Hindi Film 101: A History of Islamaphobia in Hindi and Western Popular Culture

This is another one of those posts that I have been considering writing for a long time, and now suddenly seems like the right time.  Because, in a certain way, things are finally beginning to shift.  And I want to do everything I can to help in shifting that conversation.

Disclaimer: This is very much what the headline says, a “101” post.  There are many people who have written much more and in much greater depth on these issues.  But if you are just now thinking “Islamaphobia, what is that and what does it look like in Indian film?”, this might get you started.

 

Barkha Dutt published a harsh critique of Padmavat in the Washington Post.  Out of 10 paragraphs, only one addresses the issues with the depiction of Muslims in the film.  But it is also the last paragraph, the final message she wishes to leave us with.  And, frankly, I am happy to see the issue of Muslim representation addressed at all.

“Islamophobia” is a pretty phrase, it implies that the problem is a pathological fear of Muslims.  But what it hides is bigotry and hatred and the violence it incites, not fear.  And what is even more dangerous is that this bigotry and fear is increasingly mainstream.  What gives me hope is that, finally, it is beginning to be addressed and discussed in the mainstream, both in the West and in India.

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(“Not in my name” is a new movement in India, as of this year, against lynching and other violence towards religious minorities by the Hindu right)

Islam has a complicated history of relationships with other religions, but no more complex than any other major religion.  Sometimes Christian-based countries would choose to claim a tie with Islamic countries based on the “brotherhood of the book”.  At other times, they would focus on the differences between the religions in order to incite conflict.  We can see that easily just by looking at the recent history of Afghanistan.  When the Russians were invading in the 80s and the local tribes were allying with the West, the Muslims in that region were stereotyped as noble, brave, wise, honorable.  And this influenced popular culture in a whole variety of ways.  For instance, I just read the book Dune for the first time recently, and the fantastical version of the noble tribes in the forbidding planet hiding vast riches in that book was clearly inspired by the romantic vision spreading through popular culture at the time of the noble tribes in the forbidding area of Afghanistan.  But once the Taliban became increasingly powerful in the mid-90s, leading to the American invasion, you find those same “noble” Muslim stereotypes, now turned on their heads, becoming the obsessed and dark and evil figures.

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(This same stereotype made it to India as well.  “Noble” Afghani Muslim Amitabh in 1994, “evil” Afghani Muslim Ranveer Singh in 2018)

The west and the east are not separated entities, so western stereotypes influence eastern and vice versa.  But within that understanding, India has a unique way of dealing with their Muslim minority in popular culture.  Partly because India is such a varied country, and their Muslim population is obviously varied as well with a distinctly different histories region to region.

There have always been two main narratives in Indian popular culture, as I see it.  First is the Muslims as a source of culture, laws, justice and fairness.  Mughal-E-Azam is perhaps the peak of this vision, beautiful architecture, dance, music, poetry, combined with a scrupulously just and responsible attitude towards ruling.  You can see a similar vision in artifacts as recent as, for instance, Magadheera.  In which the Muslim invaders are established as fierce and terrifying for much of the film, but then they appear and are revealed to be professional, fair, and more noble than the corrupted Hindu villain.

This is the main narrative, but there are other narratives based on other regions.  A reminder that both “India” and “Muslim” are not monolithic identities.  In Kerala, “Muslim” might mean nothing special in particular, just another of the multiple possible identities.  Or it might mean heavily influenced by the Arab traditions of Islam rather than the Indian traditions thanks to the unique guest worker system between Kerala and Arab countries.  In Hyderabad, it means a community of politically active social activists, complete with their own dialect of Urdu.  There is no one “Muslim” identity within India, or in fact anywhere, and the varied language based popular culture products of India reflect that.

That is, the first option for Muslims in Indian popular culture reflects that.  Islamic culture as a source of justice, art, history, with varying shadings based on the location of the film and the industry from which it came.  But the second option, that has no shadings.  Which is a sign that it is a lie.  Because no people are the same, any time an argument relies on saying “Muslims are born like this”, “Jews are born like this”, “Christians are born like this”, “Hindus are born like this”, it is a lie.

The second option for Muslims in Indian popular culture is a combination of prejudices, borrowed originally from British propaganda, and then adopted and expanded by extremist hate groups such as the RSS.  By this theory, Muslims are essentially “rapacious”.  Both meaning that they have an uncontrollable sexual desire, and that they have an uncontrollable desire to conquer and destroy.  We see this in the Muslim attacker in films as varied as Hey Ram and Padmavat.  Especially we see this in historical films.

