In these times of aggressive 'calling out culture' where there seems to be an inviolable list of dos and don'ts, how politically correct should fictional characters be?

It is a question that many artists have had to contend with much regularity as the propensity to take umbrage at the slightest provocation has grown manifolds.

The recent release of Kabir Singh, a remake of the Telugu hit Arjun Reddy, starring Kiara Advani in the lead, has triggered a fresh debate on the issue.

Kabir Singh, regardless of the fact that it has had the best opening for a Shahid Kapoor starrer, has been panned by critics for its misogynistic and toxic male lead role. 

Even before its release, Shahid Kapoor was faced with this question as one reporter took him on about him playing a character who slaps women and generally behaves in a manner that cannot be an example for others. 

Shahid Kapoor was, however, unfazed, and he said, "I have to play characters for their good and bad. I have to represent them honestly. That is what acting is all about. Otherwise, I am just wanting (people) to like me."

Shahid may have silenced his interlocutor with his smart, matter-of-fact reply, but things did not end there, as overzealous adherents of political correctness seem set out on 'cleansing' every kind of communication because political correctness posits that any kind of expression or attitude, be it in fiction or real life, that discomfits others should be excised at all costs.

That is why you increasingly find movie reviewers unhappy with characters (and hence unhappy with the film) that tend to cross the line of acceptable behaviour. Many movies from yesteryear are now seen as not being kosher as yesterday's passionate lover is today's creep.

But many authors and actors have started to feel that this is also some kind of cultural policing. Writer Lionel Shriver, the author of 'We Need to Talk About Kevin', recently wrote  that authors have to “contend with a torrent of dos and don’ts that bind our imaginations and make the process of writing and publishing fearful.”

Another problem area for artists is the expectation that it is better that they do not perform/write about someone of a different culture, skin colour, religion, disability or sexual preference. Only people with the lived-in experience can attempt this or otherwise it amounts to 'cultural appropriation.'

The publishing industry these days hire "sensitivity readers”, whose job is to look for what are perceived to be "slights to any group with protected status." 

Writers feel that this is extreme censorship by other means. Shriver had said, "preventing writers from conjuring lives different from their own would spell the end of fiction, because if we have the right to draw on only our own experience, all that’s left is memoir”.

Says K Bashyam, an aspiring writer, it is admirable to consider the sensibilities of one’s readers, but one must also consider their intelligence. 
Adds Rathna S, an associate director working in South Indian film industry, "We understand where champions of political correctness come from. But the point of fiction is to make up a full, rich cast of characters. Preferably one that reflects the diversity of the real world."

She adds the problem with political correctness in movies or fiction in general is that it can rob a story of its essence. Complexity and conflict are its soul. "If you remove them, it makes fiction boring, and as a creator I wouldn't put up with it."

And as Shahid Kapoor said, "Acting is about being honest. Letting people dislike you sometimes. It's okay. It's important.”