Why Exactly Are We Outraged By Salman Khan’s Tweets on Memon?
The outrage against Salman Khan’s tweets on Yakub Memon is a sad reflection of our political and cultural immaturity
(This piece was first published in July 2015)
So, why the furore over Salman Khan’s tweets on Yakub and Tiger Memon? Did the actor express an opinion that was unheard of? No. Several news editors, a former RAW chief and even a former Supreme Court Chief Justice have written and spoken against or questioned Yakub Memon’s hanging.
Did the fact that Salman is involved in a hit-and-run case, act against him? Was it the irony that an actor, who had allegedly killed a pavement dweller by drunk driving, is now talking about the killing of an alleged innocent man?
Evidently not. The reason for the uproar is the simple fact that Salman Khan is a Bollywood actor, and for our “politically aware” masses – an actor is just that – an actor, who is paid to perform and entertain or a “bhaand”, as Vishal Bhardwaj described the entire film industry recently. No matter how popular they are, we hate it if they have an opinion, more so if it’s political. Actors who are in the prime of their careers are supposed to be apolitical beings.
For the sake of an argument, let’s assume that Salman was not involved in any legal case and had a ‘clean’ image, would his tweets have gone unnoticed? The answer again is, no. Take the example of Aamir Khan - as an actor and a public figure, Aamir is at the other end of the spectrum when compared to Salman. He is the poster boy of a Bollywood that is responsible, politically conscious, socially aware, articulate and intelligent. In 2006, Aamir made the mistake of voicing what the Supreme Court had already stated regarding the rehabilitation of people affected by the Narmada dam and all hell broke loose. Aamir was labeled anti-national and his film Fanaa was unofficially banned in Gujarat because the actor refused to apologise for his statement.
Even Shah Rukh Khan’s film My Name Is Khan faced the similar threat of a ban by the Shiv Sena in Mumbai in 2010, when the actor questioned Pakistan’s exclusion from the IPL that year. Even though SRK is the owner of an IPL team, he apparently did not have the right to question or sympathise with Pakistani players.
More recently, Rishi Kapoor came under attack online for merely questioning the beef ban in Maharashtra. Basically, we like our actors to be politically sterile beings. They are here to dance, sing, fight and entertain us – not to have a mind of their own.
We can’t imagine an industry where an A-list actor like George Clooney can come out and accuse President George W Bush of running the US government “like the Sopranos”, or a leading filmmaker like Martin Scorsese questioning the then American government’s intentions of going into war with Iraq.
Apart from giving us a peek into our level of intolerance, this reflects the political and cultural maturity we lack in acknowledging the basic fact that someone has the right to have an alternate opinion, and that he also has the freedom to express it – especially if he is a Bollywood actor.
And this attitude is also symptomatic of the kind of entertainment we like to popularly consume – frivolous, mindless and all appeasing. When was the last time you saw a Hindi film that was political, had an opinion and was not afraid to take a stand? Vishal Bhardwaj has already spoken about walking a tightrope to make Haider. Fact is, you just cannot do that here without having your life, limb and property threatened by some political, cultural or religious group.
In Kerala – a politically vibrant state, we see films that are highly provocative in nature. The recent Left Right Left that criticized the degradation of the Communist ideology in the state and took pot shots at CPM leaders, met with some protests but was largely allowed to have its run. It is hard to imagine such a film even being made in Bollywood. It is no secret that one of the biggest stars in the Malayalam industry, Mammootty, is a Left supporter and he also acts as the chairman of the popular Kairali TV channel, owned by the Communist Party in Kerala.
This latest episode involving Salman Khan will make Bollywood more cautious. Though many stars do not admit it, Ajay Devgn did so in a recent interview with journalist Bhupendra Chaubey. When asked why Bollywood stars shy away from taking a political stand, Devgn confessed, “Mainstream stars are scared. Darte hain humlog! Not just from the censor board, but elements other than the censor board. And we don’t have anyone backing us. How do you expect us then to be taking political positions?” When Chaubey asked point-blank if we could expect an honest film in India on the events of 1984 or 2002, Ajay Devgn didn’t beat around the bush, he candidly said, “No chance. If we were to make these films, we would be watching them in our homes only. We are a society where there is no freedom of speech.”
We finally have an actor who is brave enough to admit it!
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