What Meryl Streep could not teach Bollywood

It took me a while to write this down, I can’t exactly pinpoint as to why I took so much time to finally let this out, but it did. Maybe I was perhaps trying to find ground between being totally fumed at the most infamous selfie, including our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi with a few Bollywood actors, producers, directors, including Ranbir Kapoor, Karan Johar, Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Ashwini Iyer Tiwari and a few more of them. Here’s the picture:

As it turns out, Karan Johar (of Dharma Productions) arranged for and organised this meeting with the Prime Minister with the aim of “nation building”. Captioning the same picture, he wrote on Instagram, “Powerful and timely conversations can bring about change and this was one of what we hope will become a regular conversation. Meeting the Honorable Prime Minister @narendramodi today was an incredible opportunity. As a community, there is a huge interest to contribute to nation building. There is so much that we want to do. And can do and this dialogue was towards how and what ways we can do that. When the youngest country (in demography) joins hands with the largest movie industry in the world, we hope to be a force to reckon with. Together we would love to inspire and ignite positive changes to a transformative India. The film industry would also like to send a huge thanks for the GST reduction in movie ticket prices that was implemented recently! Thank you so much for your time, Sir!”

My problems with this picture are on two levels, superficial and actual.

My first problem is that Karan Johar was apparently the one to have arranged this meet, as I mentioned above. My question is, why are there actors/producers/directors who belong to just his clan or are now making it big? Does a certain Radhika Apte or Nawazuddin Siddiqui, among many other talented actors, not deserve to be a part of this “nation building” that is occurring out of convenience? And these are just two names that I have taken. The reason why I added an ‘a certain’ before Apte’s name is for her to represent the entire clan who Johar doesn’t consider fit enough to walk with other industrywallas to meet the Prime Minister of India. You may argue that members from his clan, Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Shahrukh Khan, and others, weren’t a part of this meeting too. While that is a legit argument you might make, I don’t see a single person put of his said clan, and that is where I rest my first problem with this picture.

Second, let’s now shift this scenario to Hollywood and imagine Leonardo DiCaprio, Anne Hathaway, or God forbid, Meryl Streep clicking selfies with Donald Trump. It is not just impossible to occur in real life, but also absolutely impossible to imagine in your heads. At least I can’t. When our industry relies on Hollywood and cinema from different parts of the world to adapt into their popular culture, why can we not take away values and cultures that are important? Why can’t we stand against power instead of bowing down to it, every single time? Why do our industrywallas tend to focus on a certain position of power, using it for their advantage, instead of actually making great cinema?

While, I am, in no way criticising the Prime Minister (my views on politics are for another day), I believe that it is high time our brand of actors, producers, directors understand that power doesn’t necessarily mean truth.

Ranveer Singh, you may fight against the wrong in Simmba, but there is no point of it until and unless you mirror that in your real life.

And when I say Ranveer Singh, I don’t necessarily mean just him. He is just a euphemism I use for the entire industry fighting the wrong in films but not in real life. And if you don’t have the power to stand up for the truth against power, at least don’t shame Naseeruddin Shah when he takes a stance against communal politics.

At the Golden Globes last year, Meryl Streep, one of the most prolific actors humankind has ever seen, spoke about Donald Trump, and said, “There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth.

“It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.”

“And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing,” the actress said.

I wonder and question and yearn to find an answer to the fact that is there a single Bollywood actor who is willing to shed off the veil of power and speak the truth?

I rephrase, is any Bollywood actor, in the above frame (the selfie) willing to shed off the veil of power and speak the truth? Perhaps not.

Owing to this, what also crosses my mind is that till the time a mainstream Bollywood actor/director/producer is ready to speak the truth, do movements like the #MeToo and #TimesUp have any productive and certain future? That’s something all of us need to think about, and now…

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