As Dulquer Salmaan sits down for the mandatory chat ahead of the release of his Bollywood debut Karwaan, he looks as radiant as ever. Flashing that coy smile, using that baritone to good effect, all is going well as Rajeev Masand’s questions are complimentary of Salmaan’s Instagram hashtags and the actor’s balance between doing films that are ‘popular’ and the ‘experimental’.
It’s when the interviewer drops his first question about the ongoing AMMA-WCC tussle, that things get a little murky. The conflict around the reinstatement of actor Dileep as a member of the association despite being investigated in the actress abduction and alleged rape case has put many female actors at loggerheads with key players of the AMMA – including Mammootty, his father.
Immediately distancing himself from anything ‘political’, Salmaan states his response, “I’ve generally steered clear of controversy. I feel today it’s too easy to have an opinion. It’s a little tricky because all parties involved have only been nice to me. I’ve known all of them from when I was younger. I’m not anyone to judge, I’m not a part of the executive committee. I don’t know if I should voice my opinion, I don’t know if it’s my place to speak. I feel (in) India, as it is, there’s too many things dividing us in terms of caste, religion and now sex is one more division. Just out of love for people around me, I wish any kind of division would stop.”
You might not hear his screams through that calm exterior, but dig a little deeper into what he’s saying and it’s hard to not imagine him standing on top of a clock tower and screaming about the innocence of ‘Mohanlal uncle’ and ‘Dileep Uncle’, powerful friends of his father.
This is not the first time a young male actor has ignored questions, that is so relevant to his dude bros. Only a month ago, Ranbir Kapoor denied having anything to do about the whitewashing allegation that’s dogged Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanju, because he was ‘no one to judge’. He dismissed any questions about the controversies of Dutt’s rockstar lifestyle be it his dismissive attitude towards women or hiding guns in his house. Kapoor it seemed had ‘complete faith in the script’. Just to remind you, Sanju ended with placing all of the blame on the media, and none of the responsibility on Sanjay Dutt.
Where the women of the industry, be it Swara Bhaskar on political issues or Radhika Apte on #MeToo, are refusing to live life with a filter on, the men seem to have taken a vow of silence when it comes to real issues in general and women’s issues in particular. On pay parity. On misogyny. On their safety.
Remember when the Padmavat issue raged on? The women of Bollywood were among the first to vehemently decry the threats made to Deepika Padukone. The men, including the men in the film, largely said nothing (relevant).
With all the success both millennial actors like Salmaan and Kapoor have had in their respective ‘territories’ – they give out a picture of their success being a precarious Jenga tower. One ‘wrong answer’ and it will all come tumbling down. That’s one of the reason why many celebrities steer clear of anything topical, unless it is a workout challenge posed by the Prime Minister himself.
The trolling, the death-threats, the feeble right to freedom of expression – it’s understandable why neither of the two want to go the Prakash Raj way. But with all their clout, their 100-crore films, their millions of followers on social media – are the two actors so enchanted by their success, that they can’t even advocate something as basic as a safe place for women at their work place? Of course they want to, but before that they have to carefully place themselves at a minimum distance of five hundred metres from the issue so that it doesn’t hurt them in any way. Right?
On the days they’re feeling particularly adventurous, they’ll say – there is a problem, and things need to change. I’m all for women’s rights. And then go back collecting the privileges of being powerful men in an industry that’s deeply patriarchal.
Forget offering any public support to the victim, Salmaan will not even express disappointment over AMMA’s tasteless sketch that mocked the WCC, who also happen to be Salmaan’s colleagues. The reason? “I know him like no one else does… there are two sides to every story…”
While Dulquer Salmaan will ignore his father’s inherent sexism, his repulsive onscreen characters and the abominable steps his father and his friends take to weed out this sham called ‘equal rights’. No, you don’t necessarily have to give out a speech like Meryl Streep, but till when will you pretend to be *this* blind? Till when will you pretend that you’re unable to process anything slightly topical or political, because it might affect the number of sports-cars in your basement, your bank balance and likes on Instagram? Not forever, hopefully.