I have learned to expect very little from my favorite Indian actresses. When one of them posts about being a #feminist or actively participates in campaigns for women’s rights I smile and appreciate the work they’re doing, but in reality, it’s all very surface level. You SHOULD be a feminist and you SHOULD be using your fame to propel causes that help fellow females who are deprived of the rights they deserve. However, actresses seem to go mum, lose the powerful voice they once had about women’s rights when a fellow actor says or does something controversial. Numerous Bollywood fans find themselves hurt and angry that their favorites don't say anything against their fellow industry members. They don’t even condemn the words spoken. How can they, though? When Bollywood is still an industry run by men, putting three men with the same last name on a pedestal.
A prime example is seen through the Salman Khan fiasco. While describing his time on the sets of Sultan, Salman stated, "When I used to walk out of the ring, after the shoot, I used to feel like a raped woman. I couldn't walk straight.” The comment spurred outrage across India, and to make matters worse, Salman is yet to apologize for his comments, leaving his father to clean up his mess. Although he received a fair load of backlash for his comment, his film still broke box office records and he still has screaming fans rushing to his side blocking even the slightest hate toward him. And most of his fans are girls... unable to understand the gravity of his ignorant words. Why? Because he’s Salman Khan. Furthermore, people expected his co-star Anushka Sharma to denounce Salman, post his controversial comment during promotions and interviews. This is simply impossible because I’m quite sure that Anushka wants to keep her career intact. She may be one of Bollywood’s most driven and successful feminists and activists, however going against what her very powerful co-star chose to stupidly say, would virtually end her career. Not only was she in the movie but appeared for the first time with the bankable actor, proving she did not know him well nor did she have the ability to openly speak against him if her PR and management wanted her to act with him again. After the movie was released, she noted her distaste for Salman's comment but made sure to include her workplace only relationship with him to lighten the blow. This is the most any mainstream actor said against Salman and it should be lauded widely.
In a broader spectrum, no actresses who attended an event with Salman present, such as the IIFA awards which occurred a few days after his contentious statement, indicated to be against him. Stars such as Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Sonakshi Sinha stood by him as Salman continued to speak lively to audiences and promote his movie, knowing that he had thrown rape in just a few days ago as part of his “light-hearted banter.” These three stars are known to be open “feminists” and “fight toward women’s rights.” They are also three of the most widely sought-after actresses in the industry. However, this is the most they are able to do. People who expect them to go after large stars like Salman, putting their careers on the line are unable to understand that actresses choosing to take part in furthering the rights of women, something that isn’t part of the old fashioned culture of India, is a huge step itself. Surface level commentary given by mainstream actresses is actually seen as groundbreaking and much more advanced than it may be for the ordinary joe. This is simply because their job is not to propel movements and fight for causes but act. If the audience is pleased, actresses will continue what they’re doing, creating some social change but in actuality, just dipping their toes into the massive sea of sensitive social issues. Believe it or not, actresses (and actors) in the industry have certain subjects their PR has labeled a big no-no. And if making a statement against an actor at the degree Salman Khan is at creates a risk to their career, then they will not do it.
It's OK for them to say they are feminists and still want to keep their jobs. Salman is known to be overbearing and pushy when it comes to people speaking against him. Take Vivek Oberoi for example. Has anyone heard from him on the late after his rampage against Salman? (Back in the early 2000s by the way... yeah... that's how much power Salman has). No, not really. If Salman “bhai” Khan has enough platform in Indian media to kick an actor out of the standings then it'd be quite easy for him to destroy the name of an actress in Bollywood, considering media, the industry, and the public still do not give them the respect they deserve. These actresses may HATE what Salman said, and quite frankly hate the prejudiced and backward mentality much of the industry and country has. However, they can only do as much as their team allows them to, if they want to keep their jobs and stay on top. Actresses who do choose to speak out against someone who has as much magnitude as Salman feel more repercussions than we can imagine. As ordinary individuals, we have the ability to say whatever we want to say without a hundred media outlets waiting for us to say something the least bit controversial to eventually twist until you have no choice but to take it back.
Bollywood actresses have no choice but to be bystanders to situations involving their fellow industry mates and touchy subjects such as rape and abuse. Zipping their lips and throwing the key away is the go to move. Even if the words they speak may have the greatest impact and influence.