Bollywood and Dissent: Beyond Modi’s Love for Mangoes

At a recent event in Los Angeles, Priyanka Chopra was called out by Ayesha Malik, a Pakistani-American influencer, for posting pro-Indian army tweets in relation to the Pulwama attack in February despite having been a UN Goodwill Ambassador since 2016.

Thereafter, the Indian media immediately began portraying the new sansani khabar of how Chopra “shut down a Pakistani troll”.

Yet even as some cheered, her reply to Malik came as a shocker for many of her fans – it wasn’t consistent with the millennial inclusive agenda she otherwise seems to support.

In fact, instead of respectfully disagreeing and addressing the question, she was dismissive, throwing around statements like “whenever you’re done venting” and “don’t yell, don’t embarrass yourself”.

The video also shows the microphone being snatched from Malik before she’s able to finish speaking. Courageously, she persevered, but was shamed for heckling.

This article doesn’t argue whether or not Chopra was justified to place patriotism above being an international humanitarian; neither does it attempt to engage in discussing the controversial “how does saying ‘Jai Hind’ encourage war?” question.

What it tries to address is a deeper, more intrinsic issue: the double standard of those in the spotlight who claim to be ‘pro-love’ and ‘anti-war’ when it suits them.

An unsaid rule

For decades, Indian celebrities have had an unsaid rule of never critiquing politics or being anti-government. This reflects in the questions they are asked by the domestic media as well – despite national ongoing crises, they fail to move beyond discussing rumoured love affairs and gossip.

However, it is was reprehensible to see Chopra replicate this much-abused model internationally – especially on issues that should very much be talked about by a UN Goodwill Ambassador.

Dismissing legitimate questions by branding people who dare ask questions as hecklers and trolls isn’t the answer – it’s gas lighting.

After all, isn’t productive dissent the essence of the millennial ‘woke’ regime? It is disappointing to see Indian actors limit their political participation to asking the prime minister if he likes mangoes and Instagramming pictures of forefingers on election day, but Chopra has managed to take this apparent ignorance to a whole new level by dismissing Malik as an insignificant hater and labelling issues of grave international importance as mere rants.

Also read: The Farce That Was PM Modi’s ‘Non-Political’ Interview With Akshay Kumar

More often than not, the uniform response that all celebrities mime when they’re required to choose sides on issues of political importance are “this isn’t the time or place for this” or “I’m not well-informed about this”. 

But when is a good time to talk about what’s happening in the country? Or the ongoing clampdown on Kashmir? Or the most dangerous parliamentary session India has ever witnessed?

Why can’t the people that post random selfies with the PM assent or dissent publicly?

In a recent interview, Sonam Kapoor, on being asked about the nullification of Article 370, dodged taking a stand, stating that she could “only give an opinion when she had complete information” and that “there is so much going on, it’s hard to find the truth”.

This is while a tense Kashmir is presently very much under lockdown.

“I think it’s very complicated and I don’t understand it as much because there is so much contrary news everywhere so I don’t really know what the truth is. I believe in having peaceful discourse and understanding what’s going on. So when I have the complete information is when I think I can give an opinion,” she said.

Following in Chopra’s footsteps, she, too, attempted to validate her statements by adding how she has two best friends who are Pakistani; akin to the ‘some of my best friends are black’ defense much parroted in the US that has become shorthand for weak denials of bigotry.

Kapoor, however, did make the time to express her grief about her film Neerja being banned in Pakistan.

In the aftermath of the episode, Kapoor tweeted:

For Bollywood, it seems as though vague words like peace, humanity and understanding are enough; in Hollywood, Meryl Streep gave an anti-Trump speeches at the Golden Globes.

We do have a few actors, from the likes of Swara Bhaskar, who has been very vocal in her stance against the Modi government and been trolled extensively for it, to Anupam Kher, Kangana Ranaut and Salman Khan who have let their admiration for the present regime show more than once. 

Also read: Sonam Kapoor and #EverydayPhenomenal: Should Celebrities Tone Down Their Extravagance?

And let’s not forget the recent back and forth of letters where first 49 celebrities, including Anurag Kashyap and Aparna Sen, wrote to the prime minister over ‘Jai Shri Ram’ becoming a “war cry”. Then, the 49 were sent a counter statement against their apparent “selective outrage and false narratives” by 61 celebrities that included actor Kangana Ranaut, lyricist Prasoon Joshi, dancer Sonal Mansingh and filmmakers Madhur Bhandarkar and Vivek Agnihotri among others.

The power of debate

Knowing the direct and extreme impact of popular actors on the masses, especially in India, how long can we sustain this neutral stance on everything of importance in the country and in the world?

If someone has the power of having a large audience they should have the responsibility to make the world a better place. It is every person’s duty to keep the needle moving in our society and celebrities have more power to do so than a regular citizen.

Dissent cannot be equated with hate. Saying “we’re all here for love” isn’t enough when the love extends only to those who agree with you. It’s 2019 – we all have the right to dissent and make our opinions heard.

Aabha Dixit is a student at Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.