Young actors of tinsel town have often been lip-locked about matters of political conflict.
Bollywood and politics have always had a love-hate relationship. Recently, Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt during an interview were asked about their stand on the underlying political message in the song Azaadi - a track from their recently released movie Gully Boy. Brushing aside the question nonchlantly and their claim to be "apolitical" and too "busy with their personal lives" to comment on politics did not sit with their fans, viewers and the netizens. Both the young stars were called too "privileged" enough to be able to call themselves "apolitical" in the current environment of the country.
But the industry has had its fair share of political razzmatazz, with movies portraying political honchos to the touchy topics of religion, mythology, sex and terrorism. So what prevents today's young stars from providing any comment which has the slightest political slant?
Says Bollywood publicist Dale Bhagwagar, the primary reason is fear. "The fear is not only of ostracization but also fear of losing monetary value - in terms of upcoming movies being boycotted, infrastructure being broken or releases being stalled. This has nothing to do with the current government. Rather, this has been happening through the ages," he says, citing examples of various political parties known for their pressure tactics.
"Shiv Sena is infamous for violent protests against films - ranging from burning posters to vandalising theatres. The Congress too, which is known to be a fairly balanced political party, has a student wing - NSUI - that has also participated in such vandalistic protests," he adds.
Abhishek Thukral, another celebrity manager is of the opinion that every actor is selling their film, and that making a political statement will definitely hamper the marketing of the film. "A comment that can be blown up by the media completely takes away from the film or the project that they are promoting. And the media, out of the entire press conference, will pick up that one political statement, instead of giving any mileage to the film whatsoever," explains Thukral, adding, "Actors do speak about their views and current affairs when there is no movie being released. But there is so much negativity and hatred in the country with regards to politics that celebrities get death threats, actresses get rape threats. The situation can get very nasty."
Resonating with a similar idea, Dale says, "Earlier, when print was one of the only media of news dissemination, a reaction to a celebrity's comment would come as letters to the editor and a controversy would take at least a day to brew. Then with the boom of television, one got to know of controversies in a matter of hours. Now, with the advent of social media, not only does the controversy spread like wildfire but with apps and technology, it has become very easy to cut, edit and distort a statement given by a celebrity. Sensationalism is not the only issue now, fake news tops the list. And therefore celebrities are wary and rightfully so.”
But it is not only personal comments that celebrities refuse from making. Collectively, Bollywood has rarely taken a stand on socio-political issues. Take the case of the recent #MeToo wave in India, where no one much came out in support of the survivors and victims in India's tinsel towns.
Dale Bhagwagar explains, "One needs to first understand that Bollywood is not a family or a fraternity. It is an industry with extremely insecure people where each person will have another's back only till the favour is returned. So for Bollywood to stand together against a common evil is a far cry. Everyone is looking out for themselves, unlike Hollywood, where they are a very professional industry."
Celebrity manager Prabhat Chaudhary opines that if people are looking up to actors and actresses as role models, then the country is facing a major ideological bankruptcy. "We expect actors to act well, be well-read, be aware of current affairs and be a role model all at once. That is unfair. Actors are people who do their jobs and earn money. In the process of their jobs, they get famous. But they are in no way obliged to make political statements if they do not want to," he concludes.