From Jaya Bachchan to Hema Malini, Taapsee Pannu, Swara Bhasker, Richa Chadha, Renuka Sahane, Dia Mirza, Twinkle Khanna and, to an extent, Sonam Kapoor; it’s the women who have unabashedly defended the Hindi film industry, called out the recent attacks on Bollywood, and extended support to their colleague Rhea Chakraborty who finds herself in the stuff of nightmares.
Filmmakers Anubhav Sinha, Anurag Kashyap and Sudhir Mishra have also been at the forefront, but the leading ‘heroes’ are completely MIA.
History won’t be kind to the leading men of Bollywood. They didn’t show up when their karambhoomi found itself under a vicious, systematic attack, and retreated into cocoons that would keep them safe until the storm passed.
The attacks on Bollywood over the charges of nepotism have torn it down, with actor Kangana Ranaut hopping from one TV channel to another to say the first piece of uncorroborated nonsense that enters her mind. The media, too, has painted a dystopian image of the industry — full of ‘vishkanyas‘, Dawood Ibrahim’s close friends and drug addicts out to eat anyone who dares to enter their territory.
But the leading men of the industry have largely behaved as if everything is perfectly fine — sab changa si.
Bihar election or not, dear ‘heroes’, it’s pretty evident that the storm is here to stay. It’s time to brave it.
Women take the lead
If the entire saga unfolding in Mumbai were a fictitious story, it would have an all-female cast, with Kangana Ranaut on one side met with the might of equally vocal female warriors, defending their home and their workplace.
Also, note that most women and men at the front-lines defending their beloved Bollywood are the so-called ‘outsiders’ who don’t belong to the filmy khandaans that allegedly exercise monopoly over the film industry.
Some women are taking charge even as their family members and powerful spouses choose to remain silent. Twinkle Khanna, whose husband Akshay seems to be an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) fanboy, wrote a powerful column in favour of Rhea.
Speaking in the Rajya Sabha this week, Jaya Bachchan called out the vitriolic attack on the industry that feeds many, generates employment, and brings India international acclaim. Meanwhile, her husband Amitabh Bachchan, considered the patriarch of the industry, was busy correcting the serial numbers of his tweets. Now, after Jaya’s Parliament speech, the Mumbai Police has provided extra security outside the Bachchans’ Mumbai home.
Young actors such as Taapsee Pannu, Richa Chadha and Swara Bhasker put everything on the line every day to speak up for their industry and defend it with all their heart, while never shying away from talking about its shortcomings. Their male contemporaries are probably busy gaining muscle that won’t give them any real strength.
Reel-life hero, real-life silence
What do actors have to fear? Some financial deals, damage to films, online attacks, trolling, rape threats? Just what is this risk that male actors fear but the vocal female actors are immune to? Can’t they see their collective goodwill has been tarnished anyway?
The media trial against Rhea Chakraborty after Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, the witch hunt, the 24×7 harassment of her family and camping of media outside her house led by TV anchors such as Arnab Goswami and Navika Kumar, earned her absolutely no support from Bollywood seniors. All of them went about their day nonchalantly, as if they’re completely unaware of their surroundings. They didn’t come to help one of their own. They watched as bystanders. And their silence makes them complicit.
The thing is, Kangana Ranaut’s statements are damaging. It’s not about stooping to her level to engage in a dogfight anymore, it’s about taking a stand for yourself and your fraternity. You don’t have to engage with her directly to call her out.
As part of a fraternity, one should condemn someone if they say things like their industry is ‘Islam dominated’. Even IAS and IPS officers spoke against similar allegations made by Sudarshan TV in unison. One has to say something if their colleagues are called murderers and part of ‘suicide gangs’.
Hundreds of people gather outside Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Salman Khan’s house every day to get a glimpse of them. Some even camp there all night. This isn’t just fandom; it’s belief and reverence. These celebrities owe it to the people who make it possible for them to earn their rozi roti and believe in their heroism. And if not, then perhaps we are looking up to the wrong heroes. It’s the heroines that save the day.
Where the heroes at
Many leading men of the film industry never earned the title of a ‘good actor’ for a reason. It’s perfectly clear they fail to internalise and live in the skin of any character they have ever portrayed. The fans come to watch them, rather than their movies. Why, after years of featuring in testosterone-filled heroic tales of saving the damsel in distress, standing up for what’s right and always being on a moral high in films, our superstars have learnt nothing.
Even on political issues, many of us expect India’s biggest hub of artists and creators to take a stand. Not only because it happens in Hollywood, but also because you expect artists to speak truth to power.
Even after the attacks on Jamia and JNU students, many actors stuck to tweeting the tiring and overdone cliches like ‘violence should be condemned in any form,’ instead of calling out those responsible. Even then, it was Deepika Padukone, a leading actress with an upcoming film, who showed up and stood by the students. Her silence spoke far more than those of our ‘heroes’.
Shah Rukh Khan didn’t even bother to speak out for his alma mater Jamia Millia Islamia, even after students sought his support. The three leading Khans were also called out for having nothing to lend to the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests that were led largely by the Muslim community.
Female actors are at greater risk while speaking their minds. From violent rape threats to trolls posting all kinds of derogatory stuff about them, and their movies getting boycotted — they brave it all. So, what is it that our ‘macho’ Bollywood superheroes can’t handle?
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