Nawazuddin Siddiqui is an Indian actor. Did Devgn take a stand for him? For his fellow actor? Against Muslim hating bigots who banned him from appearing in a Ram Leela? No? Then please just sit down.
Ajay Devgn (as he likes to be called these days) has been in the news lately and no, it’s not because his home-production movie, Shivaay, is about to hit theatres soon (since when has any Bollywood star ever done that?), but simply, because for him “the country comes first”.
In the aftermath of the Uri attacks, he is unsure if dialogue with Pakistan is an option anymore, “You can’t clap with one hand”, says Ajay. Noting that talks that had not yielded any positive results, he asks, “After the Uri and surgical strike, has it stopped? At this point of time, I go and talk? You can’t.” One wonders, then, what is there that one can do? Fret not, he has the answer: Support the security forces.
On the Times Now channel, looking straight into the eyes of the interviewer, he says, “I think, whenever there’s anything which happens anywhere in the world, we all take a stand”. Somewhere irony died a slow painful death when he said those words. Obviously, here the usage of the words ‘anything’ and ‘anywhere’ needs to be taken in context. ‘Anything’ but communal tension and violence led by far-right nationalists (like by Shiv Sena in the case of forcing Nawazuddin Siddiqui out of a Ram Leela show), and ‘anywhere’ but Kashmir (where the ongoing unrest has entered its 94th day with security forces killing over 90 Kashmiris and injuring over 10,000 people).
Of course, in the ‘interest of the nation’, these issues just have to be brushed aside. As some would say, these are just minor casualties. Like the recent death of a 12-year-old Kashmiri boy, Junaid Ahmed, who was hit by a barrage of pellets when the security forces opened fire. Like the death of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri who was lynched and brutally murdered in front of his family over suspicion of beef consumption. These are just stray, isolated incidents that have no bearing on its people or on the socio-political-cultural fabric of the nation.
Supporting the ban on Pakistani artists in Indian films, Devgn says, “I need to keep the morale of the army high. That person who is fighting out there should know that we are with him, and that he is not isolated.” One wonders, about the morale of Akhlaq’s son, working in the Indian Air Force. Sartaj Saif lost his father and then saw one of the accused being described as a ‘martyr’, his dead body wrapped in the national tricolour, with communal speeches made at his funeral. How isolated, to say the very least, must he have felt. Does the ‘morale’ of this serviceman matter? Does the loss of this son matter? Does justice matter? Why is Devgn silent?
Defending the ban on Pakistani artists, Ajay Devgn says, “Bullets and culture can’t go together”, and yet they do, every single day in Kashmir – and every single time Bollywood decides to shoot its next movie in the picturesque Valley.
Raising questions at Pakistani artists for not condemning the Uri attacks (enough), Ajay says, “We feel hurt. It is unfair if you come here. You get so much of love from our audiences. They get the adulation from our people. They should have at least spoken about it.” In the past four months of turmoil that has killed dozens, blinded scores and injured thousands of people in Kashmir – a place that the Bollywood film industry routinely benefits from (and as has historically benefitted from) – one wonders to what extent Ajay Devgn has “at least spoken about” the current political climate surrounding Kashmir. Hasn’t he received ‘love and adulation’ from its people?
Citing the difficulties of Pakistani artists, Ajay Devgn claims, that’s probably because they don’t live in a democracy, “We are a democracy. I can say what I want. They (Pakistani artists) are in a nation eventually they have to live there. Can they take a stand? What is going to happen? That is not democracy.” I’m not sure what country Devgn seems to be living in because in this country even asking questions about the current government, the army’s role, and its functioning, can lead one to be charged with sedition or branded as ‘anti-national’. But, if he truly believes what he says and holds it to be true, then what possible reasons does he have to not speak against what’s taking place in Kashmir at the moment or in the other parts of the country.
He calls this act of Pakistani artists “double standards”. But, what ‘standards’ does he or Bollywood, in general, uphold? They remain willfully silent in the face of injustice and the sheer naked violence that the Indian state machinery subjects the people of Kashmir, the Northeast and central India to on a daily basis. As we know, complying with standards, is not Bollywood’s strongest suit. Bollywood is like Gutka and Vimal Pan Masala ads (that Devgn happily endorses) in that it fails to comply with standards. The reality is that tobacco brands like Vimal, which Ajay Devgn proudly fronts for via surrogate advertising, and for which he has been issued a compliance notice in the past, poses a far graver threat to the people of this country than any external threat. A recent report from the World Health Organisation suggests that about 2,500 Indians die daily (that’s over 9 lakh people a year) due to tobacco related diseases. How about we hear a word from Ajay Devgn on that.
Prerna Bakshi is a writer, poet and activist, a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of the recently released book, Burnt Rotis, With Love, long-listed for the 2015 Erbacce-Press Poetry Award in the UK and cited as one of the ‘9 Poetry Collections That Will Change The Way You See The World’ by Bustle in the US.