NOT HINDUSTANI, BUT bOLLYWOOD ISLAM
This unique, distinct form of Islam that Naseeruddin seems to be so fond of, is itself a character.
Something happened. The US withdrew its troops from Afghanistan and so far it genuinely seems that there is no larger game afoot and just absolute apathy displayed by the Biden-Harris administration and their execution of the evacuation. The Taliban swiftly disposed the so called Afghan government forces in a matter of days. Pakistani teenage and middle aged men can be seen climaxing in their undies on twitter ever since. There is a growing belief among Pakistanis that with the support of the Talibs they will now execute Ghazwa-e-Hind and succeed in making India Dar-ul-Islam, thus fulfilling the perennial dream.
The reaction of India’s “scared minority” i.e. the 200 million Indian Muslims has been predictable. Its not even surprising anymore. But as the Talibs slowly started to show their cards, some Indian Muslims who consider themselves as Swapan DasGupta once put it “sole repositories of truth” found it untenable to not criticize the Taliban and ended up making a fool out of themselves as neither the Indian Muslims welcomed criticism of Taliban nor did the Hindus buy into their new found objectivity.
The case in point is that of yesteryear actor Naseeruddin Shah. Shah followed in the footsteps of other entertainers like Aamir Khan, Javed Jaffery, Javed Akhtar and son Farhan Akhtar etc. and spoke out against the “rising intolerance in India ever since the 2014 election win of the BJP. That stunt was a few years ago, since then Shah has been quiet. But this time, the megalomania or maybe the embarrassment drove him to take another moral high-ground. The only difference this time was that he was criticizing “some” groups of Indian Muslims for celebrating Taliban’s capture of power. He ended up making a distinction between global Islam and what he called “Hindustani Islam”. His assertion that “Hindustani Islam” has always been a separate entity than global Islam and that Hindustani Islam has no place for such support for barbarians like Taliban earned him a much needed overhaul as the educated, elite Muslims in the academic world and media were quick to rebuke him and accused him of falling in the trap of the enemy, i.e. the Hindus.
Indian Muslims have been lamenting the BJP win in 2014 since the day it happened and have declared India as a hell for “all minorities”. This political narrative was fed intellectual salt by our non Muslim liberals and “educated Muslims” alike, who repeated each other’s words over and over again in order to establish them as facts. At the same time, these Indian Muslims want Rohingya and Afghan Muslim refugees to be given refuge in India. I believe the threat perception depends on whether the opening up of borders works in favour of Islam or not and that decides whether a place is safe or not. If the question is of letting in non Muslim minorities of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh into India, India is a killer of rights and discriminatory to its core. But if it is about letting Rohingyas and Afghans in, India suddenly become safe. We will do well to remember that back in 2012 when there was no imminent BJP win and the prospect of Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate was a wild dream, a Muslim group based in Mumbai organized a march in support of Rohingyas of Myanmar. That march reached Azad Maidan and for some reason the participants decided to desecrate the Amar Jawan Jyoti. Was it hate for the Indian Army that overwhelmed those youths and made them lose sight of what the march was about, or a predetermined objective to please someone outside India, we will never know.
Conveniently such a display of what one can very well view as Hindustani Islam, is never the plot of a Bollywood script. Neither is the Moplah Massacre, Noakhalli Massacre, the burning of the Sabarmati Express’ S6 coach, ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits which culminated with the exodus of 1990. The rape of Girija Tickoo as a direct consequence of Kashmiri Muslim separatism and xenophobia is never a subject for movies on Kashmir, what instead is a subject is the “misguided youth” of Kashmir, played by Hritik Roshan, directed by a Kashmiri Hindu director. Such is the power of the forces within Bollywood that in order to survive in that cesspool, one has to writhe and wriggle in the feces of those who hold the key. Another Kashmiri terrorist character played by Aamir Khan in Fanaa, is absolved of his crimes in the movie’s climax by his wife who actually killed him.
This unique, distinct form of Islam that Naseeruddin seems to be so fond of, is itself a character. I like to look at its genesis, progress and full bloom in three distinct phases.
