Deepika Padukone once cried crocodile tears when film journalist, Rajeev Masand, asked why Bollywood stars rarely take a stance on the country or the world’s social ills. “Bollywood is always crucified, for no reason!” she snapped back. Crucifixion might be a tad bit melodramatic but Deepika was right in that many Indians are fed up of Bollywood’s apathy to the country’s malaise – the fact, for example, that 76 million Indians do not have access to drinking water is rarely if ever shed light on by Bollywood personalities, many of whom millions of Indians look up to.
Remaining indifferent to a socio-economic pandemic is not quite the same as belittling it however, which Priyanka Chopra has done recently.
On the cover of the October issue of Conde Nast Traveller, Chopra is seen modelling a t-shirt that has the peon labels “refugee” and “immigrant” crossed off but has a check mark next to the word “traveler”, a word with a much more positive connotation.
What Chopra doesn’t seem to understand is that, as a privileged, well-t0-do movie star, she is able to assume the role of a “traveler” while the impoverished, despondent millions pouring out of anarchist war zones at this very moment, can’t.
We are indeed witnessing the worst refugee crisis since World War II with millions of Syrians, Afghanis, Iranians and North Africans sacrificing their lives and their children’s lives to make the dangerous journey to Europe on flimsy, overcrowded boats. Given this context, it would be of immense poor taste for an international megastar of color to glamorously adorn a T-shirt that not only distances herself from the current, extreme suffering of other people of color but also trivializes that suffering.
Chopra has since apologized profusely for this incident and given that, unlike her peers, she has always been a vocal supporter of various worthy causes, we have little doubt that her apology is anything but insincere.
“They (Conde Nast) specially got this (t-shirt) made and implored me to wear it. They said they were addressing xenophobia which is a big issue that is happening,” Chopra told NDTV in an interview.
“So their idea was that. And I bought into it, I guess. And I am really, really apologetic about the fact that sentiments were hurt … The point the magazine wanted to make was actually something good.”
I, for one, don’t blame Conde Nast for the odious imagery and muddled message. After all, it’s most famous publication, Vogue, is a vapid magazine that has no discernible regard to human or animal rights.
But Chopra, a citizen of a country where hundreds of millions live in abject poverty, should have been more astute.