The mainstreaming of a hardline brand of Hindu nationalism, mob lynchings, attacks on students, and an escalation in hate crimes: These have all become features of India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
However, most celebrities have been reluctant to speak out against the prime minister’s politics. Bollywood songwriter and poet Javed Akhtar is one of the few who is raising his voice.
He believes Modi is a fascist.
“Of course he is, I mean fascists don’t have horns on their head,” Akhtar said. “The moment you hate people in wholesale, you’re a fascist,” he added.
Bollywood director and producer Mahesh Bhatt says Muslims and other minorities in India have never felt more insecure and believes the media has played a key role in fueling anti-Muslim sentiment.
“I mean, that kind of a fear has been crafted, been structured day in and day out … the pliable channels are working around the clock to create, the ‘other’,” he said.
But when it comes to Bollywood and Modi, many stars appear to support the prime minister, or at least refuse to criticise him. Bhatt says that fear is to blame.
“They feel very vulnerable, but the explosive silence speaks for itself, that these people are frightened to speak their minds, even if they feel completely different to what they are posturing privately,” he said.
Akhtar agrees that people are scared to speak out, but he also says that the influence Bollywood has is highly exaggerated.
“Theatre or cinema’s influence is highly exaggerated. No country can claim that a revolution or a great social change came into that society because of a film,” Akhtar said.
Bhatt said if books or films could change a nation, India would have become a paradise by now.
“On the ground, I think there are other more serious things which ultimately decide which particular party will rule us. And filmmakers or actors and actresses … have a very limited role to play in creating the atmospherics,” Bhatt said.
On this week’s UpFront, Bollywood heavyweights Mahesh Bhatt and Javed Akhtar discuss the film industry’s role in speaking out against hardline Hindu nationalism in Modi’s India.