Anubhav Sinha, one of India’s leading directors, called on three superstar actors – Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan – to break their silence about controversial citizenship law that has triggered riots in India, saying they could influence millions of fans.
At least 21 people have died since crowds took to the streets enraged by the government’s legislation, which critics say discriminates against Muslims. The political storm, as well as violence raging around it, has posed a dilemma for a film industry that is dominated by Muslim actors, directors, and crew but caters to the predominantly Hindu population.
SPEAK OUT: A handful of figures have spoken out against the controversial law and the violence, some at rallies in Mumbai. But none of its three leading stars have made public statements. “These three actors and their fan following is something else. One word from them can influence millions,” said Anubhav Sinha, a critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“I understand why they may not be able to speak out. I am not angry at them, said Anubhav Sinha, who directed Shahrukh Khan in the 2011 film Ra One. He said that it did not matter what they said about the law or the violence, just that they contributed to the debate. “I am not saying they should agree with me or others. Their opinion can be the opposite of what we have.”
Industry insiders say the lack of comments or condemnations by some of the industry’s biggest names points to a broad cultural difference from Hollywood – where actors regularly take up political causes and criticize the government. “In US, President Donald Trump cannot use the government machinery to go after actors who disagree with him, but here, that fear is very much there,” said Rajeev Masand, film critic and journalist.
NARENDRA MODI: The Indian prime minister has regularly appeared alongside actors and film industry figures at public events. In turn, the industry has produced films that some critics have said approached political endorsements. This year, three movies have appeared with lead actors in prime ministerial roles, including a biopic titled –PM Narendra Modi.
Actress Sayani Gupta, who appeared with Shahrukh Khan in his 2015 film Fan, last week retweeted a selfie that popular young actors including Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt took with the Indian prime minister at an event. She added the message: “The time has come to speak up guys.”
For protesters, especially those at the Jamia Millia University in New Delhi, where Shahrukh Khan was enrolled in his youth, his silence feels like a betrayal, a foreign news service reported. “Someone like him staying silent is unacceptable,” said Zoya Nadeem Azmi, a literature student.