As the debate of ‘Award Wapsi’ and intolerance continue to heat up, the film industry seems to have grown a crevice over different opinions held by individual personalities. While Shah Rukh Khan, Rishi Kapoor, M.K Raina have taken sides to talk in favor of the movement, others like Vidya Balan, Kamal Haasan, Anupam Kher have refused to give up their National Awards and had considered the act as a step to defame India.
The Rise of the Rebels
The history of the Award Wapsi goes back to the time when more than 35 prominent authors and poets decided to return their prestigious national awards to the Sahitya Akademi, to protest against the organization’s silence over a number of incidents such as the murder of rationalist and writer MM Kalburgi and the lynching of a Muslim man, accused for allegedly having beef. The Akademi did acknowledge the protest and this was followed by the body issuing a resolution that condemned the murder of MM Kalburgi along with other intellectuals. The gesture of dissent expressed by the writers led to widespread reverberations all across the nation. Soon the mass protest of returning their honours was followed by various other artists and leading scientists as well. The protest even included film makers, who returned their honours and criticized the current government’s ‘stonewalling’ of students, who tried to protest against the increasing intolerance of the appointment of officials like Gajendra Chauhan (who is believed to be close to the RSS) as the chairman of one India’s premier school Film and Television Institute of India.
Yes it is now the most controversial topic of discussion that everyone is talking about and which had caused a difference of opinions and uneasy relationship within the film industry itself. Some might speak for it and some might consider is to be a foolish act. Some would consider it as the right step against the increasing communal polarization and an attack on the Indian citizens’ freedom of speech. And again, there are some who consider this so called ‘paper revolution’ as politically motivated and an attempt to derail the development momentum. Among the voices that spoke in support of Award Wapsi was Gulzar who even claimed to have “never witnessed this kind of religious intolerance”. Quite predictably, the 91 year old noted poet and director had suffered a huge backlash from the online bhakts. And despite the fact that Gulzar used to command great stature and respect within the film industry, only a few came to defend him when the storm of controversy broke over his comments. Quite around the same time, the Shiv Sena, a powerful Hindu nationalist outfit reigning in Maharashtra, carried out an intimidation campaign to protest against the working of Pakistani actors in Indian films. This however provoked an angry response, as directors, actors and musicians began to speak against the religious diktat of the Senas. Even superstars like Shah Rukh Khan did not step out to speak against this kind of intolerance prevalent in India. However, probably vulnerability and political influence were some of the otherwise reasons that had led to the drawing of the line between two factions of the industry who are now at loggerheads with each other, each being backed by their own viewpoints.
The Symbolic Protest and the Disparity Within
But my current concern here is not to give you my readers, a detailed account of the opinions of others. I write this article to question those who think it is unwise to give up their hard earned national awards for the sake of standing up against rising intolerance? What makes you think that returning awards and giving up positions does not constitute as a symbolic protest compared to voicing one’s opinion through the power of pen and paper? Does that mean that the great poet Rabindranath Tagore’s decision to renounce his knighthood as a protest against the Jallianwala Bagh massacre was an act of foolishness for the great personality as well? Why not rather look at it, as a much more humble act of peaceful protest against something that is much more dangerous and violent to the entire human community and which, according to my opinion can defame India much more in front of other countries. Protest, according to the Wikipedia dictionary, is a form of expression through actions or words that is directed against particular events, situations or policies. It can take place in various forms be it from undertaking mass demonstrations to making individual statements. This is not the first time that members from the film industry are rallying for a cause. Some of the most troubling examples that you might get are those of Salman Khan’s hit-and-run case and that of Deepika Padukone’s body shamming or mental health issues. Probably the only way that I can perceive this kind of disparity is Bollywood represents personalities with a wide range of voices and political associations. Some of them are vulnerable or the soft targets that run the higher risk of inviting fatwas and lawsuits, which can hence altogether, harm their business and their social stature altogether. The most immediate example of such situation that I can refer to is the movie Calendar Girls, where one of the actors becomes subject to such pressures on account of religious intolerance.
A Paradox amidst the Heart of Darkness
Bollywood thus presents a paradox where the liberal attitude and the perceived openness of the people meet a deep clash from those coming with deep controversial values. Maybe, if I am to understand the reason why some of those who feel that returning one’s honors is indeed an act of foolishness, I would prefer to understand them from this point of angle. But then, not all share the same attitude and some even dare to break through the silence and give voice to their opinion as M.K Raina; one of the renowned personality and recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi says,
Put us in jail if we are wrong. They do not understand they are playing with fire. We did not burn those two little kids in Faridabad. We did not beat Akhlaq to death. They are wrong, not us. If by putting us in jail, another Akhlaq will not be killed, other Dalit kids will not be burned, we are ready for that…
Whatever is happening in India isn’t that giving bad name to the country? You cannot stop that by touring different countries. Do you know how these incidents are being covered in foreign media? Delegation of African countries is here, don’t they read papers? Don’t they know what is happening?
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