One can trace its beginning to the early 70’s. Before that, Muslim actors and actresses had to adopt a Hindu screen name. But the backend was busy cementing Islam in the industry. Mehboob Khan is the person who created this Hindustani Islam character that Naseer is in love with or rather wants everyone else to love and respect. With Mehboob Khan it was simple, Ummati first. He made good on the Quranic verse 3:28 which extols Muslims to not take disbelievers as friends over believers. Before setting up Mehboob Studios he was making movies for Sagar Movietone. In those days, his team was;
After his Sagar Movietone days, he moved to National Studios following the same template. Then he started his own production house and by that time his team added;
The next thing is to dissect this progenitor of Hindustani Islam’s work. His first movie was called Al Hilal (Judgement of Allah). Surprised anyone? This movie could be seen as the first screen presentation of what has become the modern Muslim youth’s image of himself. The plot was that of an Ottoman Sultan’s son who is kidnapped by Romans, then a Roman Princess who finds this Muslim Prince irresistible falls for him, helps him escape and then this Muslim youth delivers victory to his people by driving the Romans away.
Mehboob Khan then goes on to make movies on love triangles, rich boy and poor girl, rich girl and poor boy, in all these movies where the plot has characters breaking social norms, premarital relationships, children born out of wedlock, all the characters are Hindus. All storylines have the Hindu society opposing love. This, in late thirties and early forties had set the stage for others to follow. In fact the only time Mehboob Khan made a movie with Muslim characters which also dealt with a similar love triangle theme was Najma released in 1943 and Elaan released in 1947. But unlike the characterless Hindu Leela who has a child out of wedlock with Moti (Hum, Tum aur Woh. 1938) in Najma we do not get to see this being done by Najma and Yusuf. They both marry according to their parents’ wishes and despite yearning for each other, remain committed to their marriages as he would have the audience believe that all pious Muslims do and that all Muslims are pious. In Ek Hi Raasta released in 1939 he has the female lead being sold to a wealthy businessman, a Sethji, a year later he will get another Seth, a Lala, killed in Aurat by a Dacoit. In movies like Deccan Queen, Aurat (later Mother India), Behen, the plot focuses on a Hindu woman, ready to break shackles of tradition and society in order to make her own way in this world. Whereas his movies like Al Hilal, Watan, Alibaba, Humayun, which have Muslim characters, have no activism in them. Reform was strictly reserved for the Kafirs. Mehboob Khan was also synonymous with his time, the pre-independence Muslim mind-set was one of sheer jealousy towards the affluent Hindus who were not shying away from modern education and were enterprising. As a result it was only natural for him to hate Capitalism. This hate for businesses, entrepreneurs was always there in his movies with most notably Roti, released in 1942 and would reach its peak in Mother India where he had the Lala, the Baniya depicted as a terrible person who was Wajib-E-Qatl.
Mehboob Khan also essentially Urdufied the Indian film industry. The song writing, the dialogue in movies coming out of Mumbai sounded Islamic for his strict adherence to hiring fellow Ummatis who would express themselves in Urdu. Immaculate Urdu pronunciation became a parameter for singers to get selected, hence paving the way for the likes of Mohammad Rafi, Talat Mahmood, Beghum Akhtar, Suraiyya.
After Mehboob Khan’s unwavering effort to establish Islam in the industry, Raj Kapoor brought in another equally grotesque element into the industry; socialism. But socialism was going to coexist with Islam happily in the industry. The foundation for Naseeruddin’s Hindustani Islam had been laid by Mehboob Khan, Muslims had established themselves in the industry in all spheres, Muslim gangsters in Mumbai had become patrons of the industry, the only thing left to do was to move to the second of the three phases of secularizing/neutering the Hindu audience.
