Illustration by Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint
Illustration by Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint

India found a hero to celebrate last week on social media. And the hero was Diljit Dosanjh. This week there is a villain to target — the Khans. And the reason why social media is questioning Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir is because they are not Diljit Dosanjh.

But not everyone can be like the Punjabi singer and actor. He could spar with Kangana Ranaut over the farmers’ protests because of the support ecosystem he has — a whole state backed him. Remember what happened the last time any of the Khans spoke out in Narendra Modi’s India?

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The Khans were also under fire for not speaking up during the Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests. Shah Rukh Khan faced much online fury for keeping mum on the violence in his alma mater Jamia Millia Islamia last December.

What is quite peculiar, though, is that public wrath has been directed mostly at the Khan troika for keeping silent, even though the Bachchans and the Kapoors haven’t yet uttered a word.


Also read: No, Kangana Ranaut isn’t going the Smriti Irani way. She’s going the bully way


Why single out Khans?

Megastar Amitabh Bachchan, who has been involved in several government drives such as the polio vaccination, has never chosen to voice his opinions on important national issues. Some on social media even called him the ‘Manmohan Singh of Bollywood’. The same holds true for the Kapoors — the ‘first family’ of Bollywood — which has historically shied away from speaking up on public matters.

Bollywood’s ‘patriotic’ hero Akshay Kumar, known for starring in hyper nationalistic movies and Singh is Kinng, has also steered clear of talking about the farmers’ protest.

So, why are only the Khans our punching bags?

This pressure on Muslim actors, film-makers, women or even Kashmiri celebrities to always speak up disregards the struggles they have gone through in the industry every day against systemic and institutional bias, and what it took for them to become big. The double burden of representation and activism is unfair and illogical.

The fact also remains that the Khans didn’t receive any backing from the film fraternity when they tried to raise their voices. Be it when Shah Rukh had penned an article in 2013 in which he wrote about how he “sometimes become the inadvertent object of political leaders who choose to make me a symbol of all that they think is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India”, or in 2015, when he said, “There is extreme intolerance. Intolerance religiously, not being secular in this country, is the worst kind of crime you can do as a patriot.” Or be it when Aamir said in 2015 that his wife Kiran Rao suggested leaving India amid rising intolerance. The retribution against them has been severe. And has costed them.

Also don’t forget how filmmaker Karan Johar was forced to say on camera in 2016 that he won’t work with Pakistani actors after Raj Thackeray’s MNS and other political parties threatened to stall his movie, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, for featuring Pakistani actor Fawad Khan.

How many industry stalwarts lent their support to Johar and the Khans publicly then? Diljit, on the other hand, had an entire community and a state backing him in his support for the protesting farmers.


Also read: Bollywood Khans not silent. They speak up through films – Kabhi Eid Kabhi Diwali to Chak De!


Khans are entertainers, not activists

I struggle to wrap my head around the argument that influencers need to advocate for social issues. Why? We Indians don’t always listen to our parents, teachers or people we know in real life. What can celebrities say that will change us?

When Shah Rukh extended his support to the Modi government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, he was merely using his celebrity status to highlight the importance of cleanliness, and consolidate his image and brand value further.

Similarly, when Aamir Khan hosted Satyamev Jayate, which focussed on social issues such as domestic violence, ‘honour’ killing, sexual abuse, he was leveraging his celebrity status to highlight social problems and make money.

They’re artists at the end of the day. They can do social activism if they want. That’s not a part of their job description. It’s an active choice. Diljit Dosanjh taking a strong stand is good and shows he’s socially aware — a bonus in a celebrity. It needs to be lauded, but it can’t be demanded.


Also read: Bollywood has finally spoken, because Modi selfies aren’t really helping


Indians have miles to go

The argument that ‘if celebrities in the West can choose to voice opinions on public matters then why can’t our celebrities’ is a classic example of false equivalence.

In the West, an actor’s movie release won’t be halted or theatres burnt or their livelihood threatened for expressing a political opinion. But we all know what can happen in India if a celebrity’s opinion or even a movie (read, Deepa Mehta’s Fire and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat) goes against the popular sentiment. And if the actor happens to be from a minority community, the backlash is way worse. India hasn’t yet developed into a mature democracy tolerant of criticism — no matter which party is ruling.

And even then, there are celebrities who speak up. Sonu Sood, Tapsee Pannu, Priyanka Chopra, Parineeti Chopra, Preity Zinta, Mika Singh, and Swara Bhasker are among those who didn’t shy away from voicing their support for the farmers. So, instead of slamming the Khans and Bollywood for not taking a stand, amplify those voices who are speaking up. Ultimately, the onus lies on society to create an environment conducive enough for all of us to express opinions freely and fearlessly. Only then can we have more celebrities speaking up.

