One of Bollywood’s leading directors has called on three Muslim superstars to break their silence about a new citizenship law that has triggered riots in India, saying they could influence millions of fans.
At least 25 people have died since crowds took to the streets, enraged by the Hindu nationalist-led government’s legislation, which critics say discriminates against Muslims.
“I am really angry at anyone who has not spoken out,” director Anubhav Sinha, a critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, told Reuters news agency.
“These three actors and their fan following is something else. One word from them can influence millions,” added Sinha, referring to Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan.
Sinha directed Shah Rukh Khan in the 2011 film, Ra One.
The violence and the political storm raging around the law poses a dilemma for a film industry that is dominated by Muslim actors, directors and crew but caters for India’s broader, predominantly Hindu population.
A handful of figures have spoken out against the law and the violence, some at rallies in Mumbai, the heart of Bollywood.
Thank u @narendramodi for hosting us & having such an open discussion on #ChangeWithin & the role artistes can play in spreading awareness of the msgs of The Mahatma. Also the idea of a University of Cinema is extremely opportune! pic.twitter.com/kWRbNk3xzo
— Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk) October 19, 2019
But none of the three Khans has made a public statement.
Sinha said it did not matter what they said about the law or the violence, but called on them to break their silence and join the debate.
“I am not saying they should agree with me or others. Their opinion can be the opposite of what we have,” he said.
Shah Rukh Khan has nearly 40 million Twitter followers, while Salman has more than 38 million and Aamir 25.
None of the three Khans, who are not related, responded to Reuters’ requests for comment.
The taming of the Khans… pic.twitter.com/kvEByTaXC8
— Swati Chaturvedi (@bainjal) October 20, 2019
Industry insiders say the lack of comment or condemnation by some of the industry’s biggest names points to a broad cultural difference from Hollywood – where actors regularly take up political causes and criticise the government.
“In America, [President Donald] Trump cannot use the government machinery to go after actors who disagree with him, but here, that fear is very much there,” film critic and journalist Rajeev Masand told Reuters.
Modi has regularly appeared alongside actors and film industry figures at public events. The industry has, in turn, produced films that some critics have said approached political endorsements.
Three movies have appeared this year with lead actors in prime ministerial roles, including a biopic titled PM Narendra Modi.
On behalf of the students of Jamia & AMU request at least one of you to tweet or message Mr.Modi condemning this act of police brutality and violence against students. The time has come to speak up guys. Yes? No? May be?@RanveerOfficial @karanjohar @ayushmannk @RajkummarRao pic.twitter.com/6l5ky5zbNt
— Sayani Gupta (@sayanigupta) December 15, 2019
Actress Sayani Gupta – who appeared with Shah Rukh Khan in his 2015 film, Fan – last week retweeted a selfie that popular young actors including Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt took with Modi at an event.
She added the message: “The time has come to speak up guys.”
A representative for Ranveer Singh said he was not available for comment while Bhatt’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond.
For protesters, especially those at Jamia Millia University in New Delhi, where Shah Rukh Khan studied, his silence feels like a betrayal.
“Someone like him staying silent is unacceptable,” said literature student Zoya Nadeem Azmi.