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Speaking Up: When Reel Stars Are Also Real Heroes

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Every time a burning issue concerning society is in the news, actors are usually found wanting when it comes to expressing anger or angst. But some voices have always risen against injustice of any kind, be it within the industry or outside of it. Not surprisingly, these voices invariably have their origins in the South, primarily in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Bollywood has almost stayed silent on most issues, especially the deeply political.

The latest from Kerala has been the support coming the way of the four actresses — Remya Nambeesan, Geethu Mohandas, Rima Kallingal and the survivor of last year’s attack — who resigned from AMMA (Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes), following the reinstatement of actor Dilip, who was arrested in the actress assault case. Actor Prithviraj, her friend and co-star, and actresses such as Manju Warrier and Parvathy have backed her publicly since the day of the assault. Mohanlal, the new head of AMMA who reinstated Dileep had then written on his Facebook page: “…Exemplary punishment should be handed out to these criminals…May justice be served without delay.” Words that will come back to haunt him now.

But the big names of Malayalam cinema have now taken refuge in silence, be it over Dileep’s reinstatement or the distasteful skit put up during AMMA Mazhavillu, where actresses took potshots at the Women In Cinema Collective.

Most are unwilling to take on politicians or corporates, and with reason. The industry has huge money riding on it, and no one wants to risk any issue with the release of a movie or its theatrical run. A slight controversy is all it takes for the wheels of a film’s release to grind to an aching halt, hitting many where it hurts. Many films have suffered the ill-effects of their actors and creators taking on those in power. Then, there’s the issue of casting aspersions on the ‘activist-types’, as they are labelled, the ones who stand up for what is right, despite the repercussions. The grapevine gathers steam at every turn, and reputations lie squashed.

Almost simultaneous to the churning in Kerala, in Karnataka, news came in that the same group that wanted to and succeeded in eliminating journalist Gauri Lankesh, had also targeted actors Prakash Raj and Girish Karnad for being open in their views regarding communal politics. Prakash Raj, has, for long, been on the radar of online trolls for his views on issues concerning his home state of Karnataka as well as the state of the nation. He tweets about farmers, about the rise of communal politics and why students must discuss politics. He even spoke against the suggested ban on Kaala in Karnataka, a bold stand to take, considering that while he began his career in the state, like Rajinikanth did, he is an icon in the Tamil and Telugu industries. While many presumed he was batting for the Congress in the run-up to the elections, with his post-election tweets, it is clear he’s ready to take on anyone who is not doing what is mandated of them.


In Tamil Nadu, most actors have followed the footsteps of their seniors in the field (three major stars from the 80s and 90s Vijayakanth, Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth are in active politics; Karthik started a party of his own, but is lying low at the moment), and make their stand clear whenever it is an issue concerning the people. Be it the jallikattu agitation, NEET or Hindi imposition, they are out on social media, daggers drawn, to make the administration see the other view point. The state has a history of being outspoken about issues, and today’s tinseltown stars, be it actors or directors, are only taking it forward, sometimes with not-so-pleasant consequences. Remember the IPL fiasco?

The Telugu film industry, on the other hand, has not been very forthcoming when it comes to backing issues. Even those initially supporting Sri Reddy, who spoke about the casting couch in the industry, moved on after she contradicted herself and let the movement down. The actors there, however, open their hearts and purses during calamities. When Chennai was ravaged by the floods in 2015, Rana Daggubati, Nani and others teamed up for ‘Mana Madras Kosam’, sending across relief material. Telugu film industry trackers say that because of the close affiliation between actors and politicians, no real local issue gets called out.

In Tamil, while Kamal Haasan has been speaking against the establishment for a while now, actors such as Siddharth, GV Prakash Kumar and RJ Balaji (during the 2015 Chennai floods and the jallikattu protests) have been taking a very pro-people stand, on and offline. Actor Prasanna, who grew up in Tiruchi, by the banks of the Cauvery, regularly tweets about the state of the river and the rampant sand mining on its banks, occasionally breaking into poetry. Politics is a topic of interest for him too. He refused to promote his much-delayed Kaalakoothu on social media, because it released soon after the Thoothukudi shooting, and apologised to debut director Nagraj for that.

 

Siddharth, whose last film as producer Aval, was a huge hit, even had a long tweet chat with those who had a problem with his criticism of the Tamil Nadu government’s proposed ban on e-cigarettes.

One of his tweets during the Thoothukudi protests, in response to the “fringe” and “anti-social elements” aspect of another prominent actor’s speech invited severe trolling from fans, but he stood his ground.

 

The actor kept the issue alive on his timeline over many days.

 

Composer-actor GV Prakash Kumar, who was very active during the jallikattu protests, did not slow down during the anti-Sterlite agitation. He also put out a video protesting the killings.

 

When actors take up issues and write in their support or against, it gets a lot of online traction, but it also makes them more real to the audience. It makes people consider them as fellow-travellers in life who have their preferences and peeves.

 

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