Remember that time Utpal Dutt, a card-carrying Communist, went to the media, asking for a revolution, just before Gol Maal came out? Ever remember Kishore Kumar, another noted dissident, going on a rant, calling a politician a “dalla” at a stage show, before the release of an album?
No you don’t remember any of these, because they never happened.
Today though, things are different. Bollywood is split on a fault line, between “the anti-national lobby” and the “government bootlickers”, and every issue, be it the death of a young actor or protests against a citizenship bill, aligns on exactly that line. And it’s about great performances, not on screen, but on social media and 24/7 news channels, befitting replies and silencing trolls and busting the lobby and calling out the current government’s “intolerance” and courageously taking on the Bollywood mafia, one party calling the others B-grade and the other calling another sellouts, each riling up their base to attack the other.
This helps, we are told, to promote the actor’s or filmmaker’s brand, keeping them in news cycles, and in front of a fickle audience which has the attention span of a seven-month-old, appealing to an echo chamber, with its absolute loyalty a function of your perceived ideological purity, which seems a strategy right out of a public relations textbook. Because as the title of my first book went: May I Hebb your Attention Pliss.
Call me a traditionalist, but I prefer the olden days when actors fought over roles and matters of less importance, when we didn’t care to know if Mamta Kulkarni wanted to smash patriarchy or whether Raj Kumar wanted JNU students to pay lower fees or if Rahul Roy supported Chandra Shekhar as PM. All media coverage was who came to the set late and who left early with whom, and whose wardrobe came from Milan and what Ayesha Jhulka thought about Akshay Kumar, and that was all that I needed to be happy.
It wasn’t as if actors then weren’t “woke” or didn’t have a political opinion. Balraj Sahni was a progressive, he was a prominent member of the very left-wing Indian People’s Theatre Association, but then he expressed his politics through the movies he acted in, like Garm Hava for instance, and not by spouting garam hava on prime time. That was the difference.
DISCLAIMER : This article is intended to bring a smile to your face. Any connection to events and characters in real life is coincidental.