It is now a well established fact that Bollywood has been at the receiving end of a nasty online campaign to boycott the films of those actors who India’s right wing does not see eye to eye with. And the actors that are targeted that most are superstars Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) and Aamir Khan.
SRK’s latest film ‘Pathaan’ is due for release next month but its already being threatened with a ban by the Home Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Narottam Mishra. This week, Mishra objected to actor Deepika Padukone’s swimsuit in a song of the film.
The minister’s specific objection is to the orange colour Deepika is wearing because it resembles saffron, a colour the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has decided to lay claim to as its own. There is also the not so subtle suggestion that SRK is in a green shirt in the same song.
Theatre of the absurd
If this isn’t the theatre of the absurd, I don’t know what is. The minister also has a problem with the song title, ‘Besharam Rang’ and declared that it all represented a “contaminated mentality”.
Nevermind that several songs in Bollywood films over the years have featured scantily clad actresses in orange clothes. One song, for instance, from an Akshay Kumar movie has him dancing with women in saffron. But then, Akshay is BJP’s darling.
This time Shah Rukh Khan has spoken out on the toxic culture of social media. Speaking at a film festival in Kolkata on Thursday, he talked about the negativity of social media and the narrowness of views.
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The superstar said, “Cinema and advent of articulation through social media platforms have now become the foremost expression of human emotions and experience.
The collective narrative of our times is shaped by social media and contrary to the belief that the spread of social media will affect the cinema negatively, I believe cinema has an even more important role to play now.”
The actor pointed out how social media is “driven” by “narrowness of views” and added, “I read somewhere negativity increases social media consumption and thereby increases its commercial value as well. Such pursuits enclose the collective narrative, making it divisive and destructive.”
And then he added, “No matter what the world does, people like us will stay positive.”
A few minutes later, Amitabh Bachchan came on to speak, and surprised everyone by talking about how even now, questions are being raised on civil liberties. Bachchan has been so careful to avoid any controversy for years now.
Make no mistake. The attack against Pathan has everything to do with Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone (who became the target of the troll army after she visited Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2020, standing in solidarity with protesting students).
So is this a sort of pushback by Bollywood at last? It may be too early to say that. Some point out that by staying silent all these years, Bollywoods’s superstars have enabled the hate factories to get away with their smear campaigns. The flip side is that those who did speak up found the Income Tax department and other assorted surprises at their doorstep.
Shah Rukh Khan has been through hell with the arrest of his son, who later turned out to have been wrongly incarcerated and purposely targeted.
Last night, when I anchored my NDTV show on the subject, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) commentator angrily reminded viewers that SRK had spoken about intolerance in India some years ago. He continues to be targeted for saying that.
More than ever, Bollywood needs to stand up to bullying collectively. Their voices have more power than they think.