Impact of Indian Farmers Protest on Bollywood

Some Bollywood stars have reacted to the Indian farmers protest, with others avoiding the issue. We explore the impact on the Industry.

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"I have removed all of the Bollywood remixes I had"

The Indian farmers protest is having a big impact on the Bollywood film industry, with possible effects to continue.

Specifically, the three agriculture acts that the Indian parliament approved during September 2020 have sparked mass protests in India and across the world.

The farming community in India, especially from Punjab and Haryana have not welcomed the 2020 Farm Bills.

Farmers view the acts as a violation of their rights due to a lack of adequate consultation.

The government of India believe the laws can economically benefit the farming and agricultural sector in the country. This is by allowing farmers to directly deal with multi corporations, along with having an open and flexible market.

The Indian farmers protest has become a catalyst for debate and dialogue, dividing the nation, including Bollywood with different opinions.

A host of Bollywood celebrities were quick to react and show solidarity with the Indian farmers.

From the very beginning, Indian singer-actor Diljit Dosanjh has been rallying behind the farmers. Others also consider the Indian farmers protest as a just cause.

However, many celebrities are adopting the government line, with Kangana Ranaut seemingly going above it. Others are playing a form of diplomacy or staying completely on the back foot.

Social media, especially Twitter have also got into the act, becoming a battleground between celebrities and fans.

We delve further and see how the Indian farmers protest is impacting Bollywood with future consequences.

Support, Silence and Subtlety

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The Indian farmers protest has split the Bollywood fraternity over the 2020 Farm Bills. Some have come out in favour of the protesting farmers against the government reform.

Diljit Dosanjh who has become an eminent name in Bollywood was quick to join the debate. Since late 2020, he has put a series of tweets advocating peace, with one partly reading:

“Gal PYAR Di Kariye” (Let’s talk about love).

He was also one of the first stars who was sitting amongst the crowd at a protest site. He has been requesting the government to accept the demands of the farmers.

Actress Priyanka Chopra was also fast to jump on Twitter, acknowledging Diljit’s unity tweet. She was hoping for a rapid solution.

Actress Sonam Kapoor went on Instagram, posting an image of the farmers, with a supportive caption, which read:

“When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of civilisation.”

Actress Preity Zinta also put up a heartful post on Twitter, referring to the farmers as “soldiers of the soil.”

However, it was actor Naseeruddin Shah that spoke quite openly on video. He was particularly very critical of the bigwigs being reluctant on the matter by being “neutral.”

He also felt many of them were not speaking in fear of losing “something.” Ali Fazal of Victoria & Abdul (2017) fame is also backing the farmers.

In contrast, Bollywood legends and heartthrobs are extremely silent over all this.

What has Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Ranveer Singh and others got to lose?  Are they in danger of missing out on major film projects if they speak up?

Then there are the likes of Salman Khan who are being diplomatic by stating the “right thing should be done.” This is a classic example of a cryptic viewpoint as in playing it safe.

Will this pattern of safe tweet’s continue to carry on? We shall have to wait and see. From another perspective, the Khan’s perhaps maybe keeping a tight lid to avoid any unnecessary controversy.

Big actors have traditionally come in the firing line in the past. Some have even been told to leave India.

Irrespective, it is quite evident that there is a division within Bollywood. Most of the celebrities have drawn a definitive line.

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The Kangana Ranaut Stance

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Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut is frequently expressing her opinion on the Indian famers protest. From the very outset,  her tweets on this topic have had reference to anti-state elements.

One of her earlier tweets came after many farmers assembled at the Burari Ground in North Delhi. Her tweet stated:

“Shame….. in the name of farmers har koi apni rotiyaan sek raha hai, hopefully, government won’t allow anti national elements to take advantage and create another Shaheen Baag riots for blood thirsty vultures and tukde gang…”

In response, many people went on Twitter, criticising Kangana for likening the Indian farmers protest to the Shaheen Bagh incident.

In December 2020, she began personally attacking fellow stars Diljit Dosanjh and Priyanka Chopra on Twitter.

