India has been gripped by a turbulent movement against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, anger levels spiking with every report of police brutality or masked assailants attacking university students. While several intellectuals, academics, activists, artists, and citizens have stood up against the CAA, and some celebrities like Swara Bhasker and Konkona Sen Sharma have been actively supporting the movement, mainstream Bollywood has largely stayed silent, and as many are calling it, spineless.
That is until Monday, January 6, when one of India’s biggest superstars, Deepika Padukone, showed up at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus in Delhi to show solidarity with the students who were attacked, including student party JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh.
In these deeply polarising times, Padukone’s silent stance caused an eruption of outrage among those who thought her support for the students instantly meant she was also opposing the party in power, and that she had chosen a side in a fight increasingly being looked upon as one where two opposing sides are colliding, nuances be damned. What followed was proclamations of this being a “cheap publicity stunt” for her movie, Chhapaak, that hit the theatres today, and that the move means she “supports terrorism”. Soon, #BoycottChhappak started trending on Twitter, alongside supporters of her solidarity making #IStandWithDeepika trend as well.
Now, the government of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Puducherry have announced that the film has been exempted from taxes in the states, to make the tickets more affordable for a wider audience. Not only does this combat the campaign to malign the image of this poignant film that is inspired by the life of acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal, but it also means that a larger audience will now be able to access the stereotype-shattering film with a strong social message against toxic masculinity.
“Deepika Padukone’s film on acid attack survivor, Chhapaak is releasing across the country on January 10. I declare it tax-free in Madhya Pradesh,” MP chief minister Kamal Nath wrote in a tweet. “This film which spreads a positive message regarding the treatment of acid-attack victims in the society, tells the story of their courage, struggle and their passion for life and aims to bring a change in the society’s mentality on the same.”
Meanwhile, a similar demand to make the film tax-free is also being made in Rajasthan, with Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot condemning all those calling for a boycott for their “narrow mindset” and promised that all this controversy would only ensure more people end up watching the film.
Beyond tax exemptions, the film has also received an outpouring of support from people offering to sponsor tickets for NGOs working with underprivileged children.
It’s noteworthy that Padukone is no stranger to extremist threats, with her last film Padmaavat also managing to piss off fringe organisations who even put a bounty on her head and threatened to cut off her nose. While it’s ironic that a film about women empowerment is being used to weaken one woman’s status, Padukone is nonetheless being hailed as the unsung hero of the industry for being the first major celebrity to break the silence.
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