It comes as a shock to no one when celebrities receive backlash in the public court of opinion for their remarks on sensitive issues. In recent weeks, South Indian actress Sai Pallavi, endearingly known as the ‘National Crush of India’, found herself at the receiving end of ruthless trolling due to a comment she made in one of her interviews.
Sai Pallavi has been promoting her new Telugu film ‘Virata Parvam’, inspired by true events of the 1990s, where her character falls in love with a Naxalite leader, played by Rana Daggubati, at the backdrop of the Naxalite Movement of the Telangana region.
Sai Pallavi advocates non-violence and protection of the minority communities. In one of her promotional interviews, on being asked about her political leanings, the actress said that she does not take sides. “I grew up in a neutral family where I was taught to be a good human being. I was taught I should protect the ones who are being hurt. The oppressed should be protected. Irrespective of their stature. I have heard about the left-wing and the right-wing. But, we can never surely tell who’s wrong and who’s right.”
In a similar vein, the actress spoke about Vivek Agnihotri’s 2022 release The Kashmir Files which was widely promoted by the ruling party of India during its release. She said, “The Kashmiri Files showed how Kashmiri Pandits were killed at the time. If you are taking the issue as a religious conflict, recently, a Muslim driver, who was transporting cows, was beaten up and forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram.’ So, where’s the difference between these two incidents? We have to be good human beings. If we are good ones, we won’t hurt others. To answer your question, justice won’t be there either on the side of the right or the left, if you are not a good human being. I’m very neutral. So what I believe is if you are stronger than me, and you are oppressing me, then you are in the wrong. A large number of people oppressing a small group of people is wrong. A battle has to be fought between two equals.”
Following this comment, Sai Pallavi has been subjected to brutal trolling and harsh criticism, mostly from the right-wing supporters who deem mob lynching as a justified reaction to cow transportation. Some even felt that this comparison of the two incidents was uncalled for and belittled the Kashmiri Pandit exodus.
The price of speaking from the heart
In the following week, the actress took to her Instagram to issue a clarification regarding her comment. She began by saying, “This is the first time that I am getting in touch with all to clarify something, and I think this will be the first time that I will be thinking twice before I speak my heart because I am anxious that my words might be misinterpreted.”
Through her post, she once again stressed her stance as politically neutral and the need to be a good human being first.
“In a recent interview, I was asked whether I was a supporter of the left or the right-wing, and I clearly stated that I believe I am neutral and we need to be good human beings first before we identify ourselves with our beliefs. And the oppressed need to be protected at any cost. I don’t think any of us has the right to take another person’s life. Being a medical graduate, I believe that all lives are equal and all lives are important. I hope the day does not come when a child is born, and he or she is scared of his or her identity. I pray we are not heading towards that,” Pallavi said.
Pallavi expressed her disbelief at the internet’s fury when her only intention was to condemn any form of violence, especially when it is done in the name of religion. She clarified her comment on The Kashmir Files.
Silencing a woman’s voice on national television and its far-reaching effects
In India, we rarely see artists or television personalities speaking up on any political issue or advocating any cause that might challenge the ruling party’s stances. In a democracy where freedom of speech is every citizen’s constitutional right, too many people pay a hefty price for having the courage to speak from their hearts.
The actress Sai Pallavi maintains a careful stance of political neutrality from the very beginning, yet she faces severe backlash in the public court of opinion. When the actress says out loud that, “This is the first time I will think twice before speaking my heart”, it sends out an unspoken message that her voice has been successfully silenced.
It took one politically charged comment, one instance of genuine concern for religious intolerance, for the nation’s darling to turn into a vicious figure worthy of harsh trolling. Women around the country watched with horror as the voice of an influential figure like Sai Pallavi was policed as it tried to speak the truth to power.
Patriarchy has long dictated male dominance over political matters and has strived to gag women’s voices from its very premises. Women’s very existence is a political act since our rights are always up for debate in the parliament. Yet, our political opinion and participation are readily monitored and policed with threats of violence.
To preserve their safety and dignity, women have long presented an apolitical stance in public spaces while using alternative methods of political expression in their private spaces. Among women, trans women also have to deal with anti-LGBTQIA+ remarks and a discriminatory system which makes it more challenging for them.
Yet, one must wonder why women should still resort to alternate forms of resistance and not be allowed to engage in direct political discussions without facing severe repercussions. Women like Sai Pallavi are only palatable to the nation when they are known for their beauty, grace, and commercial performances. As soon as the actress asserts her personality beyond her art, as a conscious citizen with political opinions, the larger section of her audience resorts to online harassment to silence her.
This sends out a rippling effect around the country as her female fans learn what might be the price one might have to pay for speaking from their hearts and extending solidarity to the oppressed minorities.
The folly of celebrity activism
On the flip side of all the trolling and hate comments, Sai Pallavi has also been lauded by her fans for speaking up for the minority and promoting non-violence. Celebrity activism in India is flawed at its very premise because artists prioritise retaining their full viewership by presenting an ambiguous, apolitical image rather than speaking up for a cause that might alienate a certain section of the audience.
Also read: The Ugly Underbelly Of Gendered Right Wing Trolling On Social Media
Even then, we tend to posit an enormous amount of faith and importance in the political opinions of our favourite stars. This perverse obsession with a celebrity’s political beliefs tends to overshadow the on-site hard work and struggle that activists regularly engage in. It distracts us from the larger political issues at hand and redirects our energy and time to futile internet arguments that do not translate into any real change.
Also read: Viral Culture: The Toxic, Invasive Trend Of Online Trolling
Featured image source: NDTV