“Our country is going through the most testing times ever. Though culturally vivid and geographically diverse, we have always stayed united. As a nation. It has indeed been a great feeling to be a citizen of this wonderful country,” begins a letter asking people to not vote for the BJP, signed by 103 filmmakers on the website artistuniteindia.
It goes on to say, “But all that is at stake now. Fascism threatens to strike us hard with all its might if we don’t choose wisely in the coming Lok Sabha election. Period.”
The filmmakers who’ve signed the appeal include Anand Patwardhan, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, Sudevan, Q, Deepa Dhanraj, Gurvinder Singh, Pushpendra Singh, Kabir Singh Chowdhry, Anjali Monteiro, Praveen Morchhale and Aashiq Abu.
The support for the online movement has been mobilised by Sasidharan, the director of Sexy Durga.
“It’s time to speak up. We are facing a lot of problems. Not just filmmakers but the society in itself under threat,” Sasidharan told HuffPost India over the phone. “So we thought remaining silent is no longer an option.”
Sasidharan’s Sexy Durga had faced plenty of hurdles with the Censor Board because its title was perceived to “offend religious sentiments”. It was one of two films that was selected by the International Film Festival of India jury but was dropped arbitrarily days before the screening.
Sasidharan isn’t an exception. Several actors and filmmakers have spoken out against the BJP for perpetuating a culture of hate and fear. In an interview with HuffPost India, Vishal Bhardwaj had said, “Look at what happened with Padmaavat. Today, it’s happening even in areas other than films. Earlier, there was an ideological battle, today, you are targeted personally. Dissent in itself has become synonymous with anti-national. Either you are with us, or against us.”
Bhardwaj was referring to the Karni Sena’s organised protests against Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat.
Naseerudin Shah, veteran theatre and film actor, also spoke out against the mainstreaming of hate.
“There is complete impunity for those who take the law into their own hands,” Shah had said. “We have already witnessed that the death of a cow has more significance [in today’s India] than that of a police officer,” referring to the Bulandshahr violence where a police officer was killed by a mob.
When HuffPost asked Sasidharan why no Bollywood filmmaker has found a mention in the list of signatories, he said that they didn’t reach out to them.
“They may not want to come out openly. Maybe they don’t want to indulge in this campaign. But we didn’t reach out to them,” he said.
Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, about 60 film personalities, largely from Bollywood, had made an appeal to vote against the BJP. Imtiaz Ali, Vishal Bhardwaj, Nandita Das, Govind Nihalani, Saeed Mirza, Zoya Akhtar, Nandita Das, Kabir Khan, Mahesh Bhatt, Shubha Mudgal and Aditi Rao Hydari were just some of the names that were part of that campaign.
However, this time, there has been a stoic silence from Bollywood when it comes to taking a political stand. In a recent interview, Alia Bhatt and Ranveer Singh both refrained from taking a political stand.
A filmmaker said on condition of anonymity, “A lot of big names in Bollywood have major, multi-crore films coming in. Nobody wants to risk any potential threats. Nobody has forgotten what happened with both Padmaavat and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.”
Even before these two movies, actors such as Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan were viciously trolled and cinemas playing their films attacked when they spoke about rising intolerance in India.
Sasidharan, however, is hopeful that actors who haven’t signed the appeal will still share the message on their social media.
“We are also translating it into regional languages for a wider impact. We hope mainstream film actors help us in mobilising this message.”