Phase two of this plan to capture this immensely useful tool of mass media which can easily be used for mind control, brainwashing, guilt tripping, required the already captured backend to start producing results. This phase focused on writing characters who were devout and unapologetic Muslims, fiercely brave and heroic to an extent where their role in the story would significantly impact the outcome thus making them indispensable and central to the story in order to present Muslims are central and indispensable to the Indian society. This was a continuation of the “no swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity” nonsense which fell flat on its face with the creation of Pakistan but still found its place in the film industry. In some cases that Muslim character despite not being the lead would outshine the lead due to the impact it would have on the audience. In the event a heroic Muslim character was not possible, then the second best option was to write a Muslim character who was the epitome of humility, God fearing and a man of unwavering honesty. The third best option was to make movies on Muslims where they would be either Mughal rulers, Nawabs or the honest, daring, struggling common man. Since it could not be overtly antagonistic in nature, subject matter had to be palatable while still remaining positive for the Muslims. Whether it was Pran in Zanjeer, Hangal in Sholay, Amitabhs’s Vijay with his billa number 786 in Deewar or him as Iqbal with his bird Allarakha in Coolie, Yusuf Khan in Mughal-E-Azam, the objective was clear.
This exercise was undertaken by the film industry because it had a task at hand. Conscious of the fact that after 1947, the Muslim population had halved and thanks to their demand for a separate state where they could live freely without Hindus as the majority, the Muslims who stayed back in India quite possibly as a strategy to recreate 1947 a century or so later, had lost the faith of the majority and also lost any or all respect. There needed something to reinstate the faith of the majority into the Muslims. So an elaborate image makeover was required and fortunately for them, the film industry with its power to penetrate every corner of the country gladly signed up for this task.
Phase two, which I would place as beginning in early Seventies, also had another element to it. While big budget studio movies had positive Muslim characters being brought to the centre stage, on the other hand a subaltern bent within the industry saw low budget “art films” repeatedly tackle issues like caste, Hinduism and gender. This movement of art films or parallel cinema saw people like Shyam Benegal make movies in which rural India was depicted through the lens of some colonial servant. Nishant (1975) is a perfect example of this era where an idealist “Master ji” who wants to educate the villagers becomes a problem for the Thakur family as they don’t want villagers to get empowered. So the Thakurs kidnap the Master’s wife and rape her. Benegal’s other works like Ankur, Bhumika revolve around caste. Kalyug is a critique of the Hindu family system and its moral bankruptcy. In Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala, the focal point was gender and Hindu patriarchy with the added flavour of a devout, brave old Muslim Chacha as the protector, played by Om Puri. M.S. Sathyu’s Garm Hawa was one of the earliest movies that could seriously make you feel disgusted about being a Hindu. As an accompanying act, the Marxist framework of “institutions of power being inherently corrupt created to keep the proletariat suppressed” was also incorporated by these art films where they would attack Police, democracy and law. Govind Nihalani’s Ardha Satya is a classic example of sowing seeds of disenchantment with the system in the minds of the audience. While the studio films did depict corrupt police officers and amoral businessmen, the depiction in these so called art films took it to another level. Nihalani previously used to assist Benegal and keeping in with the intellectual fashion of the times, toed the same line. These movies quickly became the flavour of the intellectual circle. The elites, the academics and other sundry Lutyens creatures made sure that these works were legitimized by lobbying the Congress governments of that time for National Awards. This phase thrived and succeeded. Imagine being a minority community but being able to play with the minds of the majority in this fashion where they start looking at you differently. This, complemented with appeasement model of politics of the Congress party which ruled for Thirty years straight from 1947 to 1977 was the perfect recipe to mute the Hindu from voicing his anger, frustration over what had happened to his country. The Hindu was forced to accept the Muslim as his brother, first by Gandhi, then Nehru led Congress and the film industry. But the Muslim brother wasn’t done. He had a phase three in store.
Phase three brings us to the time with which we are most familiar with. It is the phase where the previous two phases enabled Muslim actors and actresses to no longer take up Hindu stage names. A dominant role in this phase is played by the Mumbai underworld which had now become belligerent enough to order killings of producers who wouldn’t fall in line. With the overlords beyond the reach of law in Dubai and Pakistan, the industry fell to previously unthinkable depths. While there was no dearth of perversion in the Seventies and Eighties, the Nineties were depravity on steroids. There was nothing artistic about the industry in the Nineties. It was pure garbage, made to make money by appealing to the baser instincts. Objectifying women, denying women any agency as they are shown as helpless at the mercy of an obsessed lover, crime, no storylines, lousy music. “…style se uski, smile se uski haay tabiyat bhadki, shehar ki ladki..”, “…pyaar mujhe karo…ang se ang laga ke”, “cheez badi hai mast mast” , “aaj na chhodunga tujhe dum duma dum,dil mein hai toofan bhara, naach meri jaan zara” , “tu haan kar ya na kar tu hai meri kiran”. It was an avalanche of disgusting content, a testament to the people who had made their way into the industry and those who controlled it from Dubai and Pakistan.
