Late Tuesday evening, Akshay Kumar put up a post on his Instagram – a teaser of him interviewing the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The caption promised his followers a “freewheeling conversation” – one that would be completely “non-political” in nature.
The complete interview, which aired Wednesday morning, in true Modi fashion, did not delve upon any issues that the electorate might want the prime minister of the country to address at a time when elections are underway.
— Chowkidar Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 23, 2019
But that was true to the spirit of what the interview promised – a conversation that would completely steer away from the ongoing elections and politics – something, as Kumar rightly pointed out, the whole country would be talking about.
But instead of a “free-wheeling” fun chat, what viewers were greeted with was an opening question that made Modi’s aam eating habits appear as though it was a national secret that India’s citizens have been dying to have unveiled.
From there, the interview, which goes on for a little more than an hour, comes across only as an exercise in self-adulation by the PM. All through this now familiar exercise, an over-enthusiastic Kumar eggs the prime minister along, while vouching for everything Modi had to say.
From mangoes, the conversation drifted to the topic of gifts being exchanged by leaders of opposition, Modi’s take on memes and so on.
Even the memes that were chosen were in line with the rest of the conversation – one of them even praised Modi as the harbinger of “equali-tea”.
At the end of the day, if there’s anything that the prime minister has proved his mettle at in the past five years, it’s his PR skills.
That sums up today’s interview as well – the man repeatedly attempted to emphasise which qualities set him apart from the rest. He also kept harping on about how he is a saint, with no worldly afflictions and one who is supremely devoted to work.
Modi brought up his humble background, his life in the villages, all the hardships he faced and a few lines about life as a chai-wallah.
Modi, he reiterated, isn’t like the ‘rest’ of India’s political hordes – like the ‘samajwadis’ who are apparently known for putting up a façade of being astute.
Though the conversation was meant to stay apolitical, the prime minister also took out moments to make digs at liberal India.
Bulls on parade
Over the past five years, the PM has refused to hold a single press conference or answer any hard questions. To expect Akshay Kumar to ask such hard questions would have been a bit of a stretch, in all honesty.
But what irks me the most about this interview was the attempt to sell at something non-political, as an entertainment special when it so obviously waded into political territory with each jest and jibe.
The interview, in reality, was just another self-serving exercise in an attempt to further the cause of the PM in India.
Kumar, himself, cannot claim to be non-partisan.
Over the past few years, he has successfully established himself as a true-blue Modi fan. Even the film projects he has taken on over the past few years affirm this. He has been associated with several government schemes and also advertises ayurvedic products.
Why then, does one have to put up the pretence of remaining neutral?
This, however, is hardly the first time that an A-list Bollywood actor has come out in support of the Modi government.
The past few months have seen a spate of films being released that either valorise the achievements of the incumbent government or stick to narratives that are in tune with the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda.
A brigade of celebrities from the film fraternity even visited the PM in early January 2019, a picture of which went viral, sparking varied thinkpieces on Bollywood’s complicity in allowing a climate of hate to persist.
While this points to an industry that is in many ways aligning itself with the majoritarian ideals of the present government, actors often choose to present themselves as removed from the world of politics.
Ironically in an interview, during the promotion of the film Gully Boy, a film that highlights political themes, actor Ranveer Singh was quoted as saying that he is “pretty apolitical”. He also said that he was “apathetic when it comes to politics…involved in his own world”.
In a country that continues to witness an ever-shrinking space for free expression, one must never forget that the ‘apolitical’ is usually plain speak for the political.
Sreya Roy Chowdhury is doing her masters in media and cultural studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
Featured image credit: Twitter