Outside of the leading politicians in the country, they’re some of the most popular figures on social media today. Thousands, and in some cases, millions wait on their every word. But most young film stars today seem positively reluctant to put out in the public domain what they think about the burning social questions of our time.
Now don’t get us wrong, we’re not asking for our young stars to turn into firebrand crusaders for a dozen causes everyday. But we’re honestly wondering if, having so many people listening, they don’t feel the slightest desire to take Facebook at face value when it asks them, “What’s on your mind?”
Luckily, there are a handful of exceptions to the rule:
Most recently, Tamil/Telugu actor Siddharth hit the headlines when he put up a series of Tweets on the romanticised and valourised depiction of stalking in Tamil cinema. In that series of tweets, Siddharth forthrightly admitted that, “We've been selling a terrible dream in our films for long. That any man can get the woman he wants just by wanting her enough. Must change!”
And Siddharth is no one-hit wonder. Even a casual perusal of the actor’s Twitter account shows him discussing a wide range of subjects from police brutality and America’s racial double standards to terrorist attacks in Nice and Medina to the recent case of a dog being thrown off a building in Chennai.
Kannada actor and director Chetan is even more explicitly political. The most recent post on his Facebook wall, for instance, is a long meditation on Dalit empowerment and dignity, in which he asserts, “Atrocities on Dalits— one-way, top-down oppression-- are not occasional occurrences. Casteism is systematic & institutionally ingrained… With such a plethora of injustices against Dalits, it’s about time we stop relegating the discussion on Dalit equality merely to reservations.”
And reading back from there we find articles published by him in Kannada newspapers about topics such as gun violence in the US and Kurdish resistance to the ISIS. The actor also has much to say on communal speech, on political distortions of history, on the appropriation of Ambedkar by a variety of political parties, and much more.
Actor and comedian Vir Das may not be the political radical Chetan is, but he has his moments. Like the video he posted on Facebook when board exam results were around the corner urging students not to take their marks so seriously as to lose perspective on life. Or the advertisement he did for He Deodorants, where he took on the objectification of women by putting himself some of the most popular ads on Indian television – from waving his rear end over a motorbike to seducing a mango a la Katrina Kaif. And of course, he has all those snide comments mocking the polarisation of speech in the country in our times.
Then there are the few who struggle against the widespread phobia for the F-word. While so many women in the industry take pains to ensure that the tag of “feminist” is never associated with their names, a small handful of young actors have openly declared their allegiance to feminism or have raised feminist concerns on social media.
Kalki Koechlin is probably the most strident of these actors: her video poem “The Printing Machine”, on the gender-blindness of the media in the face of waves of violence against women, went viral earlier this year and was watched almost 1.5 million times on YouTube. And she raised more than a few eyebrows when she appeared two years ago in a video titled “It’s Your Fault”, which brought together the various absurd explanations patriarchy provides for why women get raped.
Down south, Malayalam actor Rima Kallingal has been one of the most outspoken voices on gender and sexuality. While she makes her presence felt in the brick-and-mortar world at pride marches and protests, her Facebook page overflows with articles on a range of political issues. On the Jisha rape and murder, for instance, she wrote, “When we complain about Eve teasing, cat calling, harassment, cyber bullying ,domestic violence, no body cares. When we are told what to do, what to wear, what to say, where to go, what time to go out and we complain about that, nobody cares. When we are attacked for speaking our minds, for taking a stand, for demanding self-respect, nobody cares. We react only when they are raped and killed??? Only then do we take notice?? Is it time yet?? Is this what we were waiting for?”
Rima has also consistently expressed her solidarity with movements like Kiss of Love, Unfair and Lovely and a variety of LGBTQ movements.
Mental illness is the other issue that often gets swept under the carpet today, and Deepika Padukone is one of the few A-list stars who’s tackled the issue head on. Not only did the actor give a candid interview about depression, speaking at great length about her symptoms and state of mind, but also helped set up a foundation called the The Live, Love, Laugh Foundation, which she continues to consistently promote on social media.
They are not all. A few other stars too like Anusha Sharma, Anoop Menon, Vineeth Sreenivasan, Swara Bhaskar etc speak out on a range of issues.