Bollywood’s  Complicity in Islamophobia

By Asif Khan and Arbeena Shah

FOR the most part of its history, Hindi cinema and Muslim relationship has revolved in intricate orbits. Their deportment and the nature of the filmic world are increasingly getting intertwined with each other. Bollywood inclines to engender content pertaining to Muslims that tells them how they are supposed to live placidly in the country. Their religion is optically perceived as maniacal, which is assumed to have the effect of fueling bellicose tendencies in them against their country.

The only trustworthy Muslims in Bollywood movies are those who place India first, while others are optically viewed as miscreants or threats. And in the spirit of this, radical symbolism and negative personification of Muslims is done.

A year ago, Indian filmmaker Neeraj Ghaywan noted in The Quint's show 'Film and Politics Roundtable' how Islamophobia is personified in films. “You look at the color palette, or how the production design is done, while portraying Muslims. It’s mostly black, it’s mostly dimly lit, and it’s shot at low level to have a demonizing effect. But as you show the other side, it’s all flowery and bright lights and shot at an eye level.” he had said.

This deliberate and relentless attack on the spirit of Islam has been a defining characteristic in Bollywood’s content over the years. A plethora of movies by Bollywood ever since partition have banked on this theme and made gold at the expense of persecution of Muslim community. While Bollywood films Amar, Akbar, and Anthony in 1970’s avowed the secular nature of the country others like Phantom or the recently relinquished Sooryavanshi juggled a good and lamentable Muslim portrayal.

This repetition and propagation of selective conceptions to influence the masses is perilous because this adds fuel to the already rising levels of Islamophobia in India. And, it’s high time that this trend ceases because the grand prosperity of Sooryavanshi is an ocular perceiver opener and tears apart the gasconade secular nature of India.

The repeated display of an Indian Muslim as a threat to the society has landed the minority vulnerable to mob attacks which have now been rampant in India. One may say that Bollywood has to its impeccability put these lines to practice. “Repeat a prevarication often enough and it becomes the truth”, is a law of propaganda commonly attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. Psychologists refer to something like this as the "Illusory veracity effect.”

Muslims have been demonized to an extent that it will take a life of Bollywood to rehabilitate their damaged image. When asked about his movie Rohit Shetty, the director of highest grossing movie of 2021 Sooryavanshi which has taken Islamophobia levels to a new level, he replied in an interview with the Quint, “I ken there is an audience for such films.” And it’s mammoth success just translates to that.

Sooryavanshi which contains everything that a typical Bollywood drama is kenned for, a more immensely colossal than life protagonist, objectification of women, Islamophobia, and Pakistan don’t only fail Muslims. They reveal much more about Bollywood.

Tip Tip Barsa Pani, a musical of Sooryavanshi visually perceived the camera moving impeccably to capture Katrina’s body on an immensely colossal screen for her fans. 30 years ago, it was Raveena Tondon (another Bollywood actress) today it is Katrina Kaif while the male lead remains unchanged. An exasperating reminder of how Bollywood treats its elements differently. But it’s a run-of-the-mill for Bollywood, over time Indian audiences have accepted this as mundane and much homogeneous to Islamophobia.

As Sooryavanshi film shows Muslims praying before doing anything evil then by their logic their prayer must be evil too. So isn’t barring Muslims from performing their prayers as we see in the modern day India replica of what Bollywood has fed Indian people?

Another worrying aspect of the film is that it tries to strengthen the conspiracy of love Jihaad, which has been argued to be an act of abducting and converting Hindu women to Islam.

Rajasthan's chief minister Ashok Gehlot had earlier in 2020 slammed the far right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), saying the party had manufactured the term “love jihad” to “divide the nation and disturb communal harmony.”

Sooryavanshi became a top grocer post Covid lockdown at a time other films failed to make a big mark even after good reviews by film critics. Its success speaks volumes about the current atmosphere of hatred and animosity for Muslims fed by dirty politics. Also, it goes on to show the minimal level of media literacy present in Indian audiences. Under such circumstances, Bollywood becomes even more dangerous because it can trigger anyone among its Indian audiences to wage an attack on its Muslim counter parts. Bollywood must stop romancing Islamophobia and focus on other problems in its society rather than acting as a propaganda machine in the 21st century.

  • The authors are freelance journalists and movie critics based in Kashmir 

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