The tweets from her had suggested that these two celebrities were “misguiding” the farmers.

Priyanka was certainly not in the mood to play a tit-for-tat game, However, Diljit did have a sour social media fight with Kangana, particularly on Twitter.

Many of Diljit’s tweets had a very sarcasm tone to them. Though his focus was always the farmers and nothing less or more.

Tweets from Diljit, along with any replies to Kangana were in Punjabi. In early February 2021, the two were involved in a spat again.

After Barbadian singer Rihanna had put a tweet in support of the farming protestors, Kangana then labelled the farmers as “terrorists.”

With Diljit, dedicating the song RiRi to Rihanna, Twitter also took down a series of tweets from Kangana.

Diljit had the last laugh it seems though after Kangana went on to describe him in a derogatory manner. In a statement, Twitter said Kangana’s tweet, “violates the rules.”

Kangana has the liberty to post what she wants. But was she too harsh, especially towards the farmers and Diljit?

Evidently, it appears, that Kangana did push the boat, with even people trolling her on Twitter.

The scrap between the two has further implications for both of them. The two may never work with each other. This might extend to influencing closer friends not to work with either.

Groupism can only increase by this. This will divide celebrities even more, with building bridges becoming more difficult in the short term.

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Bollywood Film Shootings in Punjab and Haryana

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A mass number of protesting farmers come from Punjab and Haryana. Therefore, shooting Bollywood films in these provinces will prove to be a challenge.

The two provinces are popular for Bollywood films, especially with a rural or Punjab centric focus. However, in the midst of the Indian farmers protest, shootings of Bollywood films are stalling.

People are not happy with many Bollywood stars for not speaking up for the farmers. They are particularly critical of stars with a Punjabi link of some sort.

In 2021, two films have already had shooting difficulties. The Janhvi Kapoor film Good Luck Jerry has had to face the brunt of it.

Farmers have gone on to disrupt the shooting of the film in Patiala and Fatehgarh districts.

With the farmers managing to halt shooting at Punjab Garh, one protestor was adamant of Janhvi making a statement:

“We had earlier told them that they would not allow shooting of the film here. But they still held a shooting. We stopped it again today.

“We have no grudge against any person. If she gives a statement in support of farmers only once, we will allow the shooting.”

In defence of Janhvi though, she had previously made a statement supporting the farmers. She had shared her thoughts via an Instagram story.

Janhvi being the daughter of renowned producer Boney Kapoor, is Punjabi from her paternal side. Her father or famous acting uncle Anil Kapoor have yet to comment on the farmers protest.

Similarly, protesting farmers had also ambushed the shoot for Love Hostel, a film by Bobby Deol. The film crew whilst setting up were asked to leave.

A spokesperson later revealed that the Deol family, including Dharmendra, Sunny Deol and Hema Malini have had past or present BJP connections.

Sunny who is a BJP member is sitting on the fence about the Famers Bill. Having said that, father Dharmendra was sentimental about the plight of the farmers.

Hema has had opposing views to the farmers protest, suggesting this issue has had a big impact on the family. There is obviously no consensus amongst the Deols for various reasons.

In the UK, people are reacting to the Deol family. Rafiq, a passenger services agent from Birmingham did not mince his words about Sunny:

“If Sunny had respect for the Indian farmers protest, he would speak up. Is he afraid of the ruling party?

“Why can he not say something and resign from the BJP? It seems he has no courage to do this.”

With Dharmendra belonging to a Punjabi background, naturally protesting farmers and supporters were hoping that his family could be on the same page. Obviously, that is not the case.

But is it right for certain groups of people to pressurise or force individual Bollywood actors and families to make a statement?

Whilst it is only natural for people to have expectations, there should be no compulsion.

Nevertheless, it seems emotions are rising high within the Punjabi farming community and their well-wishers overseas.

Going forward, many Bollywood filmmakers may be forced to select alternative locations but with the same feel and ambience.

With schedules being very stringent, filmmakers cannot afford to lose time due to any shooting interruptions.

