Recently, we observed heavy criticism against Bollywood actors for not voicing their dissent publicly or for choosing to remain silent on political matters.
This upsurge in criticism was particularly noted after the anti-CAA protests took place as the public blamed celebrities for not raising their voices. They believe celebrities have the power to influence the masses.
Many people stated the example of Meryl Streep who publicly criticized Donald Trump for using his position to bully a reporter in her Golden Globe Award speech, back in 2017.
Comparisons were made between her and actors in Bollywood who apparently choose to stay silent when something unacceptable happens in India.
However, while we make this comparison, we tend to forget the difference in freedom of expression in both the countries, the willingness of people to accept a difference in opinion, and the kind of reaction both the parties would get in terms of online abuse, harassment and bullying in the two countries.
Meryl Streep could voice her opinion publicly and stay assured that her security and sanity wouldn’t be threatened in the way Deepika Padukone was abused for showing her support towards the anti-CAA protests in JNU.
People perceived her reaction as “pro-Muslim” in nature and threatened to boycott her movie Chhapaak. The same actor received death threats on social media for apparently glorifying and supporting “Muslim culture” in her movie Padmaavat.
How one perceives a movie varies differently from person to person and so, if that is the kind of reaction a celebrity gets for supporting a particular religion on screen, the consequences of the same will definitely be heightened in real life.
Actors in India probably feel that it’s safer to remain silent on political issues, especially when their words and actions are magnified by the general public and media.
A star as opinionated and bold as Priyanka Chopra, UNICEFs goodwill ambassador who has spoken about multiple issues, from poverty to inequality on international platforms, refrains from commenting on Indian political issues. There isn’t much doubt why others, less popular actors, and those who have just started to make a career in the industry would do the same.
Actor Sushant Singh’s contract with Savdhaan India was terminated a few hours after he attended an anti-CAA protest. Would a common man be willing to go to a protest at the cost of his job? If no, then why should it be expected out of our actors?
When Amir Khan expressed his views on his wife’s uncertainty about raising their child in India, he was probably expressing the emotions and fear of many others who are living in this country as a minority, especially when conflicts between the minority and the majority are in fact no surprise.
He also lost a contract with Snapdeal soon after because people slammed the company for using Amir Khan as their brand ambassador after the actor’s remarks.
If a girl from Delhi or any part of India expresses her decision to move out because she feels unsafe about the rape culture in India, does she deserve to be criticized and threatened when the fact is that India was named the most dangerous country for women in 2018?
While there are many actors who do express their opinions on platforms like Twitter, they often seem to be extra cautious of their words. The title of role model that we have given them, adds extra pressure on their shoulders to be politically correct, but one may or may not be politically correct in the other’s eyes.
If expressing your views is done out of pressure and is followed by a fear of trolls it loses its value. No wonder celebrities choose to avoid it.
It’s unfair to expect them to be politically aware and also express their views on the same. That’s not their job and it’s certainly not what they’re paid for.
It should be normalized for them to have a politically or morally different opinion without having to face a backlash as severe as they do right now.
These trolls and online harassment can take a toll on anybody, including people with a million fans.
Sonakshi Sinha recently deactivated her Twitter account (a platform on which she had garnered about 16 million followers), after being subjected to trolls for being a privileged star kid, saying that she wanted to keep away from the negativity.
If a few thousand trolls can affect the mental well-being of a celebrity like her, it’s not very hard to imagine the kind of impact it would have on others.