What didn’t change and was the only thing that progressed amidst what can be seen as an overall regression, was the Islamic agenda. This phase provided the industry with a perennial source of victimhood as the disputed structure in Ayodhya was brought down right about the same time as this phase was starting. Now, the move was to make movies where the Muslims were indeed the most noble and the Hindu was a communal beast. This is very much Quranic wherein the believers are the noble ones and the Kafirs bound for hellfire. This phase also tackled political events and instead of generalizing, also specialized as can be seen by their depiction of Kashmiri Muslims.
I could cite Mammo (1994), which basically tries to establish that humanity is more important even when it comes to a Pakistani, this after the fact that we had fought two direct wars with Pakistan and were engaged in a proxy war since 1947 and that Pakistan sponsored terrorism had started killing civilians. I could talk about Saleem Langde Pe Mat Ro (1989), which scares a Muslim man when he sees what happened in the Bhiwandi riots, or Naseem (1995) which is another Hindu guilt trip fest like Garm Hawa. In Sarfarosh (1999), we learn what Musalmaan means by Inspector Salim, also our dear friend Naseeruddin Shah plays the villain in that movie who says, “ek lakeer kheech di aur dono tarf ke gadhon ko faisla karne ka haq mil gaya ke kaunsa gadha takht pe baithega” , casually giving a very simplistic account of the partition of India. In Chinagate (1998) Sarfaraz played by Naseeruddin confronts Amrish Puri and exposes his character for the bigot he is by saying, “haan,ab aap yahi kahenge, ki humare toh khoon mein hee khoon kharaba hai”. Fiza (2000) tackles the Bombay riots and shows how a nice, sweet Muslim boy became a terrorist after witnessing the injustice meted out to his family. Funnily enough another movie which tackled the Bombay riots was Bombay (1995) by Mani Ratnam, which I will cover later, but sadly he chose to show a Muslim girl in love with a Hindu boy and then a bomb went off which injured him and could very well have killed him, but more on that later. Moving on, Mission Kashmir (2000) shows a boy who witnessed soldiers storm his house in the middle of the night, becomes a terrorist upon growing up. Notice the “misguided youth” narrative at play here. Khakee (2004) shows a Muslim man falsely accused of being a Pakistani terrorist for tending to victims of communal riots who then shakes the conscience of the Hindus around him. Dev (2004) directed by Govind Nihalani again to make his contribution to the propaganda around the Gujarat riots, shows a Hindu police officer, whose child died due to Muslims, still not pay heed to his communal bigot of a friend and trust the poor misguided Muslim youth who has picked up the arms, played by Fardeen Khan. Mr. & Mrs. Iyer (2002) by Aparna Sen again shows this nice, secular Muslim man who helps a Hindu woman while communal Hindus kill an old Muslim couple.
Fanaa (2006) has the Muslim terrorist absolved by his wife in the climax. Rang De Basanti (2006) shows a saffron organization’s worker harbour immense prejudice against the Muslim character and call him a Pakistani. Firaaq (2008) is another gaslight project which uses the 2002 Gujarat riots for its cause. Kai Po Che (2013) another movie on Gujarat riots, Shahid (2012) deals with the murder of a Muslim lawyer who was fighting to get “wrongly accused” Muslims on terror charges out of jail. Black Friday (2004) in its climax showed the video of the demolition of the illegal structure in Ayodhya and titled it, “what is past is prologue”, in order to pin the whole blame of the Bombay riots on that one event. The list goes on, the victimhood keeps building and the whitewashing attains new heights.