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Boycott, Unity and Originality

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With many upset by the silence of Bollywood, several hashtags are trending against the Hindi film industry.

The boycott of Bollywood is a big call from unhappy people who are adding the hashtag #BoycottBollywood with their posts. This includes boycotting Bollywood music and films.

International Bhangra Disc Jockey, DJ Heer took action, highlighting it in a tweet with an image and repetitive text:

“In support of the #FarmersProtest and the lack of Bollywood artists speaking up about the issue… I have removed all of the Bollywood remixes I had up on Soundcloud. #BoycottBollywood”

Using the same hashtag, many went on to claim that Bollywood should not make a film on the farmers protest in the future.

According to them, that would be rubbing salt to the wounds. A medical student reflected this in his tweet, using the increasingly popular hashtag, #shameonbollywood.

To combat the growing beliefs against Bollywood, some stars are playing nationalistic, unity and conspiracy cards.

Bollywood actor Ajay Devgn put his point across, using the two hashtags, #IndiaTogether #IndiaAgainstPropaganda. His caption read:

“Don’t fall for any false propaganda against India or Indian policies. Its important to stand united at this hour w/o any infighting”

Bollywood director Karan Johar also went ahead, promoting one of the hashtags. Encouraging tolerance during unprecedented times, he was also hinting at external factors:

“We live in turbulent times and the need of the hour is prudence and patience at every turn.”

“Let us together, make every effort we can to find solutions that work for everyone our farmers are the backbone of India. Let us not let anyone divide us. #IndiaTogether”

Bollywood actors Suniel Shetty and Anupam Kher were also alluding to the fact that it is a domestic issue.

Bollywood celebrities have been aided by sports stars such as former Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar who hold a similar opinion.

Whilst #Indiatogeter became a top trend after Rihanna’s tweet, Bollywood stars and the industry continue to face an image crisis.

Many believe Bollywood celebrities are echoing what the government wants. They are also being trolled for having identical tweets, courtesy of copy and paste.

Jewellery designer and daughter of Sanjay Khan, Farah Khan Ali pinpointed this in a tweet:

“Disappointed with the fraternity tweeting identical tweets that make it more like a marketing gimmick.”

“Whatever their reasons & I’m no one to judge at least u could have tried to make it more original. Now you have given yourselves away. Reel Life Heroes VS Real Life Heroes.”

Conversing in NDTV’s, The Big Fight show, Senior Congress Leader, Shashi Tharoor had somewhat same views to Farah:

“The campaign to put up Indian celebrities against international celebrities was ridiculous.”

“Indian celebrities issued tweets that were embarrassingly similar to each other, suggesting some language or template was given to them by authorities.”

Despite the intentions of stars being genuine, they must be careful as to what they put out in the public domain. They have to regain trust with some of their fans. Without fans, celebrities cannot sustain their stardom.

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Punjabi Music and Singers in Bollywood

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Historically, Bollywood has always had a Punjabi touch in film songs and soundtracks. This is because many creatives, stars, singers and musicians have a link with Punjab.

Protesting farmers are feeling a sense of disappointment by the lack of support from Bollywood. This can impact new songs with Bhangra-Punjabi themes and vibes.

Punjabi singers who have sung in Bollywood also had an interesting point of view. Some Punjabi singers are standing side-by-side with the farmers, with others possibly wishing to watch and wait.

Indo-Canadian Punjabi singer Jazzy B has gone on record to slam Akshay Kumar, calling him a ‘fake king.’ This is after Akshay put out a very tactful tweet, mentioning:

“Farmers constitute an extremely important part of our country. And the efforts being undertaken to resolve their issues are evident.

“Let’s support an amicable resolution, rather than paying attention to anyone creating differences.”

In this instance, Jazzy was having a dig at Akshay for talking about the farmers around two months after the initials protests had begun.

The other sticking point was that Akshay had featured in films like Singh is Kinng (2007).

Many will agree that Akshay was trying to balance things. Yet did he realise the repercussions of voicing his opinion only after global stars publically spoke about the Indian farmers protest.

