Prakash Raj matters because he refuses to chicken out: Electors must remember vote isn't their only weapon

TS Sudhir

January 19, 2018 15:31:25 IST

In the 2004 superhit Ghilli, Prakash Raj, as the comic yet menacing villain Muthupandi, is obsessed with the character played by Trisha. The flamboyant manner in which he would greet her with an exuberant 'Hi Chellam' remains to date, one of Prakash's most memorable dialogues.

#JustAsking threatens to give 'Hi Chellam' tough competition. This is the hashtag that the actor has used on social media platforms for the last three months while asking, probing and searching uncomfortable questions to those in positions of power.

"There is a narrative in this country that is stopping us from asking. Let us learn to ask,'' says Prakash Raj. "The idea that you should not ask needs to be dropped. We need to get that fear out. Being fearless, being inquisitive is important.''

This is why Prakash Raj matters.

He matters because he is raising his voice at a time when many others have pressed the mute button unto themselves. He matters because some others have been silenced by the onslaught of the trolls by being brusquely told to apply for a visa to Pakistan. He matters because the electors need to remember that a vote is not the only weapon they have in their hands to send a message to the elected. He matters because in this silence of the lambs, his #JustAsking gives hope that there is prakash at the end of the tunnel.

The provocation for the actor to start asking questions was the manner in which some people reacted to the killing of his friend, journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru in September last year. What upset him, like many others in the country, was that some of those who celebrated Gauri's murder on Twitter, were being followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Prakash Raj's argument is that by not unfollowing them or deriding them publicly, the PM is sending across a message. In his book therefore, his Prime Minister has failed citizen Prakash Raj with his silence.

File image of actor Prakash Raj. Image courtesy/Facebook

File image of actor Prakash Raj. Image courtesy/Facebook

Along with Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada cinema, Prakash Raj does a considerable amount of work in Hindi cinema and is the go-to bad-man for several prominent filmmakers. During a chat, the author pointed out to him that his outspokenness, be it over Padmaavat or S Durga, is in sharp contrast to the manner in which Bollywood biggies have kept mum over the same controversies.

The most telling episode was when Karan Johar succumbed to pressure from MNS leader Raj Thackeray over the presence of a Pakistani actor in his film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. Raj reasons that stars like Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan have paid the price for speaking out. What is, therefore, appealing in Prakash Raj's case is that he has refused to chicken out.

"Aamir Khan was sidelined because he spoke about his wife expressing anguish. Till these guys attacked Aamir, I never saw Aamir as a Muslim, he was a fantastic actor who gave us a movie like `Lagaan'. Shahrukh was attacked for talking about intolerance. It is not a healthy democracy if these sort of things happen,'' says Raj.

Predictably, his detractors have looked at Prakash Raj's outburst through the political prism. He has come under fierce attack from many of them belonging to the saffron parivar. Some BJP activists cleaned the stage in Sirsi this week where he had criticised the move to rewrite the Constitution of India, with cow urine. This is also because the BJP suspects Raj's #JustAsking and verbal attacks on Modi are sponsored by the Congress party.

Partly this suspicion is because Prakash Raj's queries come at a time when two of his illustrious co-stars Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth have taken the political plunge, looking for a viable second innings. That has raised doubts about whether Prakash's pinch-hitting is with an eye to prepare a political pitch for himself. At least so far, Raj claims he has no such roadmap. He has decided to script a more basic approach, to demand accountability from those who citizens like him have elected to positions of power.

Prakash claims he meets a lot of people who come up to him to tell him they appreciate what he is asking. This is to say that those who attack him loudly are not really the ones who represent all of India.

In several of his films, Prakash Raj has played a politician, with shades of black or grey. In real life, Raj is attempting a role reversal. And people are finding his off screen persona and his fearless articulation in the world of 280 characters as interesting as the 280-odd characters he has played so far on screen.

Updated Date: Jan 19, 2018 15:31 PM