Bollywood’s Role in Times of Political Crisis: A Quint Roundtable

Swara Bhasker, Varun Grover, Anubhav Sinha, Renuka Shahane and Neeraj Ghaywan discuss Bollywood’s role in politics.

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Swara Bhasker, Varun Grover, Anubhav Sinha, Renuka Shahane, and Neeraj Ghaywan join us for a discussion on Bollywood's role in contemporary Indian politics, at a time when massive protests against CAA and NRC continue across the country, as does violent police repression in places such as Uttar Pradesh.

Do film industry professionals have a responsibility to speak up at such times of political turmoil, or is that an unfair expectation to burden them with?

Is there pressure on Bollywood celebrities to not criticise the ruling establishment, and do they fear the consequences of a possible backlash? And are some of India’s biggest superstars failing the people of this country through their silence?
The Quint’s Films & Politics Roundtable.
(Photo: The Quint)

From discussing whether films like Article 15 and Mulk can contribute to changing mindsets, to the woeful lack of representation of oppressed castes in Bollywood, here are some of the highlights from The Quint’s Films & Politics Roundtable.

Click on the player below to listen to the podcast.


Varun Grover: Propaganda Films and ‘Godi Media’ Also Important

Varun Grover: I feel that whether it is an Islamophobic film, or a film that is dishing out government propaganda – in one go, there were three or four films about our PM, about every stage of his life – those are also important. Because they are documenting our times.

Just like how what we call the ‘godi media’ is also documenting our times. If an asteroid doesn’t hit our planet and destroy all the tapes, then maybe even a hundred years later, someone will watch what the ‘godi media’ is showing now and know that this is what it was like – before the Constitution of this country became obsolete, we were standing on the edge of a cliff and ready to jump, and from behind us, people were shouting “Jump! Jump! Jump!” and it was this ‘godi media’ who was shouting that.

So, this is important too. We don’t realise their value today – when they are standing with matches and petrol, but the matches and petrol do not know that they are documenting themselves. That’s very important.

Swara Bhasker: Producers Warned Me of ‘Troublemaker’ Tag

Swara Bhasker: There's definitely been an impact. With brands, of course. Three or four things that were in talks, fell through. A few people said it up front, "I'm sorry, we're looking for someone who is not political and who doesn't have political associations." Some brands did say that, and I respect that actually, I don't have a problem with it.

I have also been told by concerned directors and producers, “You’re getting the reputation of being a troublemaker, you have a nuisance value.” Again, it’s fine. I respect that.

Is that going to stop you?

Swara Bhasker: See, I'm not an idiot and I do understand that as an actor, you do have a responsibility towards your film, and I do not look for trouble, or anything like that. But I also always feel that I am who I am. So, there is only that much that I can change that. I can try, but eventually I am sure that the person I am will come out in whichever field I am in. So, it's fine.


Neeraj Ghaywan: Bollywood Is Caste-Blind

Neeraj Ghaywan: Growing up on cinema, the Doordarshan cinema that I have seen and all the other films I've seen, I have come to understand - for example, if we look at Dalit characters, there is literally zero representation. Look at all the films in all our history, you would think of Bandini, you would think of maybe Masaan, but more so now, Article 15, but in between all of this, you don't remember anybody (or any film).

I am the only Dalit filmmaker you can count in the Hindi film industry. What I mean to say is that I actually looked at Black history and Black cinema history, and I thought that they (in Hollywood) do something called affirmative action and they have a book that prescribes certain things. When the inclusion rider came about in the Oscars, I felt, why should we not have that sort of a thing here?

So, you’ve effectively gas-lit the public and also othered a huge percentage of the population saying that they don’t exist because they’re not in films at all, all your protagonists from time immemorial have been upper caste.

So where is the narrative going to come from? It's going to come from the people - subaltern represents subaltern.


Renuka Shahane: Easier to Speak up Because I’m Not an A-Lister

Renuka Shahane: During the Padmaavat controversy, those involved in the movie were all alone, poor things, they had to fight their own battles.

When people ask me, "How can you speak up?", I say that is because I am not an A-lister. And that is the bottom line. That I can be brave and I can be courageous because I don't have a 400-people unit.

Do you feel that the statements that you’ve been making on several sociopolitical issues has in any way hampered your opportunities?

Renuka Shahane: Not that I know of. They don't come and tell me, "We were considering you but you were so politically on the wrong side."

Have you thought about that though? Has it affected or deterred you?

Renuka Shahane: No, it hasn't deterred me. I think it is very important to be what you are, to believe in what you believe in. People have woken up now and think that I started speaking up after 2014. That is not the case. They may have started tweeting after 2014, but we've been around questioning the government for a very long time.


Anubhav Sinha: I Don’t Blame Shah Rukh, Aamir & Salman for Their Silence

Anubhav Sinha: My anger (online) wasn't directed towards Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir at all. I don't think those three can speak. One of them I know personally, so I have a little bit of insight on that. If I was Shah Rukh Khan, I wouldn't get into it. Because my whole being will be demolished, because I come from...

And honestly speaking, none of these three are very staunch Muslims. Most of them have some Hindu connection. One of them has a Hindu wife, and things like that. They have pujas at their homes.

You’ve seen what happened to Shah Rukh when he used a word like ‘intolerance’. Or what happened to Aamir when he was telling a benign story about his wife and people selectively picked up one half of the statement.

So, I'm not even talking about them losing contracts - which is fine, they can afford to lose those contracts. Only people who get trolled that viciously will know what it means. Suddenly, you are identified with your religion and a whole lot goes on. I'm not saying it is impossible to still speak up, but I fully understand why they can't or maybe they shouldn't.

But the rest of the industry - they've not been subscribing to newspapers, they've not been watching the news? I don't know what's going on. So yeah, I'm angry about it. There should be more people talking besides Swara and Richa, the usual suspects.


Anchor: Meghnad Bose
Camerapersons: Vijay Sartape, Yatin Nawar, Anveer Singh, Vivek Amare, Vijay Jadhav and Gautam Sharma
Video Editors: Puneet Bhatia and Veeru Krishan Mohan
Executive Producers: Suresh Mathew and Divya Talwar

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Topics:  Narendra Modi   Bollywood   Neeraj Ghaywan 

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