Intolerance debate: India’s new causeratti
The Hindi film industry is in the jaws of unrest. Shah Rukh Khan, one of India’s biggest stars, recently spoke up against the growing intolerance in the country and before that more than two dozen film-makers, including popular names like Dibakar Banerjee, Anand Patwardhan and Kundan Shah, joined cause with writers and scientists to return awards given by the national or state governments to protest against what’s seen as a stifling political atmosphere.
Their rebellion, discontent and questioning at a personal and political level has led to an hitherto suppressed outcome—an open onslaught from some of their colleagues. Senior actors like Hema Malini, Paresh Rawal and Anupam Kher have hit back at those like Banerjee and Patwardhan, calling them hypocrites.
Kher even led a march by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) cultural wing Sanskar Bharti that ended with a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was against those returning their awards who were termed “traitors who should be thrown across the Wagah border”.
SRK was called a Pakistani and likened to a terrorist by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician Kailash Vijayvargiya for his views, which had an unambiguous ring of the actor’s reflections as a patriot.
Irrefutably, more and more members of the film industry now want to be heard about their socio-political thoughts. They no longer want to just sell us jewellery, cough syrups, life insurance, logo bags, fashion magazines and cement or make India even more “incredible”, but want us to “listen” to them. They are India’s new causeratti.
Shabana Azmi, perhaps the only actor who has, over the years, stuck to her convictions on socio-political meanderings of the nation, now has too much company even as she herself is fading away from this rhetorical club. From actor Dalip Tahil, who argues eloquently on assorted topics, to director Madhur Bhandarkar, also a persuasive speaker, and certainly Anupam Kher, film industry figures with an opinion on everything and anything, they are out there. They sit in TV studios alongside politicians, social commentators and so-called public intellectuals to spew wit and venom.
Some stick their neck out in non-verbal ways. Akshay Kumar recently raised more than Rs.1 crore for the widows of Maharashtra farmers who had committed suicide and that fund included a substantial donation of his own. As did Nana Patekar, who was the first among film actors to do so.
What we have is a disturbed film industry. Unlike the era of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kumar, Dharmendra or Rekha, most of whom stayed inside the pages of film magazines, came to pick up their awards from heads of state dressed as proud Indians or lobbied to become Rajya Sabha members. Some like Vyjayanthimala Bali and Sunil Dutt officially joined politics but were not vocal in espousing causes. Shatrughan Sinha or Vinod Khanna became important nobodies in politics. But this is a differently ruffled bunch. They are in the churns of a broader dissonance about the country and about each other. A bunch of artistes are in an internal war, given their clashing political loyalties and personal beliefs, and are not making a secret of it any more. Bollywood, as we like to call it, is officially divided.
This fervent passion to become the causeratti also makes it open season for related observations. The most difficult to digest is that very few actors came out in support of SRK. A much larger number had come out to hug Salman Khan and show solidarity with the star when he was convicted of culpable homicide not amounting to murder by a Mumbai sessions court. In SRK’s case, none of the top heroines said anything. Salman Khan spoke tangentially saying “we are all Indians, we are all human beings; we should live together and love each other,” that, too, as part of his promotional work for a new film, but nothing in direct support of SRK.
Anil Kapoor did, as did Kher, an unlikely candidate in this case. But Aamir Khan, who carries the badge of Mr Causeratti with his TV show Satyamev Jayate, kept out of it.
Amitabh Bachchan, the patriarch of the industry, kept quiet, too. Doesn’t the Big B owe anything to his fans and colleagues at a time of obvious unrest?
As fans of Hindi cinema, its actors, directors and behind-the-scene artistes, to also become converts to its socio-political ideology, we need more bite than bark and spark. Consistency and integrity of opinion are of course high on the wishlist.