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(And of course we see this narrative reflected in real life, the fantasy of the “love Jihad” in which Muslim men use their sexual power to seduce Hindu women thereby destroying Hindu society)

The anti-Muslim hate groups rely on a twisted version of history in which every group that happened to be Muslim is somehow connected to every other group.  The “Direct Action” movement in Calcutta in 1946 is somehow related to the bombings in Bombay in 2008, for instance.  And both of these are related to the Muslim who lives next door to you who has never said an unkind word to you.  Every other historical or social factor is removed except for religion, thereby creating a false narrative in which all of Indian history can be simplified to the Muslim “other” attacking the Hindu “us”.  Facts that do not fit this narrative, such as the entire 100 year history of British rule, the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, and Rajiv Gandhi by Hindu, Sikh, and Tamilian extremists, the various brutal and inhumane acts by Hindu rulers through history, and of course the several massive Pograms by Hindu groups against Muslims in various cities, are all erased.

In this version of the popular culture narrative, there are only “bad” Muslims and “good” Muslims.  The “good” Muslim is one who, essentially, rejects his communal identity in favor of his national one.  He is shown in the film as a rarity, an outsider in his community.  Even the most well-meaning films can still fall within this fallacy.  Kajol in Fanaa, Mukesh Rishi in Sarfarosh, even Kunal Kapoor in Rang De Basanti are shown to be outside of their communities, they are people of the Islamic faith, but they are not “Muslim”.

(This is why I find My Name is Khan so unique, it is aggressively claiming a Muslim identity, both in terms of the religious philosophy and the day to day practice, the community, the public identity.)

And it is this version that began to make it’s way into the West after 9/11.  I first noticed it years ago in the television show The West Wing.  Which has all kinds of issues, due to Aaron Sorkin’s ability to say very stupid things in a very smart manner.  And one of the stupid things he began to say, over and over again, was that Muslims were somehow “different”.  In a show that constantly trumpeted the rights of  the oppressed, very proud of pointing out anti-semitism, in purporting to be feminist, in being the voice of liberal progressives, somehow it was completely acceptable to minimize the Muslim identity to “tribal”, to woman-hating, to violent and unpredictable and all sorts of other things.  Yes, you can find examples of all those critiques within the various Islam-based societies in the world, just as you can find them in societies based on any other religious framework.  But what is disturbing is when those critiques stop being addressed to specific cultures and communities and begin to be addressed to simply “Muslims”.  Especially in a cultural product which is claiming to be speaking for the thinking feeling compassionate people of America.

Somehow, after 9/11, the fear implied in “Islamaphobia” became an acceptable excuse for all sorts of behavior.  You could say things out loud like “Muslims are naturally violent”.  You could make Muslims into the new one-size-fits-all villain in TV shows and movies.  And if anyone confronted you, you would say “after our country has been attacked, I think it is all right for me to be afraid”.

But, NO!  It is never okay.  Never.  To attack a people because of their religion?  That is morally reprehensible and there is no excuse for it.  There is no “logic” that can explain it, no claiming of victimization that can make it forgivable.  It is simply wrong.  To spread such lies, and become complicit in the violence they cause, ties you to groups as ancient as the Spaniards of the 1600s who exiled the Moors with orders:

“The Moriscos to depart, under the pain of death and confiscation, without trial or sentence… to take with them no money, bullion, jewels or bills of exchange…. just what they could carry.”

And as modern as Bal Thackeray who argued:

There is nothing wrong” if “Muslims are treated as Jews were in Nazi Germany.”

I was in college in the early 2000s, and the Muslim students group was desperately trying to wake people to what was happening.  They provided free Korans, with passages highlighted which explained Islam’s stance on women.  They attended and helped organize religious dialogue sessions between all the various student groups on campus.  The Muslims who I knew, who lived with me in the dorms, who I had class with every day, who I volunteered with, was on committees with, joked with and argued with and shared my life with, were as varied as any other group of humans.  Meaning they were flawed, funny, sensitive, young, thoughtful, and kind.  And they were hurt and struggling with the way their country and the greater culture in which they existed was suddenly seeming to reject them.

