An Indian actor who joined students protesting against the government has been subjected to calls on social media for a boycott of her upcoming film, as well as drawing praise for being a rare Bollywood A-lister to stand up against a crackdown on dissent.
Deepika Padukone stood silently behind students chanting anti-government slogans at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi on Tuesday evening, surprising many in a country where top film stars typically avoid politics.
Students at JNU, regarded as a leftwing bastion, have protested for months against an announced rise in fees as well as a new citizenship law, which critics say discriminates against Muslims and erodes India’s secular constitution.
Masked men wielding sticks stormed the JNU campus on Sunday, injuring about 30 people.
Students and some faculty blamed the assault on a student union with ties to the prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party. The student union has denied these allegations, blaming leftwing groups for the violence.
Pictures circulating online showing Padukone standing behind an injured student leader, whose head was covered in a bandage, appeared on social media, raising calls for a boycott of her film Chhapaak (Splash), which is due to be released on Friday.
“#BoycottChhapaak” was Twitter’s top trending topic in India on Wednesday, with more than 350,000 tweets on the subject. The film is based on the true story of a woman who survived an acid attack and rebuilt her life.
“What a brazen & cheap tactic to promote a film!” wrote one Twitter user about Padukone, while another added: “She chooses JNU where leftists who want to break India dominate!”
Some Bollywood figures lauded Padukone, and vowed to support the film.
“Let’s all those who stand against the violence go to @bookmyshow and show them,” tweeted the actor and filmmaker Anurag Kashyap.
Padukone, who starred in the 2017 action film xXx: Return of Xander Cage with Vin Diesel, did not appear to have made any statement on Tuesday. She was not available for comment on Wednesday, her spokeswoman said.
The protests sweeping India in recent weeks have posed a dilemma for Bollywood, which has some big-name Muslim actors but is sensitive to the sentiments of the country’s Hindu majority.
“The reason why a whole lot of stars back away from making statements is because they are afraid of the consequences it will have on their films,” said the brand consultant and columnist Santosh Desai. “To do this so close to a film is certainly risky.”
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