With many among the aam junta having spilled onto the streets and spoken against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), all eyes are trained on celebrities to stand up too. The question is, are they obliged to take a stand on issues that are sociopolitical in nature? Do they need to make their views public? Most people definitely think so. They have been merciless on social media platforms trolling and exhorting pop idols, mostly film stars, to speak up.

In fact, many were hugely impressed by actor Deepika Padukone’s 5 January visit to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to stand with students who were attacked by masked goons. Some allege that her JNU photo opportunity (she did not address the crowd) was a gimmick to promote her film Chhapaak rather than show solidarity with the cause, but whatever be the intention it showed that the top rated Bollywood star was willing to stand with those branded anti-national by the people in power. The JNU students have also been vociferous against CAA and the proposed NRC.

After Padukone’s JNU visit, several members of the film fraternity gathered at Carter Road in Mumbai to protest the attack on JNU students and also speak against the NRC and CAA, which the government has maintained is a law intended to give citizenship to the persecuted minorities from three neighbouring countries and does not to take away citizenship from anyone. Among them were filmmakers such as Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj, Anubhav Sinha, and Hansal Mehta and actors Richa Chadha, Rahul Bose, and Dia Mirza. Frankly, every individual or for that matter, every firm, has the right to keep its political views and ideologies to itself and no one should grudge them that. “Celebrities in particular have much bigger stakes than ordinary people and therefore they are understandably more circumspect. They are definitely not obliged to take a stand on political or ideological issues," says Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting. It should be their personal choice entirely. The same holds true for corporates and business owners, he says.

Sinha feels that when a celebrity is a writer, poet, dramatist, filmmaker or even a stand-up comedian, their views are often expressed implicitly in their art. As social commentators and conscience-keepers, it is intrinsic to the nature of their work. However, the same does not apply to business tycoons, sports people, actors, musicians, and entertainers in general.

To be sure, there are no international guidelines on how a celebrity should behave and whether or not they should speak on social or political issues. However, they are under constant pressure. “They live in a glass bowl. Whatever they do or don’t do is under scrutiny. So while the perks of being a celebrity are high, what you stand to lose is equally big," says a celebrity management expert. Actor Aamir Khan lost a brand deal merely for acknowledging that there is growing intolerance in India.

Most argue that celebrities are influencers and if they can use their power to sell soaps and colas, why not put their might behind controversial issues. While endorsing brands is a business deal and a means to their livelihood, speaking up on issues is a personal choice. Yet others cite the example of Hollywood stars who are often openly critical of the establishment. “You cannot compare Indian actors to those in the West. Hollywood makes films and shows that are critical of its government’s policies, be it war or healthcare. In the West people are more tolerant of criticism. India isn’t a mature democracy like the West," says the celebrity manager. Hollywood stars may be trolled but their livelihood isn’t threatened. However, Sinha says that if celebrities in any field or business persons feel strongly about something, especially if it is against something patently unjust and indefensible, they should also assume social responsibility towards the public to use their resources to try to create a better society, one that they are part of. “But that does not necessarily translate to making a statement. After all, many corporates conduct their CSR activities without making a noise about it, so there’s no reason why a celebrity cannot. On the other hand, what is undeniably irksome is when celebrities blatantly and vociferously toady up to those in power out of fear or for favour. Perhaps it is under these circumstances that people expect celebrities to speak up as a counter-influence," he says.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff

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