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NEW DELHI : The box-office impact of the political stand taken by actors is haunting filmmakers. The latest to feel the economic hit is Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi.

Many theatres in Punjab have stopped screening the film after protests over Kumar’s stand on the year-long farmers’ agitation to repeal controversial laws.

Kumar was among celebrities, including cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, and government ministers who tweeted the hashtag India Against Propaganda when pop singer Rihanna tweeted in support of Indian farmers.

Farmers’ ire in Punjab has filmmakers worried as they feel the perceived political stands of stars could impact the business of upcoming films.

For instance, they said controversial actor Kangana Ranaut’s new spy film, Dhaakad, slated for an April release, could also get hit in Maharashtra. Ranaut is a polarising figure and has had several run-ins with the Maharashtra government.

Producers of Dhaakad did not respond to Mint’s queries on whether they feared adverse reactions to the film. However, heads of film studios said they are worried about the impact since the film business has just started recovering from the pandemic’s brutal blow. Even theatre owners are wary and claim such controversies hit their business.

On the farmers’ agitation, actors like Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Suniel Shetty and filmmaker Karan Johar tweeted advocating the need for resolving internal differences amicably.

“Things have flared up right now, and we fear more films will face the heat as their theatrical release nears. All producers know certain actors want to remain in the good books of the government. They’re free to take the stand they wish but unfortunately, that impacts the business of the film," said a film producer on condition of anonymity. While Hollywood often enforces contracts on what actors can say or do, in India, it is the stars who call the shots, the person said.

There used to be a perception in the industry that controversy around a film may lead to publicity and, therefore, higher box office collection, said Gautam Jain, a partner at media consulting firm Ormax. “However, in the current environment, considering that any controversy, big or small, could lead to the film being banned in certain cinema halls or an entire territory in some cases, the political stand of actors could dent box office prospects of their films," Jain said.

Shruti Deora, head of client partnerships at Mumbai-based integrated digital agency White Rivers Media, said high-profile film personalities also share a part of their lives through their social media accounts. “While their opinions might be personal, the common man does not draw the line to distinguish if the same has come from the person or the actor. We have seen actors face financial repercussions for opinions shared by them," she said.

“Any actor that makes a statement on the current political climate is most likely to face the wrath of some group or the other," Deora said. “What may have started as a movement to call out injustice has now become an easy way to shut down voices or opinions people do not agree with. It makes people feel empowered in some way," she added.

Bihar-based exhibitor Vishek Chauhan, who has often received ‘muted threats’ not to play certain films, said it is sad that cinema is made a soft target. In 2010, the release of Shah Rukh Khan’s My Name Is Khan was disrupted after the actor criticized IPL teams for failing to hire members of the Pakistani cricket team. As a result, some cinemas, especially in Maharashtra, could not screen the film on the day of release.

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