While the entire world has been showing their support and standing in solidarity with the Farmers’ protests in India, Bollywood has taken a rather shameful stance on the matter.
After being mostly silent for the duration of the protests, Bollywood celebrities started sharing their opinions on the protests en masse after Rihanna tweeted her support for farmers and raised awareness about ongoing human rights violations by the Indian government.
The article that she shared, captioned “Why aren’t we talking about this? #FarmersProtest” talked about how India’s Ministry of Home Affairs blocked internet access in New Delhi for 48 hours, after a major clash between the police and protesters.
The move by the government was thoroughly critiqued, and was seen as a way to curb the protests, as the internet was acting as an important tool in spreading awareness.
Activist Greta Thunberg, Mia Khalifa and Amanda Cerny were among other international figures who spoke in support of the Farmers’ protests.
Soon after Rihanna’s tweet, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan, Sunil Shetty and Karan Johar all tweeted about the protests, all releasing almost uniform statements expressing support of the Indian government.
In varying sentence structures, these celebrities urged Indians to not “fall for false propaganda against India and Indian policies.”
Saina Nehwal and Sachin Tendulkar, two of the most cherished and worshipped athletes in the country, shockingly tweeted the same.
And of course, Kangana Ranaut, being the flag-bearer of blind patriotism in Bollywood, went one step further and attacked Rihanna on twitter, calling her names, slut-shaming her, and referring to her as a “porn singer.”
What struck people the most, however, was the engagement in “collusive tweeting” by Bollywood celebrities, and the use of hashtags such as “#IndiaAgainstPropaganda” and “#IndiaTogether,” all seemingly framed by the Ministry of External Affairs, and all used as a response to the global criticism of how the government is handling the protests.
The use of celebrities was seen as a strategy by the government to dim the light of support towards the farmers, and hide away from global criticism, whereby the hashtag #shameonbollywood, started trending.
Using Twitter as the main platform to express their disappointment in their former favourite stars, many shunned Bollywood celebrities for acting as mouthpieces for government propaganda.
This brings an important question that has been raised time and again: does Bollywood, as a collective, even have a conscience?
India is a nation where Bollywood celebrities are worshipped, but is it time we start questioning why?
The same celebrities who refuse to speak up against the current government and its wrongdoings against the general public, shut their mouths when their voices are needed most in fear of losing their privilege -- the privilege that they had only gained because of these masses.
Most Bollywood celebrities, especially the ones with large followings, have stayed silent of national issues such as the CAA, NRC bills, the ruthless dealings of students by the state, and of course the farmers’ protests.
With the exception of a few individuals such as Taapsee Pannu, Swara Bhaskar, Sayani Gupta, Anurag Kashyap and others who have voiced their opinions against the government repeatedly, most powerful Bollywood celebrities have remained quiet throughout.
It is important to note that Bollywood hasn’t always been this spineless.
In 1989, Shabana Azmi, spoke up against the murder of CPI(m) Cultural Activist Safdar Hashmi boldly and openly blamed the Congress for the deed. She did so, at an event organised by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, and at a time when the Congress party was in power.
Not only her, but also most actors belonging to the Parallel Cinema era of Bollywood have been strong advocates towards the government’s abuse of power.
Naseeruddin Shah, a gift from the Parallel cinema era to the Hindi film industry and a veteran actor, has openly criticised and questioned the silence of his fellow Bollywood colleagues on the protests.
He raised a pertinent question towards them, attacking their refusal to give up their privilege: “When you have earned enough to provide for seven generations, how much will you lose?” he asks.
“Being silent is tantamount to supporting an oppressor. I believe this.”
The difference in attitude between the two generations of actors in Bollywood brings forward the clear demarcation between being a star and being an artist.
The artist strives to promote societal change and stand up for what is wrong. They are the heard voices and true examples of the proper use of power, privilege and platform. The artist gives voice to the unheard, while the star turns a blind eye towards them. The artist is more than willing to give up their power for societal change, while the star is afraid of losing it.
Bollywood, unfortunately, is an abode of stars, not artists.
And if their unwavering support of the Indian government causes us to reflect, we should be asking, do they still deserve our unwavering support?
About the author: Roshni is a self-proclaimed Comedy Queen who specializes in laughing at her own jokes. Her hobbies include making people smile, watching movies and analyzng them, reading books, practicing yoga (occasionally), hogging on well-cooked biryani and scrolling through dog videos and memes on instagram. Her love for writing stems from her love for art in general, which is fuelled by her background in theatre. Catch on her instagram at @roshni_rakshit daily, where she regularly shares her experience with movies and occasionally offends people with her political sense of humour.