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21 COMMENTS

  1. Perhaps the author is unaware of what happened to the US country music group, Dixie Chicks, when their lead singer criticized the then US president Bush.

  2. Unlike the three Khans, Diljit is not a pan-India, massy superstar yet. His core audience is still made up of Punjabis, majority of whom are Sikhs. He has played the role of a Sikh man in all his movies (obviously) and most of his songs are also about the Punjabi Jatt Sikh and his daily shenanigans. His primary playground is the Punjabi entertainment industry.

    Khans became superstars due to their popularity among the Hindus which they earned by playing Hindu characters, from Raj to Rahul, from Prem to Bajrangi and from Amar to Bhuvan. They were never Muslims for their Hindu majority audience.

    Shahrukh was the favourite of the urban Hindu middle-class and NRI Hindus and Salman has been popular among the Hindu lower middle classes. Aamir has his own niche Hindu audience.

    They cannot behave just as “Muslims” now not only that would not just be suicidal for their career but would also be dishonest.

  3. The fact is, Bollywood celebrities are a bunch of sell outs with no spine.
    What is going on in India is a violation of human rights and a disgrace to democracy. India is a joke.

  4. This is thought occured to me too. I think after Diljit many voices will emerge when our government take religiously biased decisions. I am so sad to see that many comments here don’t support your article. bhakts :((

  5. This is thought occured to me too. I think after Diljit many voices will emerge when our government take religiously biased decisions. I am so sad to see that many comments here don’t support your view. All the bhakts here are so deeply devoted still.

  6. One question to author, why Abdul kalam our people president was never called a muslim president? He was neither a opportunist, commited any crime nor was after money. One khan is an opportunist who believes in flauting his muslim background, other was to be in jail and yet other knows how to make money without caring if he has any moral compass left! This is communally divisive article which author not knowing enough to write!

  7. It’s funny when you choose to call them “Muslim” celebrities, while they are all Indian celebrities . Now I know where the problem is,, thanks for pointing the mirror back where it needs to be, youself!

  8. Yes Khan cannot be Diljit, they have lot of reputation and fan following unlike Diljit who people only know because of latest controversy.

  9. As you rightly pointed out there is no backlash against actor s film in west if they express their opinions freely.
    Their democracy is more mature.

  10. Essentially if there are consequences as a result of voicing your opinions, you just do not!!!!!! That is an interesting thought. I am actually surprised by the poor quality of opinions at the print. Most folks that write here really are not deep thinkers. Speaking out indeed has consequences, no matter where you are. The consequences may not be exactly visible, but they are there. People chose to speak out despite the consequences. The Khan’s are morally bankrupt. Salman Khan should be in jail. Aamir is an opportunist, not that there is anything wrong with it. The other fellow is good for nothing but histrionics on the screen.

  11. I agree with the author but still I do not think the author has dug deep enough to consider their hypocrisy. Please note that they have also made patriotic movies just like Akshay Kumar. While Akshay Kumar is no longer an Indian citizen anymore or even Yuvraj Singh & Harbhajan Singh, the khans continue to remain Indian citizens. That says a lot about them and their resilience.
    And as far as speaking about secularity is concerned, the public’s expectation is that they should use their own celebrity status and influence among youth to take lead over radical Islamist preachers and the hatred and superstitious paranoia they support, in real life rather than just reel life.
    The author does not seem to understand this second point. If Aamir Khan can make a show talking about reform in medical profession or dowry in marriages or abuse in families, what stopped him from making comments to reform Islam and fight religious radicalism on the same platform?
    Irfann did & so did Nawazuddin and that did require courage. When they could do it, the KHANS if they got together along with Saif Ali Khan, Farhan Akhtar & Javed Akhtar could do a lot more considering their power.
    That is what people find hypocritical.

  12. If some people believe that CAA and the agri reform laws brought by the Govt are correct and don’t support the protesters, what is wrong in it. The columnist seems to believe that only the protesters are right and there shouldn’t be an alternative view at all.

  13. In Satyamev Jayate Amir raised almost all issues related to Hindus, who have been open for reforms. But hardly any issues involving Muslims like triple Talak, Bura ka and many Shariyat law. Khans have opened mouth always in biased manner.Why Abdul Kalam ex president never invited any criticism because he has no I’ll will no dirty politics.

  14. Madam leave these commie commie games, BJP is coming for Bengal. Its only a matter of time. No one reads this garbage that You wrote. I didnt.

  15. The Khans are being forced to choose side. If they support the govt, then the fanatical hindutava brigade would troll them. If they take the opposite side, the fanatical liberals would troll. Both these groups are abusive and even threaten their families. As citizens they do have a right to express or not express their opinion. Why don’t you guys leave them to live a life in peace.

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