(Another reason I love My Name is Khan, it addressed that shock of waking up to a new world where it was suddenly unacceptable to be who you were.  Finally told the story I had been watching play out day after day for 9 years)

Perhaps if I had been somewhere else in this era, attending a different school with a less diverse and vocal student body, or living in a smaller town with a smaller Muslim community, I would have experienced the acceptance of anti-Muslim hatred differently.  But I don’t think so.  I was raised to love people, to reject falsehood, to believe in the American promise of religious freedom, and the language that was slowly spreading through our country and becoming acceptable was just blatantly wrong and unacceptable.  I know, in India, there were similar people through out the same modern era, speaking up for the Indian constitution which guaranteed religious freedom and that India would not be a religious state, the promise of modern India which was intended to be open to all religions.  And this was somehow not even an acceptable topic of conversation.

Some sources and people and communities have been saying the same things over and over again.  Which is perhaps why there has been a narrative of “Political Correctness” and “fake” Islamophobia and so on.  People saying it is an invented issue, it is being brought up too much, people are “touchy” and so on.  But the reason we are so “touchy” is because nothing we say appears to make a difference.  Maybe it is irritating to hear the same talking points repeated, but we will keep repeating them until hate crimes against Muslims stop rising, until lawmakers stop spewing hate speech, until the real world consequences of these popular culture messages stop occurring.

 

I have spent 15 years yelling as loud as I could to make my voice heard, and finally it appears that someone is hearing it, and taking up my same cry.  In new places and in new ways.  The Padmavat review on Rogerebert.com mentions its support of extremist Hindu culture and Muslim stereotypes.  In America, the Muslim community is (finally) getting the support it deserves, is part of the political conversation, is recognized as an oppressed group worthy of defense instead of somehow “other”.  In India, Swara Bhaskar’s letter is gaining traction in letting people criticize extremist religious narratives, a counter-narrative movement is beginning to start, saying “Islamaphobia” no longer gets you an eye roll and a “what’s that?”, but at least the beginning of an attempt to listen and understand.

 

Which is what I hope for this piece, that it will spark at least an attempt to listen to and understand what I am saying, that it will make you look more closely at what you have found “acceptable” to say and listen to in recent years, the “understandable” assumptions you have been guilty of, and the “harmless” cultural products you have enjoyed.  And to look at the extremist comments this post will no doubt incite and think about if you want to be associated with those beliefs and those commentators, or if you are a little smarter, a little more caring, a little more humane than that.

 

And if you have also felt like you are yelling into the emptiness with no one hearing you for the past 15 years, this is to tell you that you are not alone, I heard you, I care, I am trying my best to help.

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34 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101: A History of Islamaphobia in Hindi and Western Popular Culture

  1. Well done. Thoughtful and thought provoking. It lands perfectly on my mind, having watched Bajrangi Bhaijaan last night for the first time. There are ways to create art around hatred that are constructive and healing, and ways that are regressive and hate-mongering. I try to avoid the latter at all costs, but then I wonder if that diminishes my ability to critique them?

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    • This is where I begin to look at the intersection of art and commerce. If I can experience a piece of art without paying for it, does that negate any bad effects or seeming support for the art? Is it the social support that is more important, by checking a DVD out of the library and incrementally raising it’s profile for the librarians and other patrons, am I still creating an undesirable effect? Now that I have a moviepass, should I no longer worry about which film I give money to, or is there still a long term effect that matters?

      On Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 9:39 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. There seems to be more U.S. movies, like Today’s Special and The Big Sick in which the South Asian status of the actor is an important aspect of the character but the religion part is just sort of, “and he happens to be Muslim” —- which I find a hopeful sign.

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    • Yes, and there is a slowly growing similar pattern in Hindi films as well, like Sultan, where the Muslim identity is a very small part of who they are.

      On Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 9:50 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • And look at secret superstar. All the characters are Muslim, and no one makes any attempt to either run toward or run away from the faith, neither blaming the faith for the DV nor crediting the faith for the success, other than a familiar relationship with their higher power, despite displaying all people as being religious and pious.

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        • Yes! The Nachdi Phira song is so powerful, because it represents the most wonderful strengthening aspects of feeling loved, whether that is love from God or her mother or (presumably in the film within a film) from a romantic lover. Which is how her religion is treated, she and her mother are spiritual people who can find strength from the love of God, and her father clearly follows the rules of the religion and uses that to support his position in society. But this would be true of any religion.

