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Sensemaker audio

Bollywood politics

Bollywood politics

Why one of Bollywood’s biggest stars, Kangana Ranaut, has been removed from Twitter. 

transcript

Nimo Omer: Hi, I’m Nimo – and this is Sensemaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, the queen of Bollywood who got involved in a political catfight, and in doing so…  may have just got herself cancelled.

***

“She’s one of the most bankable stars in Bollywood today, with a career that’s seen her play everything from supermodel to a schizophrenic and a shape shifting newtant.”

Richelle Harrison, France 24

Kangana Ranaut is the queen of Bollywood. Once called the “new face of India”, she was an industry outsider who quickly became a superstar in the Indian film industry. And she’s known for having an opinion.

“I’m talking to you, please look at me because I am personally answering your question so that you can be satisfied.”

Kangana Ranaut

Kangana Ranaut’s been on the warpath in Bollywood.

Since she first shot to fame in 2006, she’s done things her own way. She’s confronted some of the industry’s biggest names, accusing them of nepotism. She says it stops outsiders like her from having a shot at stardom. 

“Not because someone doesn’t speak English, or someone has sweat patches because they have come in a rickshaw for an audition or someone is sharing an apartment with ten people in an uncool location. They shouldn’t be shamed for that and the doors shouldn’t be shut in their faces because of that.”

Kangana Ranaut speaking about nepotism

And because of her strong opinions, she’s faced a backlash from other players in Bollywood… 

“I mean you cannot be this victim at every given point of time who has a sad story to tell about how you have been terrorised by the bad world of the industry. Leave it. Who is forcing you at gunpoint to be in the movies? Leave, do something else.”

Karan Johar speaking at the London School of Economics’ SU India Forum

But Kangana Ranaut’s battle is much more complex than you might think and on Tuesday, Twitter permanently suspended Kangana Ranut’s account, alleging that she’d repeatedly violated the platform’s rules on hate speech and abusive behaviour, and incited violence.

So the question is: did Twitter do the right thing? And in doing so… is Kangana Ranaut, bollywood’s superstar, about to get cancelled? 

***

So what exactly did Kangana Ranut say on Twitter to cause such a backlash? 

Well first, we need to talk Indian politics. 

India’s ruling party is the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, led by prime minister Narenda Modi. 

Last Sunday, an opposition party in West Bengal defeated prime minister Narenda Modi’s party in a key state election… and when the results came out, violence erupted.

“BJP claims that its offices in Arambag were set on fire. TMC insists that they are not to blame for this and within hours not one, not two, but multiple incidents of violence, of arson, and murder were reported. I can hardly wait to get to work in the morning.”

India Today news report

Supporters of Narenda Modi’s party, who’d just lost, were targeted and at least eleven people were killed.  Modi had invested lots of time and money into campaigning in the state, and in doing so, was accused of focusing too much on the polls rather than the pandemic. 

In response to the violence, Kangana Ranut tweeted to her three million followers that Modi should resort to his old leadership style of gangster tactics to “tame” the opposition party. This… didn’t go down well.

Many interpreted her tweet as calling for a repeat of the 2002 Gujarat riots, where, with Modi in charge, thousands of Muslims were killed as Hindu mobs burnt their neighbours alive and raped women and children. 

“The fact is the kind of tweets she puts out, she has an immense following in the right wing, and there are people who follow her blindly.”

Times Now news report

***

Kangana Ranaut’s tweet immediately drew outrage and was reported thousands of times… and that’s when Twitter stepped in.

“In fact, we are being told that her Twitter account has been suspended.”

Times Nownews report

According to Twitter’s policy page, a permanent suspension is the company’s “most severe enforcement action”.

Now, of course, we’ve been here before…

“Mr Trump lost his primary megaphone overnight when Twitter permanently shut down his personal account, breaking off his connection with nearly 90 million followers.”

CBS This Morning

And yesterday, we learnt that Facebook’s Oversight Board chose to uphold their ban on Donald Trump using both Facebook and Instagram, at least for the next six months. 

Platforms like Twitter and Facebook spent their first decade branding themselves as spaces for free speech. In reality, it was an easy excuse to get out of moderating their platforms… but now, it’s clear they’re getting bolder about blocking prominent figures who violate their rules.

As for Kangana’s own response to Twitter, she said, and I quote, “Twitter has only proved my point. They’re Americans and by birth, a white person feels entitled to enslave a brown person, they want to tell you what to think, speak or do.”

“I have many platforms I can use to raise my voice.”

It looks like Kangana Ranaut isn’t going anywhere anytime soon but from Twitter’s perspective, Kangana’s Bollywood lights have been turned off for good. 

Today’s story was written and produced by Imy Harper.


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