Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood has No Spine!


Ashok Swain

Mumbai’s Bollywood always aspires to be Los Angeles’ Hollywood, but it never reaches there. Both Hollywood and Bollywood started their film-making journey almost at the same time, just over a century ago. Bollywood produces nearly double the number of films than Hollywood does. But, Hollywood dominates the world, while Bollywood primarily caters to India and its diaspora. It’s not that Bollywood has less talent or less financial resources or less technological expertise, the real problem is Bollywood is traditional and risk-averse. It keeps on producing the same genre of movies and only time it dares to enter into an area of ‘unknown’ is when it makes a cheap copy of a Hollywood movie. It is nothing, but a clear expression of lack of self-confidence and lack of a spine. This handicap reflects in its ongoing pitiable subservience to the regime in power.

Hollywood has always stood up for the liberal value and humanity, and it has never hesitated to take on people of power. It has become a major voice against Donald Trump and his divisive racial politics, even before his election as the President of the USA. Top artists of Hollywood have been openly opposing Trump in each and every way. Meryl Streep slammed Trump while accepting a lifetime achievement honor at the 2017 Golden Globe. Robert De Nero has repeatedly and publicly used sharp verbal zingers against Trump. George Clooney, Alec Baldwin, Richard Gere, Madonna and many other A-listers are at the forefront of the civil society opposition against dictatorial and racist regime of Trump. They have taken him to task on his anti-Muslim anti-immigrant policies to his foreign policy closeness with Russia’s Putin.

It is not that Trump has been kind to give Hollywood stars that liberty to be critical. He directly retaliates against his Hollywood critics though threatening tweets and acerbic speeches in his public rallies. His supporters also viciously criticize and threaten physical and professional harm to these Trump-critics in Hollywood, but that pressure has not managed to keep Hollywood quiet. Trump supporters are no less vocal and vitriolic than Modi Bhakts. Moreover, Trump has a larger social media presence than Modi. While Trump’s Twitter followers are more than 57 million, Modi has only 45 million.

But, compared to Hollywood, in Bollywood, the actors, producers, and directors have been extremely submissive in their criticism of the present fundamentalist and intolerant regime of Narendra Modi. The day, when the country was stunned by government’s dramatic removal of the CBI director only two days after his reinstatement by the Supreme Court, a large group of Bollywood stars and directors especially flew down from Mumbai to Delhi to take a selfie with Modi. These Bollywood stars including Ranveer Singh, Ranbir Kapoor, Ayushmann Khurrana, Sidharth Malhotra, Ekta Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Karan Johar and Rohit Shetty not only proudly display their photos with Modi on social media platforms, even Karan Johar wrote, “we would love to inspire and ignite positive changes to a transformative India.” The verbose should have explained what is that transformative India he was talking about.

Karan Johar very well knows Modi is transforming India into a majoritarian India without basic human rights and democratic value and glorifying pseudo-science. After Narendra Modi became India’s Prime Minister in May 2014, there have been serious apprehensions inside and outside India about threats to India’s democratic and secular polity under his rule. There is no doubt that the danger to India’s minorities has ever been so serious in the past seven decades of its existence. Like Trump, Modi has done everything to undermine India’s democracy. For nearly 5 years, India has witnessed Modi’s utter disregard for human rights, crude use of state machinery for censoring critics, trying all the tricks to undermine the independence and power of the judiciary, and using both constitutional means and Hindutva foot soldiers to suppress religious freedom and minority rights. But, that has not been enough for the Bollywood to stand for the country and its people as their counterparts in Hollywood have been doing.

Bollywood has not only failed to oppose Modi and his ultra-nationalist and Hindu fundamentalist politics, but it has also even more or less become an active supporter. Several Bollywood’s out of work directors, singers and actors have been propagating BJP’s bigotry in social media and in TV studios. Even one of them has been at the forefront of branding Modi critics as ‘Urban Naxals’. Bollywood has even released a movie this week, promoted by the BJP and denigrating Dr. Manmohan Singh, one of the best Prime Ministers India has ever had. Just before the election, Bollywood is also busy making two glorifying biopics of Modi. There are few actors, like Prakash Raj, Swara Bhaskar and Nasseruddin Shah who are criticizing the regime, but several big stars Like Amitabh Bachchan and Akshaya Kumar have become part Modi’s fan club.

Reigning superstars like Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan have made some indirect and mild criticism of the regime in the past, but the threats of Modi Bhakts have made them silent for long. No one in Bollywood has dared to criticize Modi personally as they do often to Trump in Hollywood. Why does Bollywood fail to oppose Modi the way Hollywood does powerfully against Trump? True that majority of Bollywood actors are invariably less educated (formally) than their Hollywood counterparts. Still, some of them are quite well read and very articulate. It is not that they aren’t able to understand the nature of the threat of this regime. It is their risk-averse self-serving attitude, which is responsible for becoming the collaborator of the Modi regime.

India as a nation, unlike the USA, is quite subservient to the authorities, particularly to the so-called strong leaders. The country knows how to argue but does not dare to ask questions. For the last five years, most of the Indian media and civil society have become either silent spectators or active collaborators of Modi’s dictatorial, majoritarian, ultra-nationalist regime. Unfortunately, spineless Bollywood has just followed that path, in spite of always indulging in day-dream of becoming a Hollywood.

Ashok Swain is a professor of peace and conflict research at Uppsala University, Sweden

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