Deepika big chhapaak at JNU

In this photo taken on January 7, 2020, Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone (C) visits students protesting at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) against a recent attack at JNU on students and teachers in New Delhi. - Protests have been held across India aft

Actor Deepika Padukone’s visit to the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus to express her solidarity with the students who were protesting against the brutal attack on them last Sunday is a welcome gesture and an affirmation of an artist’s responsibility to society. If an artist thinks she has to make common cause with citizens on an issue of public importance or should support or oppose a matter, she does so as an individual citizen with the right to do so. The image of the artist and her celebrity status may exaggerate the value and importance of her action, but a mature democratic society should see it only as the exercise of the right of an individual to make a political, social or any other kind of choice. It is also for the artist to decide what form her engagement should take. It may be writing an article or a poem, doing a painting, joining a protest rally or just be seen with some protesters.  

These are times when politics is becoming increasingly concerned over themes handled by the cinema and the characters being portrayed in films. There have been many objections to the adoption of certain stories and the way history and society are sometimes presented and interpreted in films. Many of them have arisen from ignorance or intolerance. Deepika has been the victim of such intolerant campaigns. It is legitimate and entirely in order for film stars to take interest in politics and society and respond to developments in ways which they consider appropriate. Writers and other artists have not been shy of doing it. The film industry as an entity, especially Bollywood, has always been quick to respond to the pulse of the society and adopted the most contemporary themes for its cinemas. It will not be a surprise if a film is made in the near future on the JNU attack with a love triangle running through it and it becomes a box-office hit. But film artists have been cautious about expressing their views in public because they may have higher stakes, and multi-crore ventures may be at risk if they happen to be on the wrong side of politicians or interest groups.

It is not just Deepika Padukone, but other artists have also joined the protests. The issues have ranged from the JNU attack to the CAA/NRC. It is a good sign that they are following their conscience and exercising their right to disagree, regardless of the risks. The threat of boycott of artists and their work is the standard response in such situations but that should not deter them from expressing themselves.

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