As slogans of “azadi”, raised by former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar, resonated through the air at JNU, the campus had a surprise guest on Tuesday. At 7.45 pm, Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone arrived at the university to lend solidarity to JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) president Aishe Ghosh. A member of her team said she wanted to “express her anguish at the JNU violence”.
While she did not address the gathering, Padukone, dressed in a black turtleneck, told Ghosh that she was “proud” of her, and asked her to “take care”. Ghosh received 16 stitches on her head and fractured her left hand in the violence that took place on campus on Sunday, when masked men ran riot inside the university for more than two hours.
While police have filed an FIR in connection with Sunday’s violence, two more FIRs have been filed over alleged vandalism on campus on January 1 and 4. Ghosh is named in both those FIRs, which were filed by police at Vasant Kunj (North) police station on Sunday night, when the violence on campus was at its peak. Padukone, in the city for promotion of her upcoming film Chhapaak, based on the life of acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal, is learnt to have decided to make an impromptu visit to the university. See photos
A faculty member who facilitated her entry on campus said she entered from the East Gate, from where she was taken straight to the Sabarmati T-point, where Kanhaiya Kumar had just finished his speech as part of the JNUTA and JNUSU’s programme against violence on campus. Padukone stepped out of her silver car, surrounded by her staff, and was led inside the circle where Ghosh, Kumar, JNUSU vice-president Saket Moon and others were sitting.
Sources said Padukone had come only to “express solidarity” and had decided she would not speak at the protest — a fact that Ghosh said she communicated to her as well.
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As the crowd, initially taken by surprise, realised a celebrity was in their midst, they started cheering, and Padukone folded her hands to acknowledge them. She hugged Ghosh and whispered in her ear — the only words spoken by Padukone in the roughly 10 minutes that she stood just behind the main speakers. “She told me, ‘proud of you, take care’. I asked her to also come and stand in the front, and that nothing will happen. She said she knows nothing will happen,” Ghosh told The Indian Express.
Within 10 minutes of her arrival, Padukone was back in her vehicle. Her exit was as quiet as her entry. Asked about protests across the country’s campuses, Padukone had told India Today TV earlier: “I had said what I felt two years ago when Padmaavat was releasing. What I’m seeing now, it pains me. It pains me because I hope this doesn’t become the new normal. That anyone can say anything and get away with it. It’s scary, and sad. This is not what our country’s foundation was.”
On the violence at JNU specifically, she said: “I feel angry that this is happening. But, at the same time, the fact that action is not being taken, this is something to think about.”
Following her visit to JNU, the CPM tweeted: “People and students across the country are standing up to be counted in the fight to defend the Constitution and against this government’s divisive, anti-people, anti-national hate agenda. Kudos to Deepika Padukone for standing with the brave students of JNU.”
Entrepreneur Kiran Mazumdar Shaw tweeted: “Huge respect for Deepika Padukone — your integrity defines your character.”
Actor Varun Dhawan also reacted to the violence at JNU on Tuesday. “Cannot stay neutral on such issues. It’s dangerous and sad if masked people enter an educational institution and all this happens,” PTI quoted him as saying.
Padukone’s visit comes a day after several film personalities gathered on Carter Road in Mumbai to express solidarity with JNU students. Filmmakers Anurag Kashyap, Anubhav Sinha and Vishal Bharadwaj, as well as actors Dia Mirza, Taapsee Pannu and Rahul Bose, were among those occupying the promenade. Also at the protest were actors Richa Chadha, Ali Fazal and Saurabh Shukla, directors Sudhir Mishra and Zoya Akhtar, and lyricist Swanand Kirkire.