Why Prakash Raj is the new poster boy of dissent in India

When it comes to speaking on controversial issues, film stars in India are known to play it rather safe. Actor Prakash Raj is not one of them

“There is an agenda being forced on us. Any form of dissent is trying to be silenced. And I have started talking because I want to tell them that when you silence a voice, a louder voice will be born. I raise my voice an artist because feel responsible to speak.”

Amid thunderous applause, the veteran film actor Prakash Raj made a hard-hitting speech on the responsibilities of artists at the International Film Festival of Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday, November 8. In his speech, the actor, without mincing any words, talked about the need for artists to speak up against those agendas which are clamping down voices.

A file photo of Prakash Raj | Source: Indian Express

When it comes to speaking up on controversial issues, film stars in India are known to rather play it safe. Not many are very willing to question the ones in power, be it the ruling establishment or the majority. But then there is Prakash Raj, who has been balancing both cinema and activism of late.

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Prakash Raj is an established film actor and producer who has made a remarkable contribution in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada cinema as well as in Bollywood. The multi-lingual actor, known for playing negative characters, is a five-time national award winner. However, unlike many of his colleagues in the film fraternity, Raj has been pretty vocal about issues and happenings in the country. Be it the attack on freedom of speech and expression or the imposition of agendas like Hindutva and nationalism, Raj has criticised them all on both social media platforms and public events. A look at both his Facebook and Twitter profiles is a proof. Besides, the actor is also a weekly columnist for a Kannada newspaper Udayvani.

Raj routinely attacks political leaders, especially the BJP, for its right-wing Hindutva politics. In one of his latest attacks, Raj tweeted a video of Karnataka BJP leader Ananth Kumar Hegde in which the latter talks about ‘wiping out Islam’. He questioned BJP’s idea of Hindutva being ‘a way of life’ when such statements are being said by ministers. Last month, he also filed a defamation case against BJP MP from Mysuru—Pratap Simha—who made derogatory remarks against the actor.

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But his strongest outburst was when he slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his ‘chilling silence’ over journalist Gauri Lankesh’s murder in September in Bengaluru. He questioned why PM continued to follow Twitter trolls who were posting hate messages after her murder.

Not just politics, Prakash Raj has voiced his opinion on other issues as well. He has spoken against film censorship. He supported Tamil film Mersal which allegedly had anti-GST scenes in it. He also tweeted against all the violent threats against the director and actors of Padmavati.

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For a Kannadiga who later became a popular actor in Tamil film industry, it was quite tough for him to choose sides during the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka tussle over Kaveri water sharing. However, he chose to play the peace mascot and posted a video appealing for calm.

But despite all the activism, Prakash Raj has categorically maintained that he doesn’t wish to enter politics. He has on record said that “film actors becoming leaders is a disaster for my country”. His stand on entering politics is unusual considering the fact that many stalwarts in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada cinema began their activism with an aim to enter active politics. Legendary Tamil actor Kamal Haasan is the latest example.

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“It is very important for artists who owe everything to the society to pay back,” he says.