With this altercation between the two, will Jazzy B sing for Bollywood again? Despite his comments, will Bollywood still entertain Jazzy B to sing in Mumbai?

Equally, singer Mika Singh was livid with Kangana. This is after she had mistaken an elderly woman for Bilkis Bano of Shaheen Bagh.

Tweeting from his official account, Mikha wrote:

“I used to have immense respect for @KanganaTeam, I even tweeted in support when her office was demolished.

“I now think I was wrong, Kangana being a woman you should show the old lady some respect. If you have any etiquette then apologise. Shame on you.”

As Mika is also strengthening Diljit Dosanjh with his take, what future does he have in Bollywood? That can also be said for Gippy Grewal who went on Twitter to share Bollywood’s silent treatment:

“Dear Bollywood, every now and then your movies have been shot in Punjab and every time you have been welcomed with open heart.

“But today when Punjab needs you the most, you didn’t show up and speak a word. Disappointed.”

On the contrary, there are others like Gurdas Maan who chose not to share their thoughts on the circumstances.

Some might find this surprising, with Gurdas Maan having once sung the song ‘Apna Punjab Hove’ (Yaar Mera Pyar: 1996).

Nonetheless, time will tell if the Indian farmers protest will create a fall out between Bollywood musicians.

Punjabi music may well be out of commission from Bollywood for a brief while, but will not die completely.

After all, many of the catchy and dance numbers in Bollywood are sang by Punjabi singers in their very own popular language.

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The Effect on Lal Singh Chaddha

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The Forest Gump (1994) remake Lal Singh Chaddha may face a strong backlash from supporters of the Indian farmers protest.

Despite the film perhaps releasing in 2021, Indian film fans, particularly from the Punjabi community might have an issue.

A major bone of contention is whether Aamir Khan will speak up about the Indian farmers protest?

Playing a Punjabi in the title role, may not be enough to attract his target audience  One individual was calling for the boycott of the film well in advance on Twitter:

“You guys have to remember that Aamir khan didn’t say s**t about the farmers protest and he has laal singh chaddha as an upcoming film which he’s playing a sikh in. Please don’t watch the film. Note this down already.”

In Aamir’s defence, he rarely likes to have a say, especially when it comes to matters of political relevance.

His reason for being quiet may have something to do with the past. In 2015, he had spoken about the growing “intolerance” in India.

However, he had to somewhat retract his statement, with ANI reporting Aamir saying:

“I never said India is intolerant, nor did I say I want to leave the country. I was misunderstood.”

Nevertheless, what is stopping Aamir to say some something about this topic? It has become a humanitarian crisis after all.

More importantly, it has become a global talking point amongst people from different communities and walks of life. Does Aamir have much to lose by speaking out?

Perhaps he does not want to embroil himself in something, which can be seen as controversial. Only Aamir can answer this.

Though it has to be said that in 2018, Aamir was vocal about drought-hit farmers in Maharashtra. Supporting the protesting farmers from Mumbai, he said :

“It is necessary for people living in the city to help the farmers and solve their issues.”

What is the reason for Aamir remaining silent on this fresh protest, which is on a much bigger scale?

Interestingly, during 2015 on NDTV’s Walk the Talk show, Aamir was critical of Narendra Modi in connection with the Gujarat riots. Yet he was posing selfies with him in 2019.

Aamir certainly has had a bittersweet relationship with Prime Minister Modi.

It seems Aamir is refraining from making any statement this time around. He is also in a digital detox for Lal Singh Chadha.

Like many, he will be hoping that the Indian farmers protest comes to a successful resolution. He will be banking on the storyline of Lal Singh Chaddha to woo his true fans.

But will he be forced to issue a statement if the film cannot release in Punjab and Haryana?

This is because many people from Punjab and Haryana are also calling for a ban on Bollywood film screenings in their respective provinces. There is a good chance that this may happen.

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Punjabi Stories and Look

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Bollywood films have a history of showcasing Punjabi storylines and characters. Udta Punjab (2016) is a contemporary example of this.

