MUMBAI: One of Bollywood’s top directors has called on three superstar actors to break the silence over a new citizenship law that has provoked riots in India, saying they could influence millions of fans.
At least 21 people have died since crowds took to the streets enraged by Hindu nationalist government legislation, which critics say discriminates against Muslims.
The violence and political storm surrounding it pose a dilemma for a film industry dominated by Muslim actors, directors, and crew, but catering to India’s predominantly Hindu and broader population.
A handful of figures protested against law and violence, some at rallies in Mumbai, in the heart of Bollywood. But none of its top three stars – Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan – made public statements. All three are Muslims.
“These three actors and their fans are something else. One word from them can influence millions, ”director Anubhav Sinha, critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, told Reuters.
“I… understand why they may not be able to speak up. I’m not mad at them, ”said Sinha, who directed Shah Rukh Khan in the 2011 movie“ Ra One ”.
He said it didn’t matter what they said about the law or the violence, just that they contributed to the debate. “I’m not saying they should agree with me or with other people. Their opinion may be the opposite of what we have.
None of the three unrelated Khans responded to Reuters’s requests for comment.
Industry experts say the lack of comment or condemnation by some of the biggest names in the industry indicates a major cultural difference in Hollywood – where actors take on political causes regularly and criticize the government.
“In the United States, President Donald Trump cannot use government machines to harass the actors who disagree with him, but here this fear is there,” film critic and journalist Rajeev Masand told Reuters.
Modi has appeared regularly alongside actors and figures from the film industry at public events. The industry, in turn, has produced films that critics say have addressed political endorsements.
Three films have been screened this year featuring key actors in ministerial roles, including a biography titled “PM Narendra Modi.”
Actress Sayani Gupta – who appeared with Shah Rukh Khan in her 2015 film “Fan” – retweeted a selfie last week that popular young actors like Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt took with Modi at an event. She added the message: “It’s time to talk about the guys.”
A representative from Ranveer Singh said it was not available for comment, while Bhatt’s spokeswoman did not respond immediately.
To protesters, especially those at Jamia Millia University in New Delhi, where Shah Rukh Khan was enrolled in his youth, their silence seems like a betrayal.
“Someone like him keeping quiet is unacceptable,” said Zoya Nadeem Azmi, a student of literature.