Barring a few, the Indian film industry has remained largely mute on the spate of savage crimes against women and children in the country. Shouldn’t celebrities from the entertainment world, who have such a powerful and influential voice, speak up? One of Bollwyood’s most vocal spokesperson Ashoke Pandit says that some of the Bollywood actors, with powerful voices, do use them very effectively when required — Farhan Akhar has constantly supported the fight against crime targeting women and children; Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar speak up as they’ve done in the Jammu child rape case.
He says his objection is to the kind of cosmetic voices coming from glamourous sections of Bollywood which show armchair concern. “I come from Jammu, and I know what the reality is in that region. The barbaric rape and murder of an 8-year old is not as a simple a crime as it seems. The girl was an adopted child and she had come into a large inheritance. The truth will be out soon,” Ashoke says, adding that his advice to “half-baked glamour girls” who see this as their chance to be India’s Shabana Azmi and Meryl Streep is that if you don’t know the issue, don’t trivialise it.”
Ashoke many in Bollywood may hesitate to come forward to offer verbal or emotional support for fear of a backlash. “The trolls are not bearable. They attack your mother, sister and family. I don’t care. But you have to have a real thick skin to withstand the backlash,” he said.
Filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri thinks there is a lack of sensitivity in the entertainment industry. “It’s easier to make money without touching upon social issues. They (the Bollywood celebs) have no real sense of the real world and India outside of Pali Hill and Juhu. They make stupid comments and end up becoming the subject of ridicule. So they have decided to keep quiet,” he says.
Besides, Vivek, adds: “How can sinners comment on someone else’s sins? If guilty of sexually exploiting women, how can they speak against sexual exploitation?”
So, is sexual exploitation prevalent in the Indian entertainment industry?
Tamil veteran actress Khushboo, who has also been a part of Bollywood childhood, disagrees. “Sexual violence within the industry is not something I have come across till date. I grew up in this industry and I have been fortunate or lucky. My empathy for those who have been subjected to it. But that is a very rare case. No producer is a fool to invest crores of rupees just for sexual favours,” she says.
Khushboo too thinks it’s the hounding and trolling that prevents actors from speaking up more strongly on sexual violence. “On Jammu and other heart breaking happenings, I think celebs stay away as they know they will be hounded by paid trolls and called anti-national, anti-Hindutva. IT raids… hassled by the service tax dept;, use of filthiest language on social platform; fake news and maligning of their image follows,” she says.
In her case she says “I care a damn and I will continue to call a spade a spade.”
The intrepid Pooja Bhatt has strong views on sexual violence and feels women often aid men in perpetrating such crimes. “Unfortunately crimes against women go beyond female infanticide, rape and physical abuse. Most men who tweet about female emancipation degrade their women on a daily basis in their very own bedrooms by forcing them to indulge in sexual acts and fantasies to support their fragile egos. Women tend to play along because they are too frightened to lose those men that they should actually be kicking out of the door,” she says.
Pooja is as strongly against domestic violence as she is against the crime that stalks women and children on the streets. “The life that we preach and the lives that we lead are shockingly different. How different is a CEO of a company if she plays along with her husband or boyfriend’s sick sexual fantasies against her will from a simple and common housewife in a ghunghat or purdah who endures beatings and even rape by her husband’s relative because she has nowhere to go beyond her matrimonial home?”
To blame only the men for sex crimes is to Pooja a deleterious form of social hypocrisy. “Yes,men can be monsters but we have to ask ourselves as women if we have somewhere contributed to those monsters.
Singer-actor-BJP minister Baabul Supriyo thinks celebrities talking about sexual violence is of little consequence. “As a father of two daughters I can see that the more people speak, the more trivialised and politicised this barbaric crime gets. In spite of being dead against the death penalty, I would make one exception — convicted rapists of children and juveniles should be given a mandatory death penalty. These animals do not have the right to live,” he says adding that people need to unite on this.