Bollywood backing grows for students in anti-Modi protests

India Bollywood backing grows for students in anti-Modi protests

Deepika Padukone among stars to show solidarity with those protesting over citizenship law

The actor Deepika Padukone, centre, visits students protesting at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi. Photograph: STR/AFP via Getty Images

Opposition to the policies of the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, is gathering strength in Bollywood as a growing number of actors voice their support for student protesters.

A day after one of Bollywood’s highest-paid stars, Deepika Padukone, showed her solidarity with young protesters by appearing alongside them, a host of high-profile actors and directors have backed the students, who have been demonstrating against a new citizenship law observers say discriminates against Muslims.

Those speaking out include Sonakshi Sinha, Anurag Kashyap, Varun Dhawan, Sonam Kapoor, Suniel Shetty and Nikkhil Advani. The protests have been met with violence from police and rival student groups.

Padukone visited Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi on Wednesday to show her support for students injured by masked groups of people who stormed the campus on Sunday. The assailants are believed to be members of a student group close to the ruling Bharatiya Janata party.

The latest protest in Delhi resulted in yet another clash with police. A march by JNU students and leftwing politicians was stopped midway by police. On hearing that the students might be heading towards the presidential palace, officers bundled them into police vans and took them away.

The actor Nimrat Kaur praised Padukone, saying: “Leading from the front, the tallest Deepika Padukone”.

Kashyap said Padukone’s gesture had opened the gates for those who were apprehensive about speaking out over the controversial citizenship law or the use of excessive force by police against protesters.

“Deepika has managed to negate that fear and give courage to many others who were probably waiting for someone else to take the lead,” the director said.

Though brief, her appearance triggered a social media frenzy. Some Indians hailed her courage and integrity, while others claimed her JNU visit was a PR stunt to promote her new film, which is released on Friday.

The film industry traditionally stays out of such controversy with actors avoiding commenting on political issues for fear of damaging their careers and adversely affecting box office receipts. Initially, there was little comment from Bollywood, despite calls for those with a high-profile to speak out.

Amitabh Bachchan, one of the industry’s most famous names, has remained silent. Three of Bollywood’s top male stars, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan who all happen to be Muslims, have also not spoken out since nationwide protests over the citizenship law began on 15 December.

Gradually though signs of distinct unease in Bollywood over the BJP’s agenda have emerged. On Monday, actors and directors such as Zoya Akhtar, Vishal Bhardwaj, Taapsee Pannu, Anubhav Sinha, Dia Mirza and Rahul Bose joined a protest in Mumbai.

Kashyap along with the actors Richa Chadda and Varun Dhawan gave television interviews on the issue earlier this week.

Another indication of the current mood in Bollywood was the turnout for the private meeting arranged by the BJP to explain the citizenship law to the industry. “It was very poorly attended with zero star presence … basically a bunch of producers and some B-listers which I guess tells its own story,” said a director who did not wish to be named.

As well as the number of people speaking out, the tone has become sharper. “India, where cows seem to receive more protection than students, is also a country that now refuses to be cowed,” tweeted the actor Twinkle Khanna after Sunday’s attack at the JNU campus.

Fellow actor Sonakshi Sinha was equally outspoken, tweeting: “No matter which political party you support, do you support violence? Don’t visuals of bleeding students and teachers shake you up? We can’t sit on the fence any longer.”

The director Sudhir Mishra is in no doubt about the current mood within Bollywood.

“The majority of the industry is pretty disturbed by recent developments. It’s not just students being injured, they are questioning a citizenship law that could affect people they know, people they work with. It’s no longer abstract, it’s real,” he said.


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