Polarising hashtags trended on Twitter -- a "#boycott chhapaak" competing with "#I support Deepika" and "#Chhapaak Dekho Tapaak Se".
Leapfrogging from the entertainment section to the front pages of newspapers for showing up at JNU, Bollywood star Deepika Padukone was on Wednesday the cynosure of national attention, earning bouquets but also brickbats as various people, including politicians, faced off against each other. While BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri and others asked people to boycott her upcoming movie “Chhapaak” for her support to the “tukde-tukde gang” and the opposition Congress hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to stop “crushing India’s soul”, just about everybody had a view that was expressed widely on social media and beyond.
Polarising hashtags trended on Twitter — a “#boycott chhapaak” competing with “#I support Deepika” and “#Chhapaak Dekho Tapaak Se”. On Tuesday evening, Deepika made a surprise visit to the Jawaharlal Nehru University to express solidarity with the students who had been attacked.
Her decision to stand in silence with JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh, who received head injuries during the attack on Sunday evening, at a public meeting in the campus prompted many in the industry and outside to praise her for her “quiet grace” and “courage”.
It also prompted trenchant criticism with demands that her Friday release “Chhapaak”, a film based on acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal, be boycotted. Though several people in Bollywood have voiced their protest against the attack on students and faculty by a masked mob, the 34-year-old is the rare Bollywood A-lister to do so.
Deepika, who faced death threats and social media vitriol for speaking out during the release of “Padmaavat” two years ago, turns producer with “Chhapaak”, directed by Meghna Gulzar, making her stake even higher. “When she was attacked over ‘Padmaavat’ very few came forward to support her. She knows what it feels to be targeted and she has shown exemplary courage by supporting the JNU students with quiet grace. More power to Deepika Padukone,” veteran actor Shabana Azmi tweeted.
Swara Bhasker, one of the first from the film community to call for action against the perpetrators of Sunday’s violence, said “Bollywood just got JNU-ised!” Director Anurag Kashyap said he has “mad respect” for the actor and urged people to watch her upcoming film “first day all shows”.
“The female of the species is, and was, and will always be the strongest of the two #DeepikaPadukone… Let’s all those who stand against the violence go to @bookmyshow and show them. Make our silent statement which will be the loudest,” Kashyap, a vocal supporter of the protests against the citizenship amendment bill and the JNU attack, wrote on the microblogging site.
“Let’s not forget she is also the producer of the film.. stakes are even higher,” he added. Director Vikramaditya Motwane called Deepika a “true hero”. “Deepika’s stand is going to make a lot of young people question their parents, their peers and their government. Hopefully, they will go out and educate themselves and not parrot everything authority tells them,” he said.
Veteran director-producer Mahesh Bhatt said, “We are a ‘kingdom’ of silence no longer!” Actor Sonakshi Sinha also praised Deepika for her stand, saying it was not the time to stay silent. “Kudos to @deepikapadukone for showing up,& all those who spoke for speaking up. This is not the time to stay quiet,” Sinha wrote on Twitter.
Her much discussed visit to JNU became a political sparring point too. “Modiji, Stop crushing India’s soul! As per you and your Bhakts – 1. No artist can protest. 2. No artist shall join a cause. 3. No artist has a right to express.
“Chappak is not about an artist but 1,000 women who suffer acid attacks on their body and soul every year. Isn’t this the same?” Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said on Twitter. Asking people to boycott “Chhapaak”, BJP’s Bidhuri said a Bollywood star is supposed to give a “positive message” to youth in the country through movies instead of being seen with those who are against the country.
Director Aparna Sen also lauded Deepika’s stand. “There comes a tipping point in everyone’s life. I guess the violence in JNU was Deepika’s. Salutations Deepika. The country will remember this act of courage,” Sen wrote on Twitter.
Actor Sayani Gupta, who was one of the first stars from Bollywood to ask the actors who took a selfie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year to speak up, thanked Deepika for lending a “mainstream narrative” to the movement. Her “Chhapaak” co-star Vikrant Massey tweeted the viral pictures from JNU campus and said his heart “swells with pride”.
Dressed in a black high neck sweater — changing from the red she was wearing during the film’s promotion earlier on Tuesday evening — the 34-year-old actor chose not to speak, standing by as former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar raised slogans of ‘azaadi’ and left by the time Aishe started speaking.
“Speak for every injustice! Deepika ‘Proud of you, take care’ #JNUVCMustResign”, Aishe said on Facebook after the event and shared her photograph with the actor.
Kanhaiya cautioned the actor about probable trolling for her stand with JNU. “More power to you @deepikapadukone and thank you for your solidarity and support. You might be abused or trolled today, but history will remember you for your courage and standing by the idea of India,” he tweeted.
Quoting Bob Dylan’s prophetic “The Times They Are a-Changin'”, former JNU student Umar Khalid thanked Deepika for standing up for students and youth against “fascist bullies”. Tagging Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan, the former JNU student leader said, “Uncles, agar zameer zinda hai, to ab to kuch boldo (Uncles, if your conscience is alive, now is the time to speak up.)”
Alongside the fulsome praise came vitriol.
Many social media users asked people to watch Ajay Devgn’s “Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior” that faces off with “Chhapaak” on Friday. Calling her visit a promotional stunt, a social media user said, “Shame Shame @deepikapadukone. What a move to promote your movie by standing with #TukdeTukdeGang. But we are not fools. We’ll make you understand that what mistake have to done. #boycottchhapaak.”
Another urged people to unfollow the actor for supporting the ‘deshdrohi’ (anti nationals).
“Chhapaak” co-writer Atika Chohan dismissed that actor-producer’s JNU trek had anything to do with “publicity”. “Imagine taking a stand two days before your film release when it’s your money and hard work on the line. This is not publicity. This is an ardent call of the conscience. I support Deepika Padukone for life, not just for Chhapaak. #ISupportDeepika,” Atika tweeted.