While responding to a trending Twitter hashtag that is calling for the boycott of his upcoming film Laal Singh Chaddha, actor Aamir Khan said, “Please don’t boycott my films, please watch them.” The posts calling for a boycott of the film recalled a controversy from 2015 when Khan had said he was alarmed by the incidents of growing “intolerance” in India and that his then-wife Kiran Rao had suggested they should probably leave the country. Since then, the actor has been careful not to make a single controversial statement. Responding to calls that his new, much-awaited film be shunned, Khan said he loves India and requested fans to not think otherwise. “I really love the country… That’s how I am. It is rather unfortunate if some people feel that way. I want to assure everyone that it’s not the case so please don’t boycott my films, please watch them,” he added.
It is disappointing how boycott/cancel culture has evolved into a phrase that is all over the news and tossed around in numerous social media conversations like it is not a big deal.
The roots of cancel culture are concealed in a quest to attain some form of meaningful accountability from public figures who are typically answerable to no one. But after centuries of ideological debate turning over questions of free speech, censorship, and, in recent decades, “political correctness,” it was perhaps inevitable that the cancel culture debate has now become about how we communicate within a right versus the wrong framework.
The core concern of cancel culture — accountability — remains as crucial a topic as ever. However, the central question is not whether we can hold one another accountable, but how can we ever forgive.
Why is it unfair to call for boycott of Laal Singh Chaddha?
While one part of the practice can mean re-investigating our past under newly forged restrictions, the practice of re-circulating Khan’s old statements ahead of each of his film’s releases seems a bit unfair. Because a movie never belongs to just its lead actors alone, thousands of workforce and creative minds put in hard work and time to bring out that magic on the silver screen. This cultural movement has dramatically impacted art. Hence, to decide the film’s fate even before its release seems quite unjust.
Allowing people to choose what they want to see ensures a vibrant artistic climate. And rather than trying to shut movies down before they reach the box office, activists should instead reach out to audience upon seeing the film and ask if the perspectives presented resonated with them or offended them instead.
At its worst, this boycott culture curtails speech. It threatens the longstanding fundamental freedom. If we limit speech by cancelling those we disagree with, other societal pillars also face peril. When expression is compromised, which freedom is next?
Within the realm of good faith, the cancel culture will produce conversation around these questions, combat wrong behaviour and promote social justice. But taken in bad faith, it will attack all even at the merest sign of dissent.
In an interview, Kareena Kapoor Khan, who plays the female lead in Laal Singh Chaddha, opened up about the boycott trend. She said, “I am like ‘It’s a film and it’s going to release and everyone will have their opinion.’ So that’s it. If it’s a good film, I believe that it will surpass anything, pretty much, the response will be good. I think that good films will surpass anything.”
Khan’s grovelling public avowal of love and loyalty towards his country subsets his enormous contribution to Indian cinema. Perhaps Laal Singh Chaddha will get through the stern eye of bizarre offence-mongers, perhaps not, and only time will tell that. Meanwhile let’s hope creative freedom survives the scrutiny and gets its due.
An official remake of Forrest Gump, Laal Singh Chaddha releases in theatres on 11 August.
Suggested Reading: The Conflict Of Cancel Culture: Is It A Catch-22 Situation?