          On Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 11:02 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. nice article well said.Islamaphobia is spread purely for political interests.They don’t care what happens to the general public.People have to be intelligent enough to differentiate between a good person from a bad person.The problem is even the cinema and TV industry aggravate the fear of people who hear/see the news everyday on various attacks and just start looking at everyone with suspicion .The reason i’m not specifically mentioning the Muslim community is because every religion,race or community has it’s own flaws,there are bad people present among normal people but sadly the bad ones are represented as a whole community/race/religion and hence rises trust issues..I can’t even imagine hurting my Muslim friends simply because they are Muslims it will be so wrong.

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    • Yes, exactly, every religion and every community has good and bad people. But that is not because they are part of that community, it is because they are bad people or good people. I could just as easily be angry at all Hindus for the things some bad Hindus have done and said. But I am not, because that would be ridiculous.

      On Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 10:49 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • yaa my point exactly the whole thing is just ridiculous.Nowadays the news has a bigger hand in increasing the hatred.. also just to be clear i didn’t say they were bad because they were part of that community…i just always feel i didn’t explain my point well

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        • No, I got your point, it was very well put and important. You should never blame one individual for something done by another totally unrelated individual who happens to share a religion with them.

          On Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 12:22 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. I think I might diverge here from popular opinion. But I am going to put in my view anyway.
    “Religion is the opium of masses”.
    I am in total agreement with this statement. It has happened through out history and it will continue to happen that transition from one religion to another, one form of worship to another has happened. Religions themselves changed through time. Some disappear altogether, some turn into minority and some conquer the world by surprise, like in the case of Christianity. All of them are pawns in the hands of the forces of time and nature. We are both actors and writers at the same time. (I hope this is the case with this new phobia).
    I think this islamophobia perhaps from earliest time of crusades to the more recent form of violence is taking on these transformative turns that change history. We, who are not muslims, have no part in its propagation nor are we responsible for it by not acting against it. We are only a result of our experiences. We tend to align with these propaganda if we or our loved ones happened to witness an incident that proves these propaganda right. E.g. My close friend missed death by a few hours because of a bomb blast. His horror is a lesson for us. If you ask us not to trust these propaganda we refuse to listen to you. That’s because my neighbor muslim isn’t simply a muslim for me anymore, or that I failed to see his flaws until then.

    Hence my point is that this islamophobia is something non muslims shouldn’t worry about. Even if beleif in propaganda is increased we always need a reason or provocation to act. Why give that chance to someone who is already twisted in his brain by propaganda?

    So who should worry about islamophobia? Muslims have to. How can they make it disappear ? By coming out of their own fear of God/Religion and act against their own people. Unfortunately this is a rare case, because they always carry a ‘minority’ card with them, and doing as mentioned puts their unity in jeopardy.
    What we need to worry about is not people forming opinions about a religion or judging them by their actions, but about crime. (People judge each other all the time) Crime is a crime and needs to be punished. We shouldn’t paint it with communal dimension, or never look up statistics or even generalize them, as crimes are a common thing. Punish them seriously so that people fear crime more than they fear their religion or God.
    I think science and statistics is the way forward in addressing these issues not religion or anything else, and that should be realized by people as it is already happening.

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    • It sounds like you are putting the responsibility for your own fear on others who had nothing to do with causing it. If your friend missed being hurt by a bomb blast, that is terrible, but that has nothing to do with the Muslim people. It has to do with one bomber who did a bad thing. Your putting it on Muslims as a whole is something that you are doing, and it is your responsibility to stop doing that, to look to your own logic and reason to tell yourself that there is no connection between this religion and it’s followers and the actions of one extremist.

      You say they have to act “against their own people”. I would give you the same charge. What religion are you? What have you done to speak out against and prevent the extremist actions done in the name of that religion? And if you have done nothing, I judge you for it.

      On Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 1:17 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I really like your comment. ” What have I done to prevent extremist actions ?”. I try my best to stop it, even if it means a big argument with my loved ones. I stopped them from thinking that violence is okay. And i think that should start with all people. My version is, if we can’t stop our own people from hurting others nobody can. Prevention is better than cure.

        Also the difference of good people and bad people isn’t as clearly defined as people might think. We might even sympathize with a terrorist if we know his back story.
        I am sating that people are looking at muslims the same way people looked at Jews for centuries. Did that change with time?
        When I hear terrorists quoting passages from Quran as a justification, why can’t they just simply modify their religion and book to show and prevent others from misusing it ? Isn’t that their responsibility ?

