So, I finally watched, Magadheera, yay! It’s just as good as everyone said it would be, like Bahubali but only slightly less so. And the hero has beautiful hair and the heroine is spunky and the special effects are super, and it has one sequence that was just jaw-droppingly beautiful:
It starts out just “kill a 100 men so you can show off a lot!”. But then it turns into this sort of endurance effort to show the triumph of the human spirit and soul and nobility, because he is proving himself to his ancestors and his warrior spirit. And then it goes from being bravado to triumph of spirit, to just pure “I must do this for the person I love.” It didn’t even feel romantic to me, more in that “mother lifts a car off her child” kind of arena. Which is why it was so powerful, it turned into something completely selfless and loving and triumphal.
Anyway, I don’t want to talk about any of that. No, what I find interesting in the clip above is the how the Muslim enemy leader comes to respect our hero’s bravery and achievements. Which was a huge relief, because it meant the Muslim character in this movie was going to be an “Honorable Muslim” instead of a “Rapacious Muslim.”
The Honorable Muslim has a much longer history in Indian film, going all the way back to colonial times. For instance, the ruler in Pukar (1939) who is horribly conflicted when his own wife runs afoul of his laws and he must decide whether or not to punish her. These Muslims are learned, intelligent, respectful of bravery and love, and above all, they follow the rules.
The greatest of these, of course, was the Emperor Akbar in Mughal-E-Azam. In the climax, he weighs all of India against a promise he made to a lowly serving woman twenty years ago, and finds that keeping his word weighs more than his power and empire.
Hrithik was a recent, hotter, version of the same ruler. And like the Prithviraj original, he was still obsessed with right and wrong, promises and vows, and doing the right thing.
But, unfortunately, this version of the Muslim ruler is becoming more and more dangerous to present in India. Jodha-Akbar was greeted by riots. More recently, just the suggestion of a TV serial on the life of Tipu Sultan was greeted by this terrifying interview with the BJP national secretary.
So when I was watching Magadheera and suddenly the rampaging Muslim hordes were introduced, with all their green silk everywhere (green silk=both super Muslim and super degenerate), I got very nervous. And then we get to this scene, where we have the bloodlust crazed Muslims desperately fighting against our lone brave Hindu man who is trying to protect his threatened woman. Now I am not just nervous, but a little disgusted and wondering if I need to start boycotting Rajamouli.
But then he turns it around! Thank goodness! Our honorable Muslim ruler recognizes the nobility of our hero and stands by his word! And the ultimate message ends up being that the real threat comes from the uppercaste/class Hindu who is just using the artificial threat of the Muslim to support his own ends.
So, SPOILER, I guess: We find out at the end that Magadheera is not a disgusting piece of fundamentalist propaganda.