Another day, another Twitter trend asking Indians to #BoycottBollywood. “Time has come for North Indians to switch over to South Indian Cinema. These Bollywood druggies copy Hollywood and South films so it’s better to directly watch rather than viewing their remakes. Also South movies respect our culture, religion and never make fun of Gods (sic),” reads the top tweet. Just below #BoycottBollywood in India trends, Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai is trending but the reason is anything but complimentary. Netizens are asking everyone to boycott Radhe, not because it is yet another mindless Salman Khan movie, but because Khan is allegedly connected to the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. How the trolls on Twitter reached this conclusion requires some serious mental gymnastics. This is nothing new. Bollywood has, indeed, become a soft target for the media and the general public in the past decade and this has only increased after the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput last year. Is it schadenfreude? The pleasure derived by someone from someone else’s misfortune? Maybe. However, as actor Pooja Bhatt says, it is also an easy way of deflecting blame.
“Every time the world needs a target, they point towards the film industry. And all of us are not very forthright about defending ourselves or to counter them. I think that it’s very obvious that, in the world we live in today, there is a tendency to provoke a response. While I believe that you have a right to say what you want to say, I have the right to respond when I want to respond. And I’m not going to respond to everything that provokes a response,” Bhatt told Filmfare this year. The latest reason for trolling Bollywood is the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged the country. Even as industrialists with hundreds of crores in their bank accounts stayed mum and the IPL continued to air on TV, the media and the people turned against Bollywood celebrities for not doing enough. Yes, it was stupid and highly insensitive of a Disha Patani to rush off to the Maldives and share pictures from the beaches while the country was burning – but what about actors like Sonu Sood, Bhumi Pednekar, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Akshay Kumar who rushed to the aid of their fellow citizens immediately? What about the fact that Pednekar is now the head of a team of 150 who are constantly answering questions regarding COVID-19 and arranging beds and oxygen for affected Indians? What about Anushka Sharma who has raised more than 5 crores through her fundraiser and even donated a big sum? Still, in the face of such death and destruction, the majority of India’s Twitter troll army has turned towards their favourite punching bag – Bollywood. The situation got so bad that veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan had to take to his blog to list down all his charitable efforts over the last few years, including paying off farmer’s loans and sending migrant workers home. The actor shared that he finds it embarrassing to share such details but he has to in the hopes that the incessant criticism and online trolling will stop. Bachchan also revealed that his total contribution towards COVID relief in India will come to around ₹15 crores.
When Bollywood celebrities do not share details of their charitable work, they are trolled because netizens assume that they are sitting in their ivory towers and not doing anything. And yet, when they do take initiative, they are scrutinised again. Vice India ran a piece discussing whether actors like Priyanka Chopra Jonas and celebrity couples like Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma should be running fundraisers when they are wealthy themselves. This entire discussion is based on the assumption that the people in question have not already donated money towards the cause. When actor Sonu Sood does share details about the work he is doing, there are actual Twitter users who have made it their life’s goal to debunk his efforts and make him out to be a fraud. Words like “show off” are regularly used for him.
When actor Sushant Singh Rajput died last year, the conversation jumped from a healthy discussion on mental health issues to nepotism being the reason for his alleged suicide. Netizens who had never met the actor claimed that he had taken his life because Bollywood biggies like Karan Johar would only support star kids. Nepotism is nothing new in the film industry. When Sanjay Dutt made his debut, there was no talk about it. When Kajol made her debut, there was no discussion about it. When Hrithik Roshan and Kareena Kapoor Khan made their debuts, they shot to stratospheric heights. This hate towards “star kids” seems to have started with Janhvi Kapoor and Dhadak. Let us discuss the tweet mentioned in the first paragraph of this article – nobody talks about the fact that Southern film industries are rife with nepotism. Actors like Allu Arjun, Dhanush, Allu Sirish, Rana Daggubati, Vijay are all children of celebrities. “According to me, it’s very media-led. The understanding of nepotism and family structures is not for everybody because there are only about five to 10 studios in India left. These are structures that have been built over 50 to 60 years, with 300 to 400 employees that you run every day. It’s an extreme corporation that’s kind of led into, and you can’t treat it as an individual job. And it’s there in every place. As a country, what does India do? We make money so we can give it to our children — that’s the concept, right? Mumbai is filled with so much news, there are so many media networks there, and news that is quite irrelevant also pops up. It’ll go away after some time; it doesn’t really stop anybody from watching the films. This is a Twitter type of negativity, and nothing really comes on ground. After all, a good film is a good film,” Daggubati had told Man’s World Magazine in an interview.
“There are people who will continue to fund people who they trust in, believe in, or they like. That is a person’s independent choice. And that’s not an industry — it’s not a grant. Who you cast in a film is completely independent of that film-maker or producer or ecosystem. What you culturally understand as a person, you’ll continue to connect to people like that. Whatever field of work you’re in, that’ll be the course you take. What nobody understands is that the film industry is probably one of the most democratic places in the country. You can be a 10th fail or an MBA, or you can be from the greatest acting school or learn it off the street — you all are at the same place. The thing is that it’s easy to look at the bad, and forget all the good. Bollywood song-and-dance has probably been the largest promotion of Indian culture overseas. There was a place I went to where they called me Shah Rukh Khan — they thought everybody in India is called Shah Rukh Khan. There’s an impact that Bollywood has on the world, and it’s not right to rub the sheen off these achievements,” he had added.
And where do we start about the repercussions that Bollywood celebrities face when they do speak up? When Aamir Khan made a small mention of the fact that he felt unsafe in India, he lost out on major brand deals and had to completely go off social media. When Taapsee Pannu and Anurag Kashyap spoke up against the current government in power, central agencies were unleashed on them – only for it to turn out to be a massive waste of everyone’s time. However, the toll on Pannu and Kashyap’s mental health cannot be disregarded. Swara Bhasker who is a regular critic of the BJP government has admitted numerous times that she has lost out on brand deals and has to face financial losses because of her opinions. Deepika Padukone went from being one of the most-loved Bollywood actors to being one of the most trolled after she stood with JNU following attacks on the university. When Bollywood came together as one to condemn the Hathras and Unnao rapes, a massive Twitter troll army was unleashed on them and every decision they had ever taken in their lives was scrutinised. Alia Bhatt was mocked for going to the Maldives in April this year and when she decided to tie up with respected journalist Faye D’Souza to share verified numbers for COVID-19 relief, she had to turn off comments because of the hate she received. When actors Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan made generous donations during the first COVID-19 lockdown in India, they were bullied into also making donations to the PM Cares fund. The list goes on and on.
And none of this ever affects industrialists, CEOs of multinational corporations or even cricketers who charge over a crore for a 30 second TVC. It definitely does not affect politicians who should be the ones taking care of the situation in the first place.
Is Bollywood perfect? Not by far. But does it deserve to be the target for every issue in the world? Not in the least.
[All Image Credits: ANI]