        I might sound a little off the track, but I am offering a solution out of this unfortunate state. We continue to state this good people-bad people argument, they continue to hurt us. Our belief in it is tested and faded away. I think people who voiced for religious freedom vehemently opposed islam after 9/11. Why?

        This comment was perhaps motivated by my wish that I always want people blackmailing ‘others’ who use religion, to threaten to leave it if these ‘others’ won’t stop using religion as a justification for violence.

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        • I will leave most of your comment, but one thing I feel the need to clarify is that the Koran does not support violence. Those who say that it does are misreading and misusing it. I am not an expert and can’t give more information than that, but I know there are many many experts who have said this and proven it over and over, and tried to spread this message over and over again. Perhaps part of the reason they are having a hard time reaching those who are misusing the text is because people such as yourself believe and repeat the lie that it does support violence. A religious text will always have elements that can be taken out of context and misunderstood, but the vast majority of Islamic scholars and people following the teachings of the Koran find within it a call to peace, justice, and charity.

          That is why people do not want to leave the Muslim religion, because it is their religion, it belongs to them, it is those who are using violence that have already left the faith because they are not following its teachings.

          On Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 7:30 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • What you say right, ideal and perfect. But sadly it has been in place for years and it hasn’t worked out.
            Instead why don’t we see my suggestion as an option and contemplate on its practical implications ? !
            I was merely offering a solution for reality of islamophobia.
            I believe in facts and reality. I believe in my senses, thought and history. There is nothing contradictory about what I said from facts.

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    • We have been talking about religious intolerance so far, but scapegoating groups of people happens above and beyond religion. Skin color, the shape of eyes, food preferences, an endless list has been used at one time or another.

      Why is it important to pay attention if one group is scapegoated? Because we care about our fellow human beings. Because it could happen to any of us in the right situation. Because it makes us feel better inside to be caring rather than indifferent.

      When people are hurting, they start to look around for a reason. If there is no rational one, that does not stop them. It is part of human nature to look for patterns. The question “Why?”, in certain environments, turns to “Who?”.

      If you hear the suggestion from someone you trust, someone in authority, someone who catches your inner fears just so, you start to distrust the “other”. It is also human nature to lash out. And lash out harder, so the person who hurt you will bow to your superior might and stop attacking.

      And so small incidents turn into large incidents, turn into communal violence, riots, full fledged wars. This is how neighbors who have been living next to each other for centuries allow and participate in genocide.

      It is important to stand up to this irrational hatred. Seeing people as individuals. Speaking out. Deescalating tensions.

      I do believe that these reactions come from emotion, from feeling threatened in some way. The solution is not through rational proofs, but emotional connection. It is slow, painful, necessary work.

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      • Yes, thank you. I appreciate you joining the discussion. Somehow, this particular “othering” is new and has not yet been identified as such, is still considered “reasonable” and “logical”. And yet it is so similar to so many other “otherings” in the past, just the names have changed.

        On Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 3:36 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • The thing is, as I mentioned, this emotion is like heroin. It vanishes after sometime. With fresh wounds come fresh emotions and you can’t always go on to wipe them. Moreover new generations keep adding to the community and they don’t always know what happened in history. Even if they do it might be dangerously twisted. So verifiable information stays there for reference.

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  6. Hello! I just discovered your blog a couple of days ago through the Pardesi channel and I’ve been obsessed ever since. I love your love for Indian cinema especially Baahubali and Prabhas that’s what got me into south movies! I don’t comment much (bad English) but i just wanted to say thank you so much for addressing this issue, being a Muslim myself it does get frustrating to see all these anti Islamic movies that are being made and always portraying us in a bad light when in reality there are good and bad people everywhere, seeing how opened minded you are is really heartwarming and continue making AWESOME blog posts 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! For reading, and for commenting, and for appreciating my message in this post.

      And I am so glad this post made you feel better! Please keep commenting, English skills don’t matter, I think about half of my regular commentators speak another language before English.

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  7. Disclaimer: I consider myself to be a liberal, atheist person, who happens to be born in a hindu family. I don’t deny that Islamophobia does exist in India, and I don’t support Bhansali’s depiction of muslims in Padmavati. Also, I hate RSS, VHP et al.

