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Rediff.com  » Movies » Shabana: Why Indian actors can't speak out like Meryl

Shabana: Why Indian actors can't speak out like Meryl

January 12, 2017 14:18 IST

'A pact was made between the government and 12 producers that I would be restrained from speaking on the Babri Masjid issue.'
'After Meryl spoke out she got the wholehearted support of the entire Hollywood fraternity.'
'In India no one will speak up in support of a celebrity's political stand for the fear of a backlash.'
Shabana Azmi tells Subhash K Jha why it is impossible for entertainers in India to express their opinions on political issues.

Meryl Streep

Magical Meryl Streep mesmerised the world with her anti-Donald Trump tirade at the Golden Globe awards ceremony.

The legendary actress lashed out at America's President-elect which instantly connected to people across the world.

In India we've Shabana Azmi, as powerful in person as she is on screen and every bit our own Meryl Streep. Shabana has been exceptionally vocal in the past about political issues like slum dwellers' eviction.

But she says it is impossible for entertainers in India to express their opinions on political issues for fear of a backlash.

Says Shabana, "After Meryl spoke out she got the wholehearted support of the entire Hollywood fraternity. In India no one will speak up in support of a celebrity's political stand for the fear of a backlash."

"There is no chance that Meryl Streep's films will be boycotted or theatres burned down when her next film is released because freedom of expression is respected there. Here we all knows what happens."

Shabana reveals how she was muzzled on a very serious issue when films with her in the lead were threatened with dire consequences.

"A pact was made between the government and 12 producers that I would be restrained from speaking on the Babri Masjid issue. My film Dharavi was pulled off the theatres, screens showing Fire were vandalised. Nandita Das and I were removed from Water after we had shaved off our heads," Shabana revealed.

These attempts to deter her spirit didn't work. She continued to be vocal when necessary.

"Freedom of expression is the hallmark of a democracy. When a hue and cry was made about the staging of Mee Nathuram Godse Bolte I was the only person who stood up in Parliament and said it should be allowed because it had the valid certification."

"Holding onto a principle, even when you disagree with the contents, is the true test."

Subhash also spoke to other Bollywood personalities about Meryl Streep's speech and whether Indian actors can dare do the same.

Prasoon Joshi, lyricist: "It's not about copying and questioning ourselves vis a vis what a Hollywood star does or doesn't."

"Every country has a different reality. I have full faith in our democratic system which is full of diverse voices and we raise our voices whenever it's required as a country."

"Historically we are self critical as well and ready to correct ourselves if we deviate. The multi-party system we have is testimony of that. But if we want to learn something from them we should do so in a holistic way."

"They do so not just for political issues, but Hollywood stars have been active, be it for their internal industry issues like female and male stars pay parity, lending support to screenwriters getting their due or for social causes, be it health, landmines, global warming etc."

"The sense of responsibility has to be an overall one and the mindsets have to change from we are just entertainers to the realisation that we are conscious citizens too and our art allows us a platform that must be used responsibly."

Pooja Bhatt, director: "I do speak up when I think it's necessary. I can't speak for the rest of my fraternity."

Swara Bhaskar, actress: "Quite simply because citizens in the USA and their right to freedom of expression is respected and protected by the law."

"In India we are jailing people for Facebook posts! Look at what happened to SRK and Aamir for their 'intolerance' comments. Ghajini was banned in Gujarat because Aamir supported the Narmada Bachaao Andolan."

"When we target our celebs for taking political positions, are you surprised about our actors not taking a stance on political issues?"

Pooja Bedi, actress: "Shiv Sainiks hurled stones that whizzed past us while my dad and me gave interviews in support of the release of <e,>My Name Is Khan."

"It's my right to speak up. And my right to be protected by the police. I have always openly spoken up against the Shiv Sena and MNS on news channels and social media against their hooliganism and moral policing."

"And I've protested in marches along with Anna Hazare on the Jan Lokpal Bill issue, etc."

"Ours is a democracy, not a dictatorship. We have the right to our opinion. And I exercise it."

Lilette Dubey, actress: "Those who have strong political convictions do take a stand in India too. But there are few who feel strongly enough to speak on a public platform."

"Most people voice their opinions privately. But this is true abroad too. Not all of them speak out publicly. You have to be strong enough to take the flak from the Establishment for your views."

"Maybe most people would rather not get into a public controversy regarding their personal opinions. Meryl Streep speaking out was marvellous because it mirrored the thoughts of so many and she didn't care about the repercussions because she thought it was important to speak."

"That is a lesson to all of us."

Pallavi Joshi, actress: "Because our film industry has always been divided on political standings. Our country doesn't recognise correctness. Only leanings."

"Hence we have Left learners, Right learners, a little Left of Centre and a little Right of Centre."

"Finally, when you are up there on stage you want applause. And that will only come from topics that unite us."

"Hence, we make shows where we poke fun at and degrade our peers. Artistes are sensitive. Stars cannot afford to be so. Hence, art has no place here."

"It's only entertainment, entertainment and entertainment."

Gul Panag, actress: "Our movie industry does speak up. Shah Rukh and Aamir Khan spoke on the growing intolerance."

"Look what happened."

Subhash K Jha