As young India protests, Bollywood finds its voice

Activists in Kolkata shout slogans as they carry an effigy of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a protest against his visit to Bengal and a new controversial citizenship law. (Reuters)
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Updated 12 January 2020

As young India protests, Bollywood finds its voice

  • Signaling a possible generational shift, Deepika Padukone waded into a sea of student protesters in Delhi on Tuesday night, evoking loud cheers from the surprised crowd

MUMBAI: Fearing a backlash from fans, politicians and religious zealots, Bollywood stars have in the past usually steered clear of India’s fiery politics. But the country’s top actress may have changed that.

Signaling a possible generational shift, Deepika Padukone waded into a sea of student protesters in Delhi on Tuesday night, evoking loud cheers from the surprised crowd.

Few had any inkling that Padukone would attend the demonstration at a prestigious university where the left-leaning student body has long been in the crosshairs of India’s ruling party.

Her appearance sparked a social media war between those wanting her new film boycotted — suggesting her only motive was publicity for the movie which released on Friday — and others applauding her courage.


Either way, many said the moment marked a watershed in India’s multibillion-dollar Hindi movie industry.

“It was a gutsy move,” said Mumbai-based novelist and commentator Shobhaa De, and reflected a “big shift” for Bollywood.

“Stars today understand that their constituency is young India, and young India respects people who speak up,” De said.

“None of this would be happening without social media,” said actress Swara Bhasker, one of the few stars who have consistently spoken out against the government.

“Bollywood has faced so much criticism on Twitter for not being politically engaged, and much of it from young people who are your target audience,” she said. “Why would you want to alienate them?”

Another factor is events on the ground since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government passed the citizenship law last month. Hundreds of thousands of people have participated in demonstrations nationwide, and at least 25 have been killed in clashes with police. Last Sunday, masked attackers went on the rampage at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, injuring 34 people and sparking yet more protests.

A year ago Modi posed for a now-famous selfie with the who’s-who of Bollywood, including Padukone’s husband Ranveer Singh.

Sidharth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan, two of the stars who appeared in that selfie last January, have now both spoken out against the violence. “My heart goes out to all the students back home in Delhi,” Malhotra tweeted last month, calling it “sad to see violence against citizens for voicing their opinion through peaceful protests.”

“I think we cannot stay neutral in such issues,” said Dhawan.

In contrast to Bollywood’s younger generation, the old guard including superstars such as Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan have not commented on the protests.

They perhaps have learned the hard lesson that sticking your neck out is a dangerous business, risking film boycotts, the loss of lucrative sponsorship deals, or worse.

On Friday, Cabinet minister Smriti Irani accused Padukone of being unpatriotic and standing “with people who wanted the destruction of India.”

Bhasker, who has been the target of vicious online bullying over her views, praised Padukone.

“For years it’s been easy to malign those of us who spoke up and write it off as a publicity stunt, so to have the biggest female star in the country do it is a huge win in the perception battle,” she said.

“Ultimately though, this moment belongs to the protesters and the students who have awakened this country’s conscience.”

Philippine trash trawlers earn little from virus-boosted surge in plastics

Updated 55 min 57 sec ago

Philippine trash trawlers earn little from virus-boosted surge in plastics

MANILA: Virgilio Estuesta has picked through trash in the Philippines’ biggest city for four decades, and is noticing an unusually large amount of plastics during his daily trawl of about 15 km (9.3 miles).
Tough curbs re-imposed to combat a surge in daily coronavirus infections are squeezing income for the 60-year-old, as many of the junkyards and businesses in Manila that buy his recyclables have been closed since March.
Plastic items, such as bottles and containers, dominate the contents of the rickety wooden cart Estuesta pushes through the deserted streets, far more than metals and cardboard, yet the money they bring in is not enough to get by.
“It’s been really hard for us, it’s been difficult looking for recyclables that sell high,” he said.
“Recently we’ve been seeing a lot more plastics, but the problem is they don’t really sell high.”
Environmentalists say the Philippines is battling one of the world’s biggest problems stemming from single-use plastics, and ranks among the biggest contributors to plastic pollution of the oceans. It has no reliable data for its plastics consumption.
Greenpeace campaigner Marian Ledesma said consumers and businesses are now using yet more single-use plastics, in a bid to ward off virus infections.
“The pandemic has really increased plastic pollution,” she added. “Just because there’s a lot more people using disposables now, due to misconceptions and fears around transmitting the virus.”
Since March 16, Manila has experienced lockdowns of varying levels of severity, in some of the world’s longest and tightest measures to curb the spread of the virus.
They are taking a toll on Estuesta, who hopes to start earning soon.
“When you go out, the police will reprimand you,” he said. “I was stuck at home and had to rely on government aid, which was not enough. I had to resort to borrowing money from people.”