While performing a street play in Sahibabad township, on 1 January 1989, Safdar Hashmi, a member of the Communist Party of India , a playwright and activist, was attacked and murdered by the followers of an election candidate. What followed was unexpected. During the staid Doordarshan coverage of the National Film Festival Awards, Shabana Azmi came on the stage and began to read a protest statement against the murder. She named names. A furor ensued. The debate was not so much about what had happened to Safdar but about Shabana who had in front of the foreign delegates and the media, revealed just how unsafe radical artists were in India.
Many a time, off camera deals have been struck by film makers with political bullies to ensure peace. Today forget critiquing a political leader on a prominent platform, just a random tweet can unleash troll vitriol against anyone. In Hollywood too, from Jane Fonda who got a lot of heat for her visit to Vietnam to film maker Michael Moore who has always been on the wrong side of power to Susan Sarandon who has been critiqued for remaining a Bernie Sanders supporter while most Hollywood luminaries rallied behind Hillary Clinton to Leonardo DiCaprio who used his Oscar win to talk about the imminent danger of global warming to Patricia Arquette who spoke about equal pay for women at the Oscars to Jesse Williams who gave a incinerating speech against black oppression while accepting the Humanitarian Award during the 2016 BET Awards to Brando who sent a native American woman on the Oscar stage after refusing the award in protest against state induced atrocities, celebrities before Streep have used their fame to draw attention to causes they believe in. Though the statement she made of course was powerful, timely and needed to be made.