Two of India’s biggest Bollywood stars have been facing social media calls to boycott their upcoming movies – but do such campaigns actually have any effect?

Laal Singh Chaddha and Raksha Bandhan, starring Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar, respectively, have been trending this week on social media amid demands by a section of users to boycott the films, the actors and even Bollywood itself. Both movies are set to release in theatres on 11 August.

The social media trends seem to reflect the changing relationship between Bollywood – India’s Hindi-language film industry which employs millions of people – and its audience, but experts say it’s difficult to measure how much damage such calls can wreak.

Bollywood is yet to recover from the massive losses it incurred when theatres were shut for months during the Covid-19 lockdowns. Even after they reopened, several big-budget movies have failed at the box-office, leading some pundits to predict that the industry is staring at a major crisis. Adding to this is the massive success of a handful of films from southern Indian states which have scored even with Hindi-speaking audiences.

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So there’s a lot of hope and money riding on Laal Singh Chaddha – an official adaptation of Tom Hanks-starrer Forrest Gump – and Raksha Bandhan, in which Kumar plays a devoted big brother to four sisters.

The remarks were widely seen as pointing to rising attacks on minorities after 2014, when a government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power. After the comments caused a controversy, Khan has often said that his words were taken out of context.

This week, the actor said he was “sad” that people seemed to truly believe he did not like India. “I want to assure everyone that it’s not the case so please don’t boycott my films,” he told the media.

It’s harder to pinpoint exactly what’s driving the opposition to Raksha Bandhan – Kumar is one of India’s most bankable stars who has made a slew of films that appeal to Hindu nationalists. But many social media posts have criticised the film’s screenwriter for criticising lynching by cow vigilantes; others have pointed to Kumar’s tweet on milk being wasted in temple rituals and a 2012 film which criticises religious charlatans.

“It’s true there’s been a marked increase in calls to ‘blacklist’ online,” says film critic Uday Bhatia. “These are almost never organic, and often push a right-wing agenda.”