Why do our celebrities become soft targets?

Why do our celebrities become soft targets?

Not many in the film industry came out in support of Shah Rukh Khan because they feel extra-vulnerable, says singer Chinmayi Sripada

The song ‘Titli’ from ‘Chennai Express’, sung by Chinmayi, is a chartbuster. The film starred Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone.

No matter who is in power, they always resent the soft power commanded by artists. But something more bizarre is now happening. ‘Celebrity’ for some reason connotes evil, just like ‘liberal’ has become a bad word. 

Chinmayi Sripada

I vividly remember reading that Indira Gandhi had banned Kishore Kumar from All India Radio. Her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, had banned the harmonium on the radio because he didn’t like its sound. M F Hussain was humiliated for his paintings, and Salman Rushdie’s book was banned. All these incidents are eye-opening. 

If artists are celebrated, it is because of their talent or something that sets them apart from the crowd, Shah Rukh Khan has always maintained that he is here to entertain people and he will do so for as long as he can. When one saw him in ‘Swades’, one wished he would do more such films because we actually saw the actor in him. I maintain that I am not a Shah Rukh fan or someone who goes glassy eyed watching his films. But he is what he is because he has proved his talent and he has shown that he is unique.

It is not that artists are not getting the respect they deserve. But they have become easy targets. Film and theatre have always been used to communicate with the masses, right from days of the freedom movement. But now their role is slowly being curtailed. Artists are expected to feel guilty or not feel guilty about what they do or don’t do. Often, those with social capital will always be soft targets, because the ones targeting them always aspire to be in their position. So they make sure that by disrespecting them their social capital is diminished. Extortion is another method to exploit them.

Establishments across the world have always been afraid of artists because of their popularity. We saw how Charlie Chaplin stood up against the establishment. But the dissent acceptable then is not acceptable now. I feel reading and understanding history will make people humble and give them a context.

You see very few artists getting involved in anything political. They would rather prefer to be involved in their art because this is an ‘era of reaction’ and celebrities are routinely trolled. I was subject to a lot of abuse when I spoke my mind after Disha Ravi was arrested. In February this year, the police arrested 22-year-old Bengaluru-based climate activist Disha Ravi, who was allegedly linked to Swedish climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg. She was charged with sedition, saying she created and shared an online document to support the farmer’s protest. I had shared my views on social media and immediately there were comments saying that I deserved to be molested. Did I ever deserve such a comment for speaking my mind?

All political parties are the same and work to spin situations to their advantage. Celebrities who don’t want to comment or who take their time to express their views must be allowed that freedom. It is all right if they want to remain silent. They must be respected.

Palpable silence

When Aryan Khan was arrested, everybody went into self-preservation mode because not everybody can face what Shah Rukh had to face.

If people remembered to do the right things then they would have made the right decision about who goes to power. This is a country where the Hathras case, where a 19-year-old Dalit woman was gang-raped in Hathras district in Uttar Pradesh by four upper-caste men. She died two weeks later in a Delhi hospital. These gruesome incidents are so easily forgotten and people move on.

Some celebrities speak their mind and face the heat, while others remain silent rather than hail the leader. A few quietly help those in trouble. On the other hand, you also find celebrities with no qualms about cosying up to the establishment. And this has always been the case through history and now this is amplified today because of social media. 

(As told to Nina C George)

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