It’s a strange moral bind. The Bollywood influence on society is such, that people expect stars to have an opinion on everything, even subjects—like the budget— on which they are not qualified to speak. They can say they are just performers, and not involved in politics, but in times like this, can they really stay silent?
When there are battles going on that concern the industry – like the FTII imbroglio or the freedom of expression issues— silence of influential film personalities can be construed as cowardice. But when times are fraught, can film stars be expected to put their own and other people’s careers on the line by airing their political views? Aamir Khan’s films had to bear the brunt in Gujarat when he spoke in support of the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
It goes without saying that an opinion expressed in favour of the party in power is fine, but expressing any opinion contrary to what is acceptable could have unsavoury repercussions. Big money is involved in Bollywood, so most stars either stay silent or obey diktats, like showing their films to any political, religious, social fringe group and getting their approval— anybody can take offence these days and attack or boycott anyone. (In the past, a star as venerated as Dilip Kumar was harassed because he accepted an honour from Pakistan!)
That’s why it’s courageous of Shah Rukh Khan, who, on his birthday, gave interview decrying the “growing intolerance” in the country. (“Yes there is intolerance, there is extreme intolerance; not being secular in this country is the worst kind of crime you can do as a patriot.”) Expectedly, the reaction from the ‘intolerant’ was “Go to Pakistan” because he is a Muslim. That option is not even suggested to non Muslims. On an earlier occasion, when SRK had made an innocuous statement about inclusion of Pakistani cricketers in the IPL, a ban was demanded on his film My Name Is Khan, and it had to be screened under police protection.
Sadly, film personalities who are shooting their mouths off against current issues—like writers and filmmakers returning their awards—are not asked to shut up, but Gulzar gets a lashing for speaking out against religious intolerance. What is wrong with SRK saying, “Hollywood has more leeway about speaking your voice, but here, you have a country where there are lots of things you can’t talk about. Because if you stop my films on Friday and nobody is there to tell them, don’t stop his films on Friday, it’s extremely sad.”
It’s a fact, a few celebrities will write on social media or speak in favour of people sticking their necks out for a cause, but to a picket a theatre or a film star house, any number will turn up.