The amount of hard work put in to stymie any criticism of Islam or the behaviour of the Muslims did start paying dividends as the educated class went mute. The few movies that I want everyone to pay special attention to are Bombay (1995), Shaurya (2008), Mulk (2018) and Toofan (2021).
“..I shall argue that while the film seeks to promote values of secularism by placing the experience of an inter-religious family at the centre of the irrational violence caused by religious strife, it ultimately undermines this through what is essentially a proclamation of Hindu hegemony. I shall demonstrate the ways in which Hindu hegemony is both covertly and overtly established in the film, the former through the narrative and characters, the latter through its (mis)representation of the riots. My aim, then, is to answer Rustom Bharucha’s call “to work against the grain of [this film] politically, in order to dismantle [its] seemingly ‘secular’ imaginaries, which are, in actuality, soft-Hindutva ones couched, disguised, and dissimilated in secularist terms.” Thus, while I recognize that Bombay is a fictional narration of historical events rather than a documentary film, I believe it is important to take this extreme view because popular culture, particularly Bollywood films in the Indian context, has the power to disseminate/perpetuate the ideologies and interests of dominant groups by
exploiting/misrepresenting those at the margins of that society, in this case, Indian Muslims.”
The above passage has been quoted from an occasional paper written in 2006 by someone who at the time was a student at the Department of History in Art, University of Victoria, titled “The Illusion of Secularism : Mani Ratnam’s Bombay and The Consolidation of Hindu Hegemony”. Needless to say that this paper concludes, through the help of various works but most notably articles on the World Socialist Website, article by Javed Akhtar, a book on riots by a certain Iqbal A. Ansari, accounts by Teesta Setalvad etc that Bombay was a Hindutva project wherein the inter-faith relationship was shown to promote Hindu hegemony and assimilation of the Muslims into the Hindu fold thus laying a blueprint for Hindu Rashtra. While you and I boycott Tapsee, the ecosystem does this. Another reason to look at Bombay is what happened after the release of the movie. Mani Ratnam was attacked with crude bombs at his home by Islamists who were against the idea of a Muslim woman marrying a Hindu man, albeit fictional.
This brings me to Mulk and Toofan. In these movies the reverse can be seen. Particularly now where the systemic targeting of Hindu girls by Muslim boys has been proved endless times, these movies present a rosier picture where Muslim boys are unjustly vilified owing to the communal mind set of the Hindus and that there is no reason a Hindu girl shouldn’t choose to marry one. In Mulk, there is a double whammy, not only is it a Hindu female character fighting for justice for the poor Muslim who is wrongly accused as always, the Hindu woman is married into that home. In Toofan a communal bigot Hindu father is unable to appreciate the sincere Muslim boy who is his student. Islam means surrender, and they will make you surrender.
Finally Shaurya, the fact that these people vilified the Indian army and its activities in Kashmir, perpetuated the old formula of honest Muslim, and also declared any criticism of Muslims basically evil is as confrontational it can get. The movie’s message is that even if your minor daughter is raped by a Muslim, you should be objective and rational and secular enough to not harbour ill feelings towards the larger Muslim community. The monologue at the end, contains thoughts that a person thoroughly well versed with the history of Islam in this part of the world would possess, but since the character is judged to be an islamophobic bigot, those thoughts are not to be had. Even though thoughts much worse than that are there in the Quran for Hindus, the same Quran criticism of which is sacrilege, the Hindus cant be prejudiced. Its as if we don’t have a right.
Phase three is still going on, these days if you don’t play by their rules you will not get work. In the eighty years since Mehboob Khan put this takeover in motion, it has been achieved. The fact that Shahrukh Khan’s son being arrested for possession of drugs, makes the Republic of India a fascist state in the eyes of so many Indians, shows you to what extent this industry has managed to control and mould this nation’s psyche. There is no Hindustani Islam, its Bollywood Islam that Naseeruddin spoke about. In Bollywood Islam, there is no two nation theory to be shown, no direct action day, no Hindu oppression at the hands of Islamic invaders, no movie which depicts the ugly face of Pakistan and treatment of minorities there. Too bad for Naseer, that even this holier-than-thou version of Islam doesn’t seem to fulfil the appetite of the Indian Muslims. They want more. A lot more.
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