Lessons from Prakash Raj to Bollywood Superstars

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Lessons from Prakash Raj to Bollywood Superstars

Illustration: Palak Bansal/Arré

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ollywood and Politics are fairly similar. One industry requires its stars to put up award-winning performances year after year through efficiently feigning happiness, sadness, and empathy for the camera. While the other industry is Bollywood. And given their prowess at maintaining a squeaky clean image in public, it isn’t surprising that Bollywood has-beens have historically made great political Yes Men. Govinda, Hema Malini, Dharmendra and more have collectively turned statesmanship into little more than Bollywood’s sinecure club.

Which is why it’s especially refreshing to see someone of Prakash Raj’s stature blatantly call out the ruling party’s shady goings-on. At the recent India Today South Conclave 2018, the southern superstar went full-on savage at the NDA government, calling them out on everything from Hindutva fringe groups to blatant anti-democratic stances, the actor didn’t pull any punches. Soon enough, a BJP spokesperson from the crowd felt compelled to interrupt the actor and defend the BJP on the grounds that Prakash Raj doesn’t have the right to decide who is Hindu and who is not.

Raj is not only one of the most prominent names in Kannada and Tamil cinema, but also enjoys a large fan-following among Bollywood moviegoers for his over-the-top villainous roles in films like Wanted, Dabangg, and Singham. In many ways, his stardom is comparable to that of the Bachchans, Khans, Kumars, and Kapoors. But as Raj proved with his recent statements, there’s one trait that sets southern superstars apart from their Bollywood counterparts: their spine.

The argument that Raj made in response to the BJP spokesperson is thought-provoking. He calmly stated, “A person who claims to be Hindu would never support killing” and went on to sharply critique the current government turning a blind eye to fringe groups running amok during the Padmaavat row. He ended by questioning whether the BJP believed in freedom of speech at all.

Speaking your mind, without fear of involuntary nose-jobs or beheadings, is after all, a fraught decision these days.

As our Bollywood biggies pander to the ruling party by dancing at state-sponsored events and showing up at Coldplay concerts, the heavyweights down south like Siddharth, Chiranjeevi, Rajinikanth, and Kamal Haasan are setting an example by being actively involved in creating change, both on and off screen. Sure, we might have some good seeds trying to do social good but the stars down south have not only used their stardom to express their views but have also regularly, almost rebelliously, taken on the status quo. In fact, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan have formed their own political parties simply because “It is the need of the hour”.

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching snippet from Raj’s statement is when he brings up the Gauri Lankesh murder, where he also criticises the PM – perhaps unfairly. “His silence… He may think it is silence, but it speaks, sir. It speaks.”

It is refreshing to watch Raj take a stand that not many have the determination to risk. Speaking your mind, without fear of involuntary nose-jobs or beheadings, is after all, a fraught decision these days. Bollywood could do with some of this honesty.

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