Many people complain about how Bollywood stars who go dishoom-dishoom on reel are chicken in real life, whether it was during the Emergency or all the years since. Well, this week Deepika Padukone stood with the JNU students who had been attacked by masked goons on their own campus. What followed her act of solidarity goes a long way to explain why stars stay silent in India.
There was a viral call to boycott her newly released film, which she helms as both producer and protagonist. Vile bile flowed in her direction on social media. The heroine should stay in Mumbai and dance, said Madhya Pradesh’s leader of opposition. A project with the skill development ministry is now in limbo. Union minister Smriti Irani, once a heroine herself, declared Deepika had gone to stand with people “who wanted the destruction of India” – a strange description for students who have just been assaulted in their campus. This is what a star’s freedom of expression brings: brutal trolling, political threat and business repercussions.
Yet, as university students have joined anti-CAA-NRC protests across the country, a host of stars are also speaking up. Swara Bhasker was appealing for help even as the masked goons were attacking JNU. Many other women stand out – like Sonam K Ahuja, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu. They appear to be leading the men. Moreover, given their star power, they may have done more for the civil rights cause than all the opposition parties combined.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.