CELEBRITIES AND THEIR CELEBRIATISM

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Priyanka Chopra, an eminent Bollywood actress who was appointed a UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 2010 and 2016, recently came under fire over a tweet she posted in February amid escalating tensions between India and Pakistan in the disputed Kashmir region.

Ayesha Malik, a 28-year-old Pakistani-American, had spent an uneventful Saturday at BeautyCon, a beauty festival in Los Angeles, until she was handed the mic at a Q&A with the Indian actor Priyanka Chopra. BeautyCon chat is usually more cashmere than Kashmir, but Chopra had been waxing lyrical about her humanitarian activities, which displeased Ayesha.

“It was kind of hard hearing you talk about humanity, because, as your neighbor, a Pakistani, I know you are a bit of a hypocrite,” she said, referencing a tweet that Chopra had sent in support of the Indian armed forces on 26 February, the same day India conducted airstrikes in Pakistan. “You are a UNICEF ambassador for peace and you are encouraging nuclear war against Pakistan,” Ayesha continued.

Priyanka disagreed; after the microphone was grabbed from Ayesha, the former Miss World responded that “war is not something that I’m really fond of, but I am patriotic”. The confrontation was captured on camera and went viral, prompting headlines internationally.

Celebrities are no longer just entertainers; they are activists and thought-leaders. There doesn’t seem to be a single celebrity who hasn’t claimed a cause as their own. Kim Kardashian has prison reform; Emma Watson has feminism; Leonardo DiCaprio is fighting the climate crisis; and Madonna has taken it upon herself to save Malawi. I could go on for ever and ever – the celebrity without a cause or a fancy UN title is a rare beast these days.

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Sonam Kapoor Ahuja is one of many other Bollywood celebrities who came forward and spoke about the Kashmir situation that’s been the politically charged hot topic in the country. Like most celebrities, she too holds a huge sway on public (movie-goer) opinion and like any celebrity, her words were placed under the scanner. Between the woke opinion-makers and endless twitter threads, it can be easy for a single line to catch the attention of naysayers and Sonam Kapoor recently ended up making several dicey comments.

“It’s heartbreaking to see where the situation has landed right now but I am very patriotic.”…“So for me now it’s better to keep quiet and let this pass because even this too shall pass. Our country was one country, like, 70 years ago and the fact that there is so much divisive politics at play is really heartbreaking,” – Sonam Kapoor

After advocating a passive stance in times of political jeopardy, Sonam Kapoor, to her credit, admitted to knowing nothing about the situation and having little information that has been skewered further by the government and the press.

“I think it’s very complicated and I don’t understand it as much because there is so much contrary news everywhere so I don’t really know what the truth is. I believe in having peaceful discourse and understanding what’s going on. So when I have the complete information is when I think I can give an opinion.” – Sonam Kapoor

And then came material central to angry reactions that are now catching fire on the internet. Sonam was quick to condemn the ban on artists and laws that make it hard for actors and production houses to release their projects across the border. The precarious, tense situation of Kashmir didn’t get her riled up enough but the idea of banning films sure got her attention.

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Of course, celebrity activism isn’t new. The American comedian Danny Kaye was made a UNICEF ambassador in 1954; Harry Belafonte helped organized the 1965 Selma march; Jane Fonda campaigned against the Vietnam war; and the Beatles refused to play in front of racially segregated audiences. But only in recent years has such activism gone mainstream. We have started to take famous people increasingly seriously. We listen to medically unqualified actors’ opinions on vaccines; we take dietary advice from online influencers; we elect reality TV stars, comedians and cricketers as heads of state. Everything is showbiz now and the line between politics, activism and entertainment is almost invisible.

Pakistan’s Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari sent a letter to UN, seeking the removal of Priyanka Chopra as their Goodwill Ambassador. In the letter, Mazari wrote that Priyanka Chopra has publicly endorsed the Indian government’s position on Kashmir. The minister wrote that Priyanka has supported ‘the nuclear threat issued to Pakistan by the Indian Defence Minister’.

Huma Nawab

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