Indian actors have been very vocal in the last week in the encouragement of their country going to war with Pakistan. The list of actors spewing vitriol includes Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut, Ajay Devgan and Salman Khan. “Anyone who lectures about non-violence and peace at this time should be painted black, put on a donkey and slapped by everyone on the streets,” said Kangana, losing her whole Pakistani fanbase in one go.

The question has been asked on Twitter, why is this so? These people are artists, and cultural peace and exchange will only help their films. Priyanka Chopra, ironically, is also a UN Goodwill ambassador.

There is, of course, a political reason behind this hate, beyond the explanation that these people are just hateful/spiteful/war-mongering right-wingers.

Cobrapost is an Indian non-profit journalism company founded in 2003. This year, a sting operation titled ‘Operation Karaoke’ conducted by Cobrapost exposed over 35 Bollywood celebrities who were willing to promote political parties ahead of the 2019 elections for cash. These celebs were happy to promote a political party in their social media. Some even agreed to defend the government on controversial issues such as rapes and fatal accidents such as a bridge collapse.

This included famous names like Vivek Oberoi, Kailash Kher, Mahima Chaudhry, Sunny Leone, Ameesha Patel, Jackie Shroff, Shakti Kapoor, Rakhi Sawant... asking for crores. Many revealed they had already been hired by various political parties for promotion on social media. However, some like Vidya Balan and Arshad Warsi refused the proposal. Some of them have reportedly already gone to the extent of tweeting without having been paid any money to show their eagerness. Vivek Oberioi is rumoured to soon appear in a Narendra Modi biopic.

There clearly a Bollywood-political party nexus, which we knew anyway, considering the increasing number of Indian films being released that are anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan like Padmaavat and Raazi. There is bullying by the BJP and patronage links between the Shiv Sena and Bollywood that have been well researched in academia but never brought up in the Indian news media, which itself seems compromised.

In 2016 the BJP ran an online campaign against actor Aamir Khan for his comments on intolerance in the country at the time where important writers were returning their awards back to the government in protest of BJP’s repression of free speech. Aamir Khan was later dropped as brand ambassador by Snapdeal, an Indian e-commerce firm and had to make amends with the party. Aljazeera reports that between 2013 and 2015, the BJP ran “malicious and sexist” campaigns online against opponents and prominent journalists. Before the last elections that brought Modi to power, Amitabh Bachchan is said to have played a key role in positioning the spotlight on Modi, before he could possibly be India’s Prime Minister. It was Bachchan’s endorsement of Gujarat tourism that helped build his prime ministerial image across the country. After Modi come to power Bachchan was appointed as an ambassador for the Swachh Bharat campaign. In 2015, Shahrukh Khan spoke about intolerance in India and in response, Yogi Adityanath (Current Uttar Pradesh CM, BJP), compared the actor to Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed and threatened to boycott this films so that Khan would be left wandering on the streets like an “ordinary Muslim” - as if being Muslim was an expletive. Khan obviously had to apologise. Akshay Kumar is the BJP’s poster boy, making as many pro-government films as he can, and waving saffron flags at universities.

Bal Thackeray was an Indian politician who founded the Shiv Sena, a right-wing pro-Marathi and Hindu nationalist party active mainly in the state of Maharashtra. He had long been a patron and friend to Bollywood stars, and the BJP allied Shiv Sena workers see themselves as the archetypical national hero of Indian movies. They are violent and anti-Muslim and this can also be seen in Thackeray cartoons and speeches for decades. In 2016, activists from the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena smeared black paint on the face of Sudheendra Kulkarni, a former diplomat, at the book launch of Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister Khurshid Ahmed Kasuri in Mumbai. In 1998, Dilip Kumar is said to have had a fallout with Thackeray, when the latter demanded the actor to return the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, Pakistan’s highest civilian award. In 2010, the Shiv Sena threatened to stop the release of Shahrukh Khan’s film, My Name is Khan, over the actor’s remarks favouring inclusion of Pakistani cricketers in the Indian Premier League.

Such facts lead one to believe that many of these actors probably don’t even need to be bribed to spew hate on social media against Pakistan. Their careers depend on their projection of Hindutva-fuelled ideologies.

What this means for us is that it is going to be a tough time for Pakistan (and Muslims) until the Indian elections. The Indian pop-culture and media machinery seems staunchly behind, or sold to, some of the most myopic and violent parties. If Bollywood was not so powerful in its international and domestic projection of a restrained, peaceful and colourful India it may not have mattered that much. But when Indian idols and icons publically hate Pakistan, the Indian people will too. The demand for peace, de-escalation and cultural exchange just will cease to exist in India if this keeps up. The common Pakistani is already a caricature in the minds of most Indians who have never seen our art, TV, books or music. We have been very successfully dehumanised by Indian media and politics.

But this also means, that in comparison, our entertainment industry is free. Yes, it’s an infant, it makes mistakes, it is under constant threat of economic collapse or decline, but our actors can say what they want to as individuals. Of course, censorship, propaganda, and cultural/religious taboos still hold the industry back on many accounts, but it has not seemed to suck the humanity out of them. While the damagingly jingoistic uber-nationalist propaganda ready actors exist, it does not seem to define our entertainment industry.

Such a freedom, as small as it may be, must be jealously guarded in the entertainment and cultural arts. Indian media and film have exposed the hate they hold and sugar-coat for the international audience in the last one week. In response, Pakistanis have been characteristically hospitable and patient. The wave of common sense “say no to war” reasoning was refreshing on Twitter and Facebook, and in the intense pressure of another war, gave us something to quietly hold on to and celebrate.