The Price of Pulling a Meryl Streep in Bollywood


The Price of Pulling a Meryl Streep in Bollywood

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Imagine for a moment, a film awards gala sponsored by huge corporates. Assume that a Bollywood actress – call her Chatrina Calf, it doesn’t matter – goes up on stage to accept an award and doesn’t begin her speech by thanking God. She doesn’t mention any of the sponsors, or the fact that her numerologist has advised her to insert more “Cs” into her name. She doesn’t talk about her mother, that she and her co-stars “were like a family on set”, or have a cute anecdote about the director’s passion for directing.

Instead, she takes the time to talk about a jawaan of the Border Security Force who complains that troops are being served disgusting food and made to live in poor conditions. She calls out government hypocrisy by pointing out that we are forced to stand for the national anthem and have the word “soldier” shoved in our faces every time the government is caught on the backfoot. She says a few harsh words about hyper-nationalism, encourages the freedom of the press, and says she is disgusted by the term “presstitutes”. She then ends with a Mahatma Gandhi quote that appeals for peace between all communities. Basically, she pulls a Meryl Streep.

Are you proud of Bollywood, yet? You spoke too soon.

Immediately after Calf stops talking, the crowd begins booing. A few lob shoes at the stage, and a part of the crowd begins to leave. Anupam Kher grabs a mic and walks up on stage. “Yo Calf, I’m really happy for you, Imma let you finish but our soldiers had the best year ever. EVERRR,” he says, staging a public walkout. Salman Khan throws back another drink and Calf’s rival quad begins Snapchatting. The actor, disheartened by the response, is escorted off stage by riot police, as the crowd begins to sing “Soldier, soldier”.

She goes home and sleeps, thinking it will all blow over by the next day. Instead she wakes up to her face splashed across the front pages of newspapers across the country. Her phone is full of messages from frantic PR personnel asking her what the fuck she was on. She checks her Twitter and Facebook notifications; the bhakts have attacked her FB wall, calling her “anti-national” and linking her to cheap airline tickets to Pakistan. Swami Om collects pee in a jar for weeks and starts sprinkling it on her supporters.

An imam in some remote corner of the country issues a fatwa against her and VHP members gather outside her home with different-sized rocks.

Once Arnab Goswami picks it up as the first giant BREAKING story for Republic, things begin to escalate. A police complaint is filed against the actor for making seditious remarks and an RTI application to ascertain whether she has filed her tax returns. A “social activist” from Kerala starts burning the actress’s effigy; the film board announces a boycott of all actors whose name starts with C and who belong to Chatrina’s home state. The liberal media attempts to diffuse the situation with opinion pieces but are shouted down in the comments for being “Lutyens Lefties”, “Italy lovers”, and of course, “presstitutes”.

An imam in some remote corner of the country issues a fatwa against her and VHP members gather outside her home with different-sized rocks. A Christian man claims the actress has violated his freedom of religion, and a Jehovah’s Witness argues that the Christian man violated his freedom of religion. The whole thing spirals out of control until we are left with a kind of Religionception, and the actor ends up being boycotted by all communities.

As soon as political parties announce a boycott of all the movies that have ever been made, and the Army begins marching to the actor’s house, the profuse apologies start flowing in. Karan Johar makes a video with a sombre black background claiming that he had nothing to do with the speech, and a few leading actors with upcoming films set up meetings with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena to ensure that the correct people are paid off.

Soon after, once regular people stop giving a shit about Chatrina and this politico-religious drama and “#AntiNationalChatrina” is no longer trending on Twitter, a movie trailer is released. In it, Chatrina plays a widowed Army wife. Suddenly her award show comments begin to make sense. The week before the movie is slated to release, the actress delivers a heartfelt open letter where she talks about how much she respects Army personnel, and how the jawaan she was previously defending was actually a raging alcoholic and a lunatic.

Once all the “awws” have been delivered, and the media goes to town raving about the actor’s writing talent, the movie makes a soft release and garners box office collections of ₹2 crore on the first day.

And this, is why Bollywood rarely talks about politics.