    The reason I gave this disclaimer is because I sort of agree with Bill Maher’s opinion on this, the moment you offer any criticism of Islam/Muslims, many in the liberal community automatically assume you’re a right wing conservative (a.k.a. Islamophobe).

    I remember studying Indian history and school, there were a few chapters on the various social reform movements in Indian society in the 19th and 20th centuries e.g. movements led by Dr B R Ambedkar, Mahatma Phule, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Savitribai Phule, Agarkar, Karve et al fighting various ills in hindu society such as caste system, women’s education, women’ inheritance rights, sati, widow remarriage etc. Dr. Ambedkar went so far as to reject Hinduism completely and embrace Buddhism (along with millions of followers), and I’m proud of him as an Indian. However, I noticed a striking absence of any muslim names in this list of social reformers.

    The situation is such that even today, if you dare to say anything against any issue related to muslim communities say terrorism or women’s treatment among muslims, liberals will quickly allow all muslims to hide behind a few passages from Koran which advocate peace/harmony/women’s rights and label you an Islamophobe to shut you up.

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    • I would reverse this. The situation is such today that even people who consider themselves liberal find it acceptable to stereotype an entire religious community, rather than defending it as they would any other community under the same kind of attacks.

      Perhaps you feel that you have unfairly been labeled an Islamophobe. But let me turn this around, what have you done to prevent Islamophobia? To stop the violence against this minority community in your country? When have you spoken up for religious freedom and criticized the terrorism caused or horrible treatment of women coming out of your own religious community?

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      • Well, I’ve posted comments online on various social media platforms/forums against beef ban, dadri lynching etc, which is the extent of my social activism. Similar to what I’m doing here. 🙂

        I accept that I’ve a special responsibility to denounce the violence being committed in the name of my country, birth religion. However I can’t understand how can muslims be absolved of that special responsibility.

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        • Thank you, on behalf of humanity, I appreciate that you are doing something! And I will take this answer and apply it to my response to your second comment as well.

          What I do not understand is how you feel Muslims have been absolved of that responsibility. I see people every day speaking up for themselves and their religion. Perhaps the statements that are amplified by the media and the religious right are not progressive, but that is because we are listening to the wrong people. If I were to only listen to the media and not seek out real people, I would think all Hindus were hate driven and angry. But I know that is not true and that there are people trying to make a difference.

          Instead of being absolved, I see people who are Muslim (not “Muslims” because they are much more than that one identity, as are all people), being blamed for things over which they have no control and to which they have no relationship.

          On Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 3:23 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  8. Coming to the particular issue of depiction of muslims in movies like Padmavati, Bajirao Mastani etc. I’ve already stated that I don’t endorse the way Bhansali has depicted muslims in movies like Padmavati, Bajirao Mastani.

    What I can’t stand is the opposition from many reviewers to the subject of these movies itself, it’s almost as if they didn’t want these movies made on this subject at all.

    Now, before the Europeans came to India, Indians were already in a continuous war for almost a thousand years with other western invaders, who happened to be muslims. You can not deny that one of the main aims of this war was proselytizing. The map between Mecca/Media to northern India did not turn 100% Green by some sort of freak accident. The beautiful, historical, ancient world heritage sites such as Ajanta, Ellora, Khajuraho, Somnath et al did not destroy themselves by accident. Pakistan was not created out of some accident.

    However, in the view of many liberal reviewers, even thinking of making a film on any event of that long war between native population and foreign invaders has become a sin, which is sad.

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    • The “foreign” invaders part is what is so difficult. As I saw in the post, Indian history has become boiled down to “us” versus “them” where the “them” is always Muslim. Padmavat, for example, could just as easily have been a story about Aluaddin defending India from Mongol invaders. You cannot pick and choose and only show one version and one part of history. Asoka from the south invaded into the north, hundreds of rulers over time have fought over the territory that is now India.

      In terms of film, again, there seems to be a misconception between what is being said in the small liberal enclaves and what is happening in the real world. Perhaps you think that you “can’t” make these movies, but the reality is that this movies are being made, over and over and over again. People may speak out against them, but it has no effect. In reality, it is an effort to depict a historical Muslim as anything other than violent and crazed which results in protests and censorship. That is why we keep saying the same thing, in the hopes that someone in power will actually listen to us and take us seriously.

      You also cannot make sweeping statements like “the map turned green”. A variety of rulers, some of them Muslim and some not, invaded northern India. Some of them installed people of their same faith as rulers in various areas, some of them chose to have puppet rulers of differing faiths rule on their behalfs. Some of them encouraged people to convert to Islam through violence or taxation, many did not. The map does not “turn green”. No more than the entire country “turned” Christian under the British.

