WHILE ACTRESSES REVOLT… ASSOCIATIONS FLOUNDER, HEROES STAY SILENT, INDUSTRY APPEARS DIVIDED | 16 September, 2020

There’s a very popular saying in English: Everybody’s problem is nobody’s problem. The scene playing out in Bollywood today seems to exemplify exactly that. At least, its heroes seem to have adopted the philosophy propagated by the adage, and turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the problem of the Hindi film industry as a whole. Ever since Sushant Singh Rajput died on 14th June this year, allegedly by suicide, Bollywood is being butchered and battered left, right and centre, but our heroes are silent. So silent that their silence has now become the most deafening sound in the film industry. A handful of industry insiders and the electronic and social media are offering crude, preposterous and improper stories about Bollywood to the gullible public, dishing out screenplays that could put even Salim-Javed to shame as far as imagination is concerned. Sample the fare offered by the repulsive lot to the world: there’s only one per cent of Bollywood, which does not do drugs; there’s no difference between Bollywood as an industry and underworld don Dawood Ibrahim’s fiefdom; Bollywood heroines are sluts who have to sleep around if they want roles in big-banner films; talent loses out to nepotism in the world’s largest film-producing industry; etc. The public, of course, loves gossip about stars and celebrities, and hence is lapping up all that is being offered to it, that too, by a handful of frustrated and thankless industry souls, some TRP-crazy TV channels (which, on their so-called debates, invite have-beens and non-stakeholders who are more than ready to oblige the channels by their ‘august’ presence on such shows) and social media trolls. Amidst all this, the film industry has maintained an uncomfortable silence since three months. First, it was only the industry people who were wondering why the film industry was not retaliating to the falsehood being spread about it. But now, tongues of even ordinary people have started wagging. Is Bollywood really guilty and hence not saying anything in its defence?

Silence is a double-edged sword. Silence can be interpreted as complicity just as it can send out signals that the persons preferring to keep mum don’t consider the situation merit-worthy enough to comment upon. While the industry has chosen to remain mute because the allegations against it are so crazy and untrustworthy, the public, unfortunately, is interpreting Bollywood’s quietude as a signal that it endorses the trash that’s being spoken about it. Like the industry folks are unable to fathom how anyone can speak so ridiculously about an entire industry, the general public is unable to believe that the industry as a whole can remain so silent in the face of such adversity. In other words, the very reason why the industry has decided to remain quiet and let the storm pass is the reason why people expect Bollywood to take a stand. For the industry which has entertained millions every single day, what is happening in the public domain currently is unprecedented. But it’s not completely new. In the 1980s and 1990s, film glossies did what the social and electronic media are doing today but, of course, it is being done far more openly now, and with far more venom. In that sense, what fare glossies offered then would now seem to be like religious discourses when compared to the filth being dished out by the few industry insiders and magnified by the TV channels for augmenting their TRPs. What’s more, film gossip journals rarely, if ever, revealed their sources for the salacious stories they offered their readers. But today, the sources themselves are shouting from the rooftops, which is why the public is so excitedly and eagerly lapping up whatever’s on offer — not bothered about checking the goodwill or otherwise of the sources. If it’s an insider doling out the ‘news’, it must be true. At least, that’s what the hapless public is reasoning out. The shocking part is that the public seems to have decided to hate Bollywood, no matter what.

The nepotism theory as the reason for the death of Sushant’s alleged suicide went out of the window no sooner was the theory of murder and abetment to suicide propounded. The theory of murder and abetment to suicide will soon be junked because the CBI investigations seem to be over, without such findings. There was also the theory that Sushant’s actress-girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty, had siphoned off his money, but the Enforcement Directorate has reportedly not found any substance in that story put forth by the late actor’s father and given far more credence than it deserved, by the spineless media and industry gossip-mongers. Before this could die down, the motormouths of the film industry put out the theory that 99% of Bollywood was addicted to drugs. The report presented in Parliament yesterday (15th September) has said that no concrete evidence of a nexus between Bollywood and the drugs mafia was found.

While all these findings should have restored the glory of Bollywood, the fact is that people still continue to badmouth the film industry and look at it with unprecedented suspicion. One of the most coveted and loved industries seems to have become the most hated industry in a matter of just three months. The silence of our heroes may have something to do with the state of affairs Bollywood finds itself in.

