When Farhan Akhtar, Sushant Singh, Swara Bhaskar, Rahul Bose, Javed Jaffery, Saeed Mirza, Suhasini Mulay and Huma Qureshi joined the protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens at August Kranti Maidan in Mumbai on Thursday, they did more than just voice their opinion against a move aimed at dividing the nation. They redefined the word ‘role models’.
For, that evening in that crowd of over 25,000 people, defying all odds and standing with the aam janta were members of the entertainment industry who were not considered to be ‘icons’ in the clichéd manner in which the term has come to be used. They were not the Amitabh Bachchans, Shah Rukh Khans, Aamir Khans and Salman Khans, and certainly not the Akshay Kumars, of Bollywood who stood shoulder to shoulder with the people in an effort to save the original DNA of the nation.
They were relatively ‘smaller names’, but names that wear their social conscience on their sleeves and value the secular nature of our nation.
Strangely, support for the citizens of India came from unexpected quarters. And in those few hours, it dawned on the nation that it had been worshipping the wrong role models for decades. The real role models were there in person, at ground zero, ready to brace the bullet, if the need be.
The government and the right-wingers might term the presence of Milind Deora, Eknath Gaekwad, Naseem Khan, Raj Babbar and Hussain Dalwai in the crowd as ‘political opportunism’, but this was no opportunism by the actors and filmmakers who knew they could be targeted in more than one way for speaking their mind.
Sushant Singh, the face of Savdhan India, a popular crime show, had already lost his contract for the show. But, they all came. Because their heart, their nationality, their patriotism was, and is, in the right place. What more proof would any government need of citizenry, one wonders!
Then, there are those who are braving the trolls on social media but putting their foot down, nevertheless. Anurag Kashyap has been in the social battlefield for quite some time now on the issue. If his tweet, “This has gone too far.. can’t stay silent any longer. This government is clearly fascist.. and it makes me angry to see voices that can actually make a difference stay quiet ..” has got the right-wing trolls baying for his blood, it has won him an amazing number of supporters and fans too. You need to have the courage of conviction to write something like that.
Young actor Vicky Kaushal, who has his entire career ahead of him, tweeted: “What is happening is not okay. The way it’s happening is not okay. People have every right to peacefully voice their opinion.” And Rajkumar Rao expressed his views clearly on social media when he said: “I strongly condemn the violence that the police have shown in dealing with the students. In a democracy, the citizens have the right to peacefully protest.”
They were not alone. Ayushman Khurana tweeted: “Deeply disturbed about what the students went through and I strongly condemn this. All of us have the right to protest and exercise our fundamental right of expression”. Filmmaker Alankrita Srivastava too joined in: "I studied at Jamia. It is where I trained to be a filmmaker…This is wrong and cruel at every level. I stand in solidarity with the bravehearts of Jamia. I am praying for the students who are injured and fighting for their lives."
But the actor of the millennium, Amitabh Bachchan, did not take a stand. The host of Satyamev Jayate, Aamir Khan, did not give an opinion. The mascot of Being Human, Salman Khan, was conspicuous by his silence. Shah Rukh Khan, the Founder of NGO Meer Foundation, chose to keep his thoughts to himself. Akshay Kumar, well, Akshay Kumar was anyway not expected to say anything against the BJP government, right?
However, there have been one or two individual voices of film stars who could no longer remain silent that do give hope. Hrithik Roshan tweeted, “As a parent and a citizen of India, I am deeply saddened by the unrest across various educational institutions of our country. I hope and pray for peace to return as soon as possible. Great teachers learn from their students. I salute the world’s youngest democracy”.
Priyanka Chopra too expressed her opinion in no unclear terms when she wrote: “Education for every child is our dream. Education is what empowered them to think independently. We have raised them to have a voice. In a thriving democracy, to raise one's voice peacefully and be met with violence is wrong. Every voice counts. And each voice will work towards changing India. #HaveVoiceWillRaise #HaveVoiceMustRaise ."
But these were rare voices of ‘big’ names from Bollywood. One wonders where were those ‘stars’ who say public is supreme and public is their God? It was the same public, the same God, that was out there on the streets fighting for their right of expression, for retaining the social fabric of India, for safeguarding the sarv-dharm-sadbhav principle that India’s film industry professes to follow. Where exactly were you guys?
There is no real heroism in single-handedly beating 20 goons on reel when you have displayed no social conscience in real life. It is no example if you mouth long speeches on nationality in films when the blood splattered walls of universities do not boil your blood. You needed to show your spine in real life. You chose not to. You are no heroes. You are no role models. You are no icons. The real heroes, the real role models, the real icons were out there making a point.
It has often been the subject of grapevine that ‘stars’ who opine against the government get persecuted in one way or the other. They, and the industrialists, are scared to voice an opinion, something noted industrialist Rahul Bajaj too had recently told Home Minister Amit Shah at an award function. He had said that the present regime has created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, and people are afraid to criticise the government and that the people do not have the confidence that the government will appreciate any criticism. Could this be the reason the ‘stars’ are hesitant to raise a voice?
Actor and filmmaker Kangana Ranaut does not think so. In a recent interview, calling the members of the film fraternity ‘sissies and cowards’, she had said that film people were spineless who lived under the fear of everything and that we needed to stop projecting them as icons.
Point taken. There is a new breed of icons, of keepers of social conscience in actors and directors like Sushant Singh, Anurag Kashyap, Huma Qureshi and Swara Bhaskar. As for the Khans and Kumars and Kapoors and Bachchans, they can live with their reel conscience. The nation is better off with real conscience.
(The writer is Mumbai-based Editor-in-Chief of Content Creators. Views expressed are personal)