      Islam is a religion, not a military force unified and unchanging since it’s beginning. Some of the people of that religion were invaders, some where not. I am shocked at how the Indian map is currently “turning” orange as more and more people are forced through violence to declare an allegiance to Hinduism that they did not previously feel. That is happening right now, today. What are you doing to stop it?

      On Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 3:16 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I don’t think ‘US vs THEM’ in Indian context is always Hindus vs Muslims, many times its Maharashtrians vs Biharis, North Indians vs South Indians, Hindi speaking vs English speaking, in fact there is no shortage of subject matters for this, at least in India. 🙂

        However, unless you’re saying that no movies made on the long series of wars from approximately 800 AD to 1700 AD, you’re going to have to accept that in many of those movies the ‘Them’ would be Muslims. There might be some movies where ‘Us’ can be muslims as well e.g. movies on the Mughal era before Aurangzeb.

        I don’t want to get into a discussion on Alauddin Khilji, for every argument about how he saved India from Mongol invaders, there can be 10 other examples of how he harassed the native primarily hindu population based on his own religious agenda.

        I agree that the electoral map of India is indeed turning orange, and I’m not powerful enough to do something concrete about it, rather than expressing myself through my own vote, similar to how you can’t do much about Trump.

        This phenomenon is not only restricted to India or the US, the conservatives are on the rise all over the world, and I don’t think liberals are doing much service to themselves by being hypocritical.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Islamophobia in Indian films is definitely a recent phenomenon and there can be no doubt that there are political forces behind it. But as I think about the identity of the Indian Muslims and their presence or absence in pop culture, I’m immediately reminded of the fact that Indian Islam and Indian Muslim culture is actually very different from the Muslim culture of Pakistan or the Arab states, or Iran or modern turkey or that of the Muslim diaspora elsewhere. There is also a great difference between the Muslim culture of north India and south India. The north Indian Muslim culture is more sufiyana and has been influenced more by the culture that developed in Pakistan (because of the common language,it was easier for mainstream Pakistani culture to “feel north Indian”) while the southern Muslim culture remained a little more independently “Indian”.

    It is actually the most bizarre phenomenon that while it is in the north where Islamophobia is most widely seen- riots, lynchings, Hindu right wingers openly spewing venom against Muslims- this is actually the part of India that has repeatedly, in multiple waves, made Muslim elements of our shared culture phenomenal successes.

    A case in point would be the Muslim social films from the Hindi industry. There isn’t a single such film which wasn’t a hit on a wide scale. Which is why it makes no sense that there aren’t more of these. But it also points to the fact that the North Indian Muslim community has always been pro-reform.

    In our film culture, even though Muslim characters and story lines are missing and it’s quite obvious that they are- Islam itself is always present in some shape or form. Even if it as small as a single shot of a mosque at dawn with the azan sounding behind it marking an early morning, or the hero and his BFF sitting in a crowded street and you’d see the crowd behind them comprised mostly of Muslims, and every single song about the protagonist looking for spiritual relief shows them at a dargah!!! And that is what Islam means to the people living here. Even if you don’t have a single Muslim friend in your life, you have a dargah that someone in your family really believes in.

    And these are just the most obviously Muslim elements in our films. the non-obvious elements would be Islamic cultural elements that we no longer recognise as being non-Hindu in origin- like the ghazal tradition. i think most of the north Indian classical arts are non-Hindu.

    The ghazal and the lesser used thumri tradition, of course got replaced with the Sufi tradition on a massive scale in the last two and a half decades- every single song with the word “maula” in it is a Sufi song and is a guaranteed hit.

    Even though we have had a history of Pakistanis being shown as evil and terrorists in Indian films being Muslim, I’ve never actually felt that element of Islamophobia in our films. Before Padmavati that is and I’m pretty sure that’s just bhansali being a clueless dick. I’m not entirely sure what made him do this. Bajirao was just as bad as a film but the half-muslim blood of Mastani is never introduced as the major issue around which the film is centres.

    Although I do wonder, had there been no protests and fuss, would we see Ranveer and Bhansali’s Khilji as an OTT villain or a symbol of their bigotry?

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  10. Pingback: Hindi Film 101 Index | dontcallitbollywood

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