If you’re a desi person on twitter, you have definitely come across the Ayesha Malik-Priyanka Chopra feud that’s been trending #1 for the past week.
Malik confronted Priyanka Chopra at a BeautyCon event in Los Angeles about her February 26, 2019 tweet “Jai Hind #Indian Armed Forces”, which the actor posted after the Balakot airstrike conducted by the Indian Army in Pakistan as a response to the Pulwama suicide attack that killed 40 CRPF personnel. She accused her of “encouraging nuclear war” and being a “hypocrite” since she served as a UN Goodwill Ambassador for Peace.
Jai Hind #IndianArmedForces 🇮🇳 🙏🏽
— PRIYANKA (@priyankachopra) February 26, 2019
Chopra responded in a rather patronising way, asking Malik if she was done “venting” and then went on to say that she has “many many friends from Pakistan” and that “war is not something she is fond of” and ultimately justified her tweet by saying that she is patriotic. Moreover, she accused Malik of using an aggressive tone with her and called for love and peace while fans cheered her on in the background.
Hi, I’m the girl that “yelled” at Priyanka Chopra.
It was hard listening to her say, “we should be neighbors and love each other” — swing that advice over to your PM.
Both India and Pakistan were in danger. And instead she tweeted out in favor for nuclear war.
— Ayesha Malik (@Spishaa) August 11, 2019
Malik’s tweet of the conversation has been retweeted over 100,000 times with many supporting her for her courage and bravery in standing up to a powerful person like Priyanka Chopra. Alternatively, others have called her action a cheap political tactic and have criticized her for asking an inflammatory political question out of the blue at a beauty event. On her part, Malik defended herself by saying that she did what she did, to attract international attention to the repression of Kashmiris by the Indian state and has since posted links about Kashmir on her ever-growing twitter account.
Chopra responded in a rather patronising way, asking Malik if she was done “venting” and then went on to say that she has “many many friends from Pakistan” and that “war is not something she is fond of” and ultimately justified her tweet by saying that she is patriotic.
Whatever Malik’s motivations may be, this entire saga raises crucial questions about the political responsibility of celebrities. Bollywood is infamous for trying to be ‘apolitical’; after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35(A) which caused significant ripples in the country and on our news channels. Not a single ‘A-list’ actor including Amitabh Bacchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone and so on, spoke out for or against the decision. Their twitter and Instagram accounts remained suspiciously quiet, and became active a day or two later with content about their personal lives.
Celebrities avoid giving their opinion on political issues because they need to remain marketable to as many as possible and taking a stand may mean upsetting people and risk losing fans and followers. Not only that, in the current political climate, speaking out against a decision taken by the government often means exposing oneself to a barrage of trolls and possibly threats to one’s family and loved ones too. Very recently, Anurag Kashyap was compelled to deactivate his twitter account and leave the social media website, when his daughter received threats following his tweets criticising the BJP government’s removal of Article 370.
So, although it is understandable why celebrities may want to keep mum on certain issues, as it may be bad for business and because it leaves them vulnerable to threats and possibly more, the truth is that being politically “neutral” and allowing the status quo to remain as it is necessarily means allowing injustice to continue—a political statement in itself.
Malik defended herself by saying that she did what she did, to attract international attention to the repression of Kashmiris by the Indian state and has since posted links about Kashmir on her ever-growing twitter account.
Moreover, while celebrities may not explicitly comment on political issues, this does not mean that the industry does not produce political content. This past year saw the release of extremely nationalistic movies like Uri and The Accidental Prime Minister, that too around the time of elections—a clear sign of how some in the industry were showing support for the BJP government, again a political statement.
Further, not everyone in the industry has remained quiet. Many (relatively) less popular celebrities like Ekta Kapoor, Vikrant Massey and Vivek Oberoi have all come out in support of the decision and some like Anurag Kashyap and Made in Heaven stars Shashank Arora and Arjun Mathur have dared to oppose and speak out against it. If they have the courage to do so, surely, big names with immense wealth and power and resources can try to stand by their ideals and speak their mind thus, giving a voice to millions who don’t have the platform that they do?