The dirty picture is playing on Indian TV news for weeks. Bollywood is the latest big bad villain for the nation that is regularly served easy targets by the government and TV anchors to vent its outrage on.
On the face of it the TV coverage of the supposed drug use in Bollywood appears plain madness. Public spectacle being made of private WhatsApp chats, TV crews chasing cars of the stars like a pack of hyenas, newly-minted Bollywood experts and “insiders” “exposing” the “debauched” lives of film stars every night on primetime TV. It’s an open season for anyone and everyone.
But to take it just for its apparent madness will be to miss the bigger picture. What is being sold as Bollywood clean-up, is actually a project to bring the artists in line. To tell them that going forward, it’s either total surrender to the powers that be or reputations can be destroyed in no time. Central agencies and TV henchmen & women will be let loose. Nothing will stay private. Photographs and videos from private parties will be played on national TV with scandalous spins. And there will be no respite. The witch-hunt will be relentless and shameless.
That’s the message being sent to the section of film people, who have shown even a bit of spine and courage to speak their mind against the brutalities and injustices of the regime. And it’s also a message to the big stars and the so-called Shehenshah, the Badshahs, the Bhaijaans, who have anyway stayed quiet, to stay that way. Or you could be the next.
A Deepika Padukone being harassed and vilified by the government agencies and its agents masquerading as journalists is a message to all. Look, if we can put her through all this, without any shred of evidence, we can do this to you too.
An apparently motivated sexual assault charge on Anurag Kashyap tells everyone else, that the harassment is now going to get real. It will no longer be just online trolling and abuse. The regime and its agents mean the real deal.
Film stars, especially actresses, are soft targets. In public imagination and discourse, film women are taken as “loose, not-good” women. Pick conversations around film women in any average Indian household. “Arre, they do all sorts of things to be stars”, is the most common thinking. “Girls from good families don’t work in films” is the consensus. The attitude towards “heroes” is totally different. Word ‘hero” always has a positive connotation in people’s imagination, whereas a “heroine” is all things bad and immoral.
Even in this whole “Bollywood drug” episode, it’s the women who are being singled out and targeted. First Rhea Chakraborty was painted the vamp in Sushant Singh Rajput’s life. She has been made out to be the bad influence on a good, gullible man. Now other women have been dragged into the dirt. It appears that women in Bollywood are only doing drugs, while men are just busy building biceps.
This is not the only regime that wants to control the film industry. All governments try and leverage the star power to their advantage. And there have been a number of instances of government-sponsored targeting of those who try to defy the “line”. Everyone knows about how Kishore Kumar’s songs were taken off AIR after his refusal to play footsie during the Emergency. There have been numerous instances of films being targeted by political parties and their supporters. And the film industry has also by and large remained apolitical, and even in many instances, aligned to the regime of the day.
A crop of new and vocal artists have shattered the silence. And most of them are women, who speak their mind. They have refused to be the regime’s drum-beaters and cheerleaders, even as most of their senior colleagues are either prostrating in front of the Dear Leader or have just zipped up. Many A-listers frequently answer the Emperor’s calls for selfies, for “apolitical” interviews, happily amplify the “aura” of the Supreme Leader in their social media posts.
But there is another popular section of outspoken, fearless and “liberal” artists, who still walk with their spine straight. They talk of secularism, liberalism, equal rights, and constitutional values – all things that the current regime and its studio warriors have worked overtime to erase.
The Swaras, the Richas, the Kashyaps and many more like them have refused to dance to the master’s tune. Deepika should have known, or at least now knows, that the government was just waiting to strike at her after she decided to stand by the JNU students. For them, in that silent act of protest, she announced that she has crossed over to the other side.
This regime doesn’t believe in being discreet about its designs, nor does it believe in taking any prisoners.
Message to Bollywood is clear; fall in line, or you are next in line.
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