This appeared in Bombay Times today.... look at the mess Om Puri finds himself in after his attempt to play actor-activist at the Anna Hazare jamboree on Ramlila grounds. Poor chap is going blue in the face retracting his words and apologising for calling MPs 'Naalayaks' and 'Ganwaars'. Most of India agrees with him, btw!
Amir Khan: Actors as Activists….
“The Parliament has spoken.The will of the Parliament is the will of the people.” Thus spake Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Too little, too late.But at least, Anna called off his 12-day fast and India sighed with relief.Aamir Khan made it to the most photographed dais in Indian history at Ramlila grounds, a few short hours before the impasse ended. He sang, but didn’t dance.Unlike some other opportunistic actors from Bollywood who shamelessly derived mileage from the event, Aamir sensibly skipped gimmicks , yet made his presence and position felt very strongly . Unlike those minor players, ever ready to be associated with any and every ‘good cause’ , Aamir picks his strategic battles very well. While some popular stars displayed support by wearing Anna topis and T-shirts to events , others tweeted and blogged, but the majority stayed put and remained mum. This is the way it has always been in our film industry . Taking a political stand and lending your name\presence to any movement requires a strong sense of conviction and commitment. Especially if that movement is remotely ‘anti- government’, as Anna’s protest certainly was. Actors are a vulnerable lot. It’s a peculiar damned- if –you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t situation that comes with several pitfalls. Most actors are scared of getting on the wrong side of the ruling party or the cops. They know they can be harassed, hounded and exposed ( raids!) by those in authority.This is why most of them prefer to play ball with the establishment, and stay out of trouble by not taking anybody’s side.While a few have taken the plunge officially ( Shatrughan Sinha, Raj Babber, Vinod Khanna, Hema Malini, Jaya Prada), others fight shy of disclosing their loyalties, preferring to remain studiedly neutral and non-committal.
This is where Aamir Khan is different. Cynics may call his most recent Anna-outing, yet another marketing ace, perhaps a run up to a new movie he is either making or backing ( Peepli Live- 2 ?), but even if it is just that, it still requires dum to go out there and pledge unconditional support to a high profile, controversial, even explosive cause. When Kiran Bedi turned all gooey, coy and coquettish in his presence and asked a silly question (“Will you bring all your friends from Bollywood next time?”), Aamir deftly evaded a direct reply – like any good politician.That apart, his presence at the rally sent out a strong signal. It was about Aamir the individual, Aamir the citizen, taking a stand, not just against corruption, but indirectly against the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government. In an age where the culture of camps continues to prevail, this was seen as a defiantly independent move, more so, because the other Khans had maintained a safe distance from a burning issue that had India up in arms for close to a fortnight.
Should actors be compelled to articulate their political positions? In Hollywood, they do. They use their considerable clout to influence public opinion during any national crisis. American Presidents, aware of the power of Hollywood, actively court big names and encourage stars to campaign for them, or speak up when required.From expressing their views on gun control laws to gay marriages, Hollywood big shots make themselves heard across international platforms. Aamir Khan, ever ahead of the curve, and never one to stick with the herd, has demonstrated once again why he more than anybody else in Bollywood, continues to command such a unique position. After all this adulation,his fans will be most disappointed, even disillusioned, if he does indeed capitalize on the Ramlila Grounds’ visit to announce his next film based on Anna and the Famous Fast. Watch this space.