Actress Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech at the recently concluded Golden Globe Awards raised a debate in India. In her speech, the actress didn’t take the name of US President Donald Trump but mentioned that there was ‘one performance this year that stunned her.’ She chided the president-elect’s action during the 2016 campaign and urged to safeguard the rights of journalists in light of the infamous mockery of a disabled reporter made by Trump.
In India, this raised a question that why don’t our stars—the big names of our film industry—take a political stance in the country. Why don’t the influential names in Bollywood come out to speak against the dos and don’ts set by the political structure in our society? Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, who is a well-known path-breaking cinema maker in India, talked about the same and tweeted:
We in our film industry don’t even need to give a speech like Meryl Streep if we just start standing up with those who actually speak up.
Now actress Shabana Azmi has commented on the issue—a voice that makes a strong statement in the industry. The actress has shared her own experiences to justify why actors in India are ‘ideally not supposed’ to talk anything beyond films. And if they do so, their voices are shut. The intolerance of their opinions on political issues is so much so that their films are banned, theatres are vandalized, and they get life threats from the self-acclaimed moral guards of the society. In her interview to Subhash K Jha, the veteran actress said:
After Meryl spoke out she got the wholehearted support of the entire Hollywood fraternity. In India, no one will speak up in support of a celebrity’s political stand for the fear of a backlash. There is no chance that Meryl’s films will be boycotted or theatres burned down when her next film is released because freedom of expression is respected there. Here we all know what happens.
What Shabana says may sound little disturbing; it is a brutal truth, though. Celebrities from the film industry are always under the scrutiny of media and people, as actor Irrfan once said: “Actors are the most vulnerable people in India.” This is also one of the reasons why most of these stars do not like to come out of their cocoon if there’s no film to promote. In press conferences and other one-on-one interviews, we are strictly told by their PR people not to ask anything which is not related to their films. Sometimes, stars themselves request us to stick to the questions pertaining their films saying that their answers may land them in trouble. Is this only the insecurity of being quoted wrong? No. It is more to deal with the unabashed societal pressure of saying everything ‘perfect.’ And who will decide what is perfect? Did what Meryl Streep say at the Golden Globes fall at par on the expectations of every US citizen? Has it not hurt the sentiments of many who may have voted in the
Is this only the insecurity of being quoted wrong? No. It is more to deal with the unabashed societal pressure of saying everything ‘perfect’. And who will decide what is perfect? Did Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes fall at par on the expectations of every US citizen? Has it not hurt the sentiments of many who have voted in the favour of Donald Trump? Perhaps, they must have thought that an awards ceremony is not the right place to speak on political issues! However, unlike in India, the hue and cry around such opinions don’t rise to the level of protest and life threats. People respect one’s opinion, comment on it, discuss it, sometimes debate on it and then move on. They don’t go to the family history of the celebrity and starts digging out the other cases in the past where the celebrity said or did something ‘unacceptable’ by the society.
PK and the entire hoopla around Aamir’s misquoted ‘intolerance’ statement; Ae Dil Hai Mushkil fiasco and more—the film industry and its people have become the soft target of hyper-nationalists. The stardom comes with responsibility and so does the film-making business. But how justified is it to expect Indian actors to speak on political issues when we ourselves aren’t clear when to stop hounding them when they speak their heart out?