, 2020
A report by The Indian Express even highlighted how nervous the industry has become with constant echoes of ‘who’s next’.
The timing of this legal action is also interesting. It was filed three days before cinemas reopened after being shut for seven months due to the Covid-induced lockdown. Now, that cinema halls are back in business and several big-budget films of these A-list actors are lined up (Akshay Kumar’s Laxmmi Bomb and Ranveer Singh’s 83 to name a few), no wonder a spine was found somewhere in all that apathy.
In all of this, it is important to remember their silences. Bollywood may have found a voice now, but it is a selfish one, and only for itself.
Views are personal.