I know I’m late to the party, but I just watched The Newcomers Roundtable with Rajeev Masand and I have to talk. Masand’s roundtables are a personal favourite. I absolutely love the kind of conversations that take place on this show, owing to the fact that there always are a bunch of talented people, most of who know their craft.
But I’ll be honest. This year, I wasn’t looking forward to the newcomers roundtable so eagerly, as I have in the past. But of course, I did watch it. A little later than usual, but I did. What my take on the conversation and each individual at the table is, are secondary thoughts. While everyone is going gaga over Siddhant Chaturvedi for throwing a bomb on Ananya Panday’s nepotism remark, what bothers me is that few people choose to talk about what Geetika Vidya Ohlyan had to say. They’re making memes, starting Twitter threads on Chaturvedi’s remark, patting him on the back, but not talking about things that matter.
As it is, very few celebrities in Bollywood are talking about the CAA, the NRC and the other atrocities of the ruling party in India. How tough is it to speak up against inhumanity. What happened at the Jamia Milia Islamia University was wrong and if this remains the way the government works, it’ll happen in another university soon. So in the middle of all of this, it is our responsibility, as media houses, to talk. Because, if not now, when? We tried our level best to educate people about the wrong at Jamia, and with the CAA, but there’s only so much one voice can do. Though there have been media houses and Twitter users who’ve spoken about the Soni actor’s stand, but have there been enough?
Ohlyan had the words “Unnao,” “CAA,” “Jamia” and “1974” written on her hands. She also had a vertical line of the hakenkreuz (the Nazi symbol) and crosses drawn on her arms, in order to show that fascism is something she doesn’t support and probably won’t tolerate. She got emotional and said, “I hope the victim gets… like the Unnao verdict is today… and I hope we don’t get disappointed more, and times improve and I hope we are kinder towards each other.”
When asked what changed for her when she became a celebrity, Ohlyan said, “One factual observation about current times is people do not listen to economists or historians. they listen to celebrities,” adding that she chose to study (she has a Masters in English Literature from Delhi University) in order to be able to talk about issues when she’s a celebrity. “I was asked why I was studying more. I said because I am gonna be a celebrity. And when I be a celebrity they should listen to me. The food that I receive is increasing, so I am making my table bigger rather than my walls higher.”
What was shocking to me was that neither Masand, nor any of the other actors at the table wanted to have a conversation about the CAA or the Jamia incident. We’re all so blinded by the glitters of glamour, that sometimes, we don’t care. No? Reminds me of one of Helen’s dialogues in Madhur Bhandarkar’s heroine. “Shohrat jitna deti hai, usse kayi zyada humse cheen leti hai. Glamour ki chamak mein hume yeh dikhai nahi deta. Aur jab tak pata chalta hai, tab tak bahut der ho jaati hai”. Those who haven’t spoken, have perhaps lost the power to speak, owing to whatever reason, or so it seems.
In an industry where there’s no conversation, what Ohlyan has said and done is not just brave but also nothing short of revolutionary. This is our country and it is our responsibility to speak up when there’s wrong. While some celebrities have spoken up about the issue at hand, all the big names choose to remain silent. They might be playing safe, but silence is supporting the wrong and that’s not a behaviour we appreciate, especially now.
And while we’re heading towards a totalitarian regime, many Bollywood actors will be enjoying a gala dinner with Prime Minister Narendra Modi tomorrow. Those who’ve raised their voices haven’t been invited. So, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, if you’re free, we can go get coffee? Ha ha!
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