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Bollywood A-lister backing protesters faces call to boycott her film - but is also praised

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Deepika Padukone stood silently behind students chanting anti-government slogans at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on Tuesday.

Mumbai

A TOP Indian actress who joined students protesting against the government drew calls on social media on Wednesday for a boycott of her upcoming film. But she also won praise for being a rare Bollywood A-lister to stand up against a crackdown on dissent.

Deepika Padukone stood silently behind students chanting anti-government slogans at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on Tuesday, surprising many in a country where top film stars typically avoid politics.

Her act of solidarity came after masked men wielding sticks and rods stormed the JNU campus on Sunday, injuring some 30 people.

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JNU students, regarded as left-leaning, have protested for months against an announced fee hike and a new citizenship law, which critics say discriminates against Muslims and erodes India's secular constitution.

Students and some faculty blamed Sunday's assault on a student union with ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

The union has denied these allegations, blaming left-wing groups for the violence.

Pictures circulating online, showing a solemn-faced Padukone standing behind a student leader with a bandaged head, set off a social media storm, raising calls for a boycott of her film Chhapaak (Splash), which is set to be released on Friday.

"#BoycottChhapaak" was Twitter's trending topic in India on Wednesday, with more than 350,000 tweets on the subject. The film tells the true story of a woman who survived an acid attack and re-built her life.

"What a brazen & cheap tactic to promote a film!" wrote one Twitter user about Padukone.

"She chooses JNU where leftists who want to break India dominate!" tweeted another.

Some outspoken Bollywood figures lauded Padukone though, and vowed to support Chhapaak. "Let's all those who stand against the violence go to #bookmyshow and show them," tweeted director Anurag Kashyap.

Padukone, who starred in the 2017 action film xXx: Return of Xander Cage with Vin Diesel, was not available for comment on Wednesday, her spokesman said.

The protests sweeping India in the last weeks have posed a dilemma for Bollywood, which has some big-name Muslim actors but is sensitive to the sentiments of the country's Hindu majority.

Brand consultant and columnist Santosh Desai said: "The reason why a whole lot of stars back away from making statements is because they are afraid of the consequences it will have on their films.

"To do this so close to a film's release is certainly risky." REUTERS