It was indeed a bold speech by the Hollywood actor Meryl Streep at Golden Globe awards where she was conferred with the lifetime achievement award. In a politically charged speech Streep took on the US president-elect Donald Trump, slamming his polarizing and disrespectful politics. She also called on the press “to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage”. She exhorted all in her community to join her “in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Because we're going to need them going forward. And they'll need us to safeguard the truth,” she said.
Streep’s provocation was Trump’s mocking imitation during the campaign of a reporter with a disability. “It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. And I still can't get it out of my head because it wasn't in a movie. It was real life”. She went on to caution how “disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence when the powerful use their position to bully others”.
The speech of Streep, a three time Oscar and 9 times Golden Globe award winner, has cast an unflaterring light on the Bollywood where the celebrities have shied away from taking principled political positions and have preferred to be chummy with those in power. They won’t speak a word in compassion, let alone in criticism, about the human rights excesses, unless, of course, it is politically correct to say it. A case in point is the recent Kashmir unrest which led to 96 killings and several hundred blindings.
The comment on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his brand of politics has been altogether out of bounds for them. One minor and comparably a milder exception was the superstar Aamir Khan who spoke his heart out about the growing intolerance in India during Ramnath Goenka award ceremony in November 2015. But no sooner did he make the remarks, all hell broke loose. There was a vertical divide on the issue not only across India but also across Bollywood. In fact, Bollywood was split down the middle with actors, directors and singers expressing their opinions for and against the remarks by Khan. Some of the artists like Anupam Kher were very harsh their reaction. Their opinions invoked Khan's religious identity as the reason for his speaking against intolerance.
This is only one of the problems with India of today: an opinion is not judged by its content but by who is saying it and primarily the religious identity of the person. And Muslims are at the receiving end here. However, Streep’s speech has also tellingly exposed the deeper hypocrisy in Bollywood and among India’s other celebrities as a whole. All of them would rather be on the right side of the power. None of them as a privileged individual with a voice will dare take a just stand on any issue of social or political importance should it appear to clash with the government. A predominant majority of them would rather be yes men. The demonitisation is yet another example. Most of the Bollywood including even Aamir Khan have sought to be its cheerleaders. Bollywood needs its version of a Meryl Streep to give it courage to take a stand.