But the big question is will the Indian farmers protest have a bearing on this?

In the short term, it is possible that new films may not feature this element. It also depends on the outcome of the farmers protest and bills.

However, it is hard to convince that this will be a permanent fixture. This is because, Punjabi expressions, humour, dialogues and characters offer something different or unique to a script

Also, the audience has this natural liking for a bubbly Punjabi personality on screen. With many filmmakers being Punjabi and able to speak the language, the tradition cannot finish.

Many male actors have also gone on to play characters, wearing Punjabi attire. This includes dressing up in kurta pyjamas and wearing turbans.

Several questions come to mind. Will we stop seeing actors dressing as Punjabis in films? Will non-Punjabi actors refuse to wear the turban in films? This too has become a big discussion on Twitter.

A furious Kiranjot Kaur Bhinder who supports the farmers protest feels only Punjabi actors should be able to play Punjabi roles.

Amrik highlights that for Punjabis, the turban is a symbol of “sovereignty,” whilst for Bollywood it’s just a “prop.”

Many Punjabi and non-Punjabi actors have previously worn the turban in Bollywood films.

Sanjay Dutt, Saif Ali Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgn, Shah Rukh Khan, Anil Kapoor and Boman Irani are a few to name.

Despite many permutations coming into the equation, it is safe to say that over time optimistically things will level up.

One would imagine that the Bollywood film industry will like to keep a level playing field intact.

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The Indian farmers’ protest can scale much more unless this stalemate with the government comes to a finish. The farmers feel hard done by.

To many, including sympathisers from Bollywood, an attack on the farmers is like attacking Punjab. The farmers definitely want more governmental support.

Trading away their rights to corporates and opening the doors to potential investment from American giants is not acceptable. There is a concern that this will drive farmers to poverty.

Some Bollywood celebrities who are supporting the farmers protest are fully aware of the far-reaching impacts as well.

For example, in the short term, if there is less or no work for them in Mumbai, they will have to find employment elsewhere. This is down to individuals assessing supply and demand and shift focus if necessary.

Celebrities are normally immune to these sort of stand-offs, with some preferring not to weigh in.

The Indian government claim that big international stars and influencers are advocating for the farmers by damaging the image of the country.

Whereas some Bollywood stars seem to be copying and pasting tweets as per Government edict, propagating their views.

They too are indicating that some elements outside of India are vilifying the country, possibly creating anarchy and generating a negative perception.

Furthermore, they are signalling to the outside world the government rhetoric about staying out of India’s internal affairs.

Stars who have spoken against the protests are naturally going to lose popularity, especially with fans who are who support the farmers protest. Thus, those standing with the government are being targeted on social media.

Of course, several Bollywood celebrities who are supporting the government have the Indian people’s interest at heart. It is always one or two who have to spoil the party for everyone.

Overall, Bollywood celebrities in their respective positions who have big followers need to lead by example.

In a democracy like India, freedom of speech or expression is fair and everyone’s right.

However, if an individual in the spotlight does something or conveys a message then there can always be a repercussion. As they say, there is always a reaction to a reaction.

It is easy for anyone to come on Twitter and stand for something or the other. But in the context of the Indian farmers protest, if anyone does not have the right knowledge then abstaining from commenting is not a bad idea.

Here an understanding of social justice, science and economics are paramount before commenting.

Let’s hope the farmers and the government can settle all affairs amicably. Otherwise, things can get out of control, causing more resentment and alienation amongst many, including Bollywood

This will also negate any possible nefarious design, which can harm India.

Meanwhile, most people connected with Bollywood will surely want to return to what they do best. And that is to entertain, inform and inspire through filmmaking, acting, music and dance.

Faisal has creative experience in the fusion of media and communication and research which increase awareness of global issues in post-conflict, emerging and democratic societies. His life motto is: "persevere, for success is near..."

Images courtesy of Reuters/Adnan Abidi, Reuters Danny Moloshok, PTI, ANI, Times of India, BCCI and Instagram.

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