Deepika’s was an act of stunning courage, let’s celebrate that

Let us give rein to cynicism. Let us assume that Deepika Padukone’s visit to the Jawaharlal Nehru University within 48 hours of the attack on its students was a publicity stunt for a movie she was both acting in and producing.

Even then – follow me closely now – even then, it was an act of stunning courage. She had a great deal to lose. She could have expressed her support from a secure distance or from the safety of the social media. Even ruling party politicians living in Delhi who are former JNU students chose this path.

But there was nothing wishy-washy about Ms. Padukone’s response. Predictably, the bhakts have called for a boycott of her movie. How many actors, how many directors, how many producers, how many musicians can they boycott if Bollywood decides to protest in one voice?

News channels are fond of asking why the Bachchans and the many Khans haven’t spoken up. This happens every time there is a political crisis. What they imply is that with the power of celebrity comes responsibility. I am not so sure this is the case. When Shahrukh Khan or Salman Khan signed up to be actors, commenting on issues of national importance was never a part of the deal. Of course it might make a huge difference if they did speak up, but I have no quarrel if they don’t.

These are personal choices, and if they – like millions – decide that they want to keep out of it, so be it. Compulsions are different, and it is easy to criticise from the outside.

Having said that, however, if they do speak up, as many of their colleagues have done, then our respect for them will increase hugely. Unlike your average accountant or doctor who may not have as much to lose, the bigger the star (in any field), the more vulnerable he or she is. Outspoken filmmaker Anurag Kashyap put it best when asked about this reluctance: “I have crossed my limit of tolerance, maybe others haven’t.”

Judging an act by how much a person has to lose by it is a good way of deciding intent. News anchors who scream about the silence of celebrities have not resigned from their jobs to make a point about the manner in which the media have been compromised, for example.

All of which puts into perspective Deepika Padukone’s awe-inspiring act. Just turning up was enough. It was a gesture of compassion. I have no idea of her politics; for all we know it is like a pair of socks, neither right nor left. Not every act needs to be sieved through politics.

She walked the extra mile – and through some poisonous thickets – and for that she must be celebrated. She has, in recent years, shown herself to be a strong, independent, intelligent woman with empathy and understanding. This is the “Indian” woman our politicians give lip sympathy to but in reality run from.

We live in difficult times. Champions emerge from unexpected places.

Suresh Menon is Contributing Editor, The Hindu

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 11:43:48 PM |

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