It’s so unusual for our heroes to take the stand they’ve taken in the present times — one of complete silence. Equally unusual is the fact that our leading ladies have exhibited more courage than our screen heroes in giving it back to the electronic and social media and the industry black sheep in these trying times. Right from day one, a couple of actresses like Taapsee Pannu and Swara Bhaskar were vocal in their support for the industry. Vidya Balan, Minissha Lamba, and then Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and Huma Qureshi added fuel to the fire of revolt led by the couple of bold actresses. Just recently, Twinkle Khanna wrote a beautiful article in her column in a leading newspaper, criticising the way in which Rhea Chakraborty is being vilified by the media and the handful of frustrated souls from within the industry. Jaya Bachchan yesterday (15th September) spoke out harshly against the Bollywood bashing that’s been going on ever since Sushant Singh Rajput died on 14th June — and she did it on a platform no less than the Rajya Sabha of which she is an august member. Hema Malini, in a television interview yesterday, expressed disgust over what’s being spoken about Bollywood and reiterated that the industry is a nice place to be in. That Jaya Bachchan, Hema Malini and Twinkle Khanna, are all women is not coincidental. Their stands serve to underline the lack of spine in the male fraternity in the film industry. By their silence, our heroes are not only neglecting the industry which has made them but are also, in a way, eroding their own image. For, the public expects them to behave like heroes whenever there is trouble. And there cannot be greater trouble for Bollywood than some of its own and the country’s media turning against it as an industry. But our heroes prefer to remain silent. Even today, they, so to say, continue to fiddle while Rome is burning. But just because an ostrich buries its head in the sand, it doesn’t mean, there is no danger. The danger to Bollywood is immense. Social media has a lot of power and reach — and it can be used to mould public opinion with almost no cost attached to brainwashing people into believing nonsense about anyone or, in this case, about an entire industry. As observed in the last three months, social media is becoming a platform to spew hatred more than to spread love, to ridicule the rich and famous more than to do something constructive for the poor masses, to humiliate and silence those who do not toe the line than to solicit constructive discussions.

There is divided opinion in the film industry about what its respectable names should be doing to set the image of Bollywood right. There’s one school of thought which says that all the tops in the film industry should come on a common platform and set the record straight by informing people that Bollywood is not the mafia den or the horrendous place it is portrayed to be by the very television channels which thrive on it (Bollywood) for TRPs or by a couple of insiders who’ve made crores of rupees from it, not to talk of the name and fame. Another opinion is that the industry leaders should remain silent because they cannot be expected to stoop down to the level which the TV channels and the so-called insiders have stooped down. The fear is that even if they try, they will not succeed in stooping so low. But even if the second option is accepted, the industry, in its resolve to ignore, should at least present a picture of unity. Why is it that there is a feeling that the industry is fragmented? The industry can refrain from saying anything, yet show to the world that it remains united in the face of the ‘created’ adversity. Why is that not evident? Why doesn’t the film industry look like it is jointly critical of the filth being spoken about it and its people, never mind if it doesn’t want to strike back? This lack of unity among the ranks of the film industry is what is harming and hurting its image more than its silence. The veterans and the experienced may be right in their logic to exercise caution in this difficult period by remaining mute but nothing can explain the message of lack of unity, that’s going out to the world. For its own good, Bollywood needs to show that despite its silence, it stands completely and wholly united in its condemnation of the staged drama. It may choose to not say anything in reply but surely, a joint condemnation is not too much to ask for.

What is it that our heroes fear? That their fan following will reduce if they defend Bollywood? How should they be measuring their fan following? By the number of followers they have on social media or by the number of people who watch their films? Of course, by the number of people who watch their films. Agreed, social media may have been a measure of one’s popularity but it can never be the measure of one’s success. It should be clear to every single hero worth his hits and blockbusters that what should matter in the final analysis are the box-office numbers of their films rather than the number of followers they have on Twitter and Instagram. And our heroes would do well to remember that film stars, whether in India or the USA, have risen to rule countries and states but no politician has ever become a successful film star. Our politicians and our people know the value and the influence of Bollywood stars; sadly, our heroes themselves underestimate their power. Sunil Dutt, Sunny Deol, Raj Babbar, Hema Malini, Shatrughan Sinha and many others have become successful politicians first and foremost because of their popularity as film stars. They’ve invariably been able to influence the voters. And who are the voters if not the public? How difficult can it be for our heroes to hold sway over the aam janata which has been misled by some people for ulterior motives?

If the behaviour of our leading men in these times is inexplicable, so is the stance of the industry’s trade bodies. It was shameful to read an unsigned press release of the Producers Guild Of India, condemning the media’s biased coverage of the actor’s death and the abuses being hurled at Bollywood in its aftermath. Believe it or faint, not a single name from the film industry was mentioned in the half-baked press release, issued as an Open Letter (really?!?!), although, as everyone knows, the whole ruckus was started by a handful of industry insiders. If one of the most celebrated associations of producers is going to be so petrified of taking names (when that’s primary), and if the president of that association is not going to sign the letter issued to the media even if that means sending an unsigned letter/press release to members of the fourth estate, what can you say about the industry which makes the largest number of films in the world? The Cine And TV Artistes’ Association’s press release was no better than that of the Guild. They went exactly like the producers did — it was also unsigned; it also took no names. Not only were the two formal press releases too late, they were also too less. If those press releases did not get the coverage they ought to have got, the industry had only itself to blame. With the media already so anti-Bollywood, what was needed was a hard-hitting and honest media release, not a half-baked, trying-to-be-so-innocent-that-we-don’t-know-who-is-to-be-blamed apology of a press release which beat around the bush and conveyed nothing but bullshit. Yes, bullshit is the only way to describe the press statements of the two most important associations of the film industry. Pardon my language, dear readers, because I know, I should be using language worse than this to describe what the two press statements read like. Shame on the gutless associations.

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