Why are Kannada actors mum?

Movie stars across languages have spoken out on the new citizenship law, but the Kannada film industry, oddly enough, isn't talking. What explains the unusual silence?
Last Updated : 24 December 2019, 14:08 IST
Last Updated : 24 December 2019, 14:08 IST

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While actors in the Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam film industries are responding to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the protests against it, the Kannada film fraternity has largely remained silent.

No big star has responded to the contentious new law, although Upendra did put out two tweets last week, one opposing it and another supporting it. Many big stars Metrolife contacted asked to be excused from participating in this story.

All A-listers in the Kannada industry have active social media accounts. While the accounts routinely feature news about their releases, and their opinions on random developments, they have not posted any comments on the citizenship controversy raging across the country.

Actor Chetan Ahimsa is disappointed by the silence.

“And there’s silence because of many things. Number one, there is a lack of interest in issues that deal with society. Then, there is lack of knowledge and confidence. Number three, there’s the fear of speaking out, being held accountable, and losing out on overall acceptance,” he says.

Commenting on matters of public interest calls for courage. What message are artists sending out if they don’t take a stand against gross injustice, he wonders.

“CAA is a very arbitrary Act because it takes three countries and says persecuted minorities from there are allowed into India but not Muslims. It goes against the social fabric in the sense that India was constructed on secularism,” says Chetan.

A senior actor in the Kannada film industry, who refused to be named for this story, says Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Modi are giving contradictory statements. “They are so divided in their opinions. We must know who is eligible for citizenship and what documents are required,” he says. He says the government is exploiting people’s emotions, sentiments and religious leanings. “This is nothing but dirty politics,” he says.

Sampath Kumar, who has acted in many Kannada films, is not one who believes personal opinions matter.

“What matters is the larger interest of the nation. This is where media should play a responsible role and present facts in clear and simple terms. To be honest, I am confused and I am in no position to voice my opinion,” he says.

Harish Ramaswamy, political analyst and professor of political science, Karnatak University, Dharwad, says a majority in India, including those in the Kannada film industry, are not involved in public causes.

“Most of the elite don’t comment unless somebody goes and asks them. They believe public action is not a good thing. They make neutral comments and say nothing specific,”
he says.
Today, even upright opinions are not taken in the right spirit, and that is another problem, he says. “If you don’t like CAA and say it has problems, you are likely to be a victim of name-calling. This has affected a lot of people and they believe neutrality is a way of defending themselves,” he says.

He also feels people lack a basic understanding of the Constitution and problems of how Constitutional questions impact citizens.

“Many haven’t had a look at the Constitution. They make comments that suit them. Indian civil society, including the intellectuals, is not guided by facts but by emotions. This is what has led to a timid response,” he says.

Among those who have remained silent are Yash, Sudeep, Darshan, Shivarajkumar, Puneeth Rajkumar, and Ramesh Arvind.

it is possible actors are for CAA, says movie expert

Well-known film critic M K Raghavendra speaks about what appears like a pro-government consensus in the Kannada film industry.

Does the silence intrigue you?
The CAA is a done deal and cannot be reversed. I think only those strongly against such a deal will protest while others will keep silent. I think the majority---among those who are educated---are actually in favour of the deal. Most Kannada actors, I am pretty sure, are in favour of the new law.

Is the silence a result of fear because it is a BJP-run state?
I think actors are for CAA, and any statement supporting it is pointless. Also, the BJP is highly popular right now and it has risen to power on issues like Kashmir. The party is hardly feared, although the Muslim minority and left liberals fear it. Many issues the liberal left is vociferously against find acceptance among a majority of articulate Hindus. There is a huge amount of misinformation floating around when it comes the CAA, but, to my mind, the reaction is exaggerated. Illegal Bangladeshi migrants have been allowed quietly into India for years, altering the demography for electoral reasons; all that the CAA is saying is that non-Muslim refugees from neighbouring Islamic countries should be granted asylum here. It is differentiating Muslims from non-Muslims and that is causing problems because it is non-secular. It could be against aspects of the Constitution but that should be debated. Where the CAA could be justly alarming to a large public is in the North-East, where the locals don’t want outsiders of any religion, but that is not an all-India issue.

Do you think the actors are quiet because talking will affect their work and they fear losing their market and being targeted?
No. They probably think it’s a non-issue, except for those known to be left-liberal like Prakash Raj.

Published 24 December 2019, 13:38 IST

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