Has Bollywood found its political voice, thanks to Deepika Padukone?

Posted In: News Date:Jan 11th, 2020

Fearing a backlash from fans, politicians and religious zealots, Bollywood stars have in the past usually steered clear of India's fiery politics. But the country's top actress may have changed that.

Signalling a possible generational shift, Deepika Padukone waded into a sea of student protesters in Delhi on Tuesday night, evoking loud cheers from the surprised crowd.

Few had any inkling that Padukone would attend the demonstration at a prestigious university where the left-leaning student body has long been in the crosshairs of India's ruling party.

Her appearance sparked a social media war between those wanting her new film boycotted -- suggesting her only motive was publicity for the movie which released Friday -- and others applauding her courage.

Either way, many said the moment marked a watershed in India's multi-billion-dollar Hindi movie industry.

"It was a gutsy move," said Mumbai-based novelist and commentator Shobhaa De, and reflected a "big shift" for Bollywood.

"Stars today understand that their constituency is young India, and young India respects people who speak up," De told AFP.

In a country where obedience to elders is all but enshrined in law, young Indians are demanding the right to be heard, protesting against everything from university fee hikes to most recently a new citizenship law criticised as anti-Muslim.

And in an age ruled by social media, even movie stars are not insulated from the issues that matter to their fans.