Are you kidding me? Bollywood loves Muslims

Published: August 29, 2012
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I doubt Salman, Aamir or Shah Rukh Khan would have chosen to remain a part of the industry had there been such discrimination. PHOTO: REUTERS/AFP

Recently, I read a blog on The Express Tribune entitled “Bollywood, please stop demonising Muslims” by Muhammad Mustaqeem Yousfani. Had the article written been about the mind-numbing inanity that Bollywood is prone to dishing out from time to time, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid because, frankly, there is some truth to that statement.

However, when Mr Yousfani alleges that Bollywood is anti-Muslim, I raise my eyebrows, roll my eyes and put pen to paper to write a befitting reply (I hope) to refute his unfounded charges.

It is startling that such an allegation can be directed towards Bollywood – an industry whose biggest stars are all Muslims. I doubt Salman, Aamir or Shah Rukh Khan would have chosen to remain a part of the industry had there been an iota of substance to his charges.

So, is Bollywood really giving Muslims a bad name? Let me address Mr Yousfani’s concerns.

1. Are only Muslim names used for the characters of villains in Bollywood?

Bollywood may have had a ‘Yousuf bhai’ or a ‘Ghani bhai’ playing the villain, but the daddy of all villains in Bollywood is Gabbar Singh, a Hindu. A close second is Mogambo, and that doesn’t sound like a Muslim name to me!

Bollywood has had Hindu characters play terrorists as well. Do you remember Meghna from Dil Se? Other (Hindu) villains I enjoyed watching were Sunil Malhotra in Darr and Langda Tyagi in Omkara. The list of Hindu villains is never-ending but I have a word count to adhere to.

2. Are Pakistanis portrayed as terrorists in Bollywood?

Movies, sometimes, are a vent to let off some steam and the angst Indians feel at being targeted in attacks perpetrated by Pakistan. When such incidents take place, Bollywood responds with a movie. Wouldn’t you say that’s a case of art imitating life?

I wish the ordinary Pakistani would understand that the ire is targeted towards your government, your army, and the ISI, not the common man in Pakistan. Indians have no issues with the Pakistani public and that’s why Ali Zafar, Atif Aslam, Adnan Sami, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Shafqat Amanat Ali and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan were all embraced by Bollywood and the Indian public so lovingly.

3. Are Indian films really anti-Islamic?

To answer this question, I would like to mention some Muslim characters that have been portrayed in a good light by the Hindi film industry:

  • The patriotic Indian Muslim cop, Saleem, in Sarfarosh, whose potent dialogues touched every Indian’s heart.

“Phir kabhi kisi Saleem se mat kehna yeh mulk uska ghar nahi.”

(Don’t tell another Saleem ever again that this country is not his home.)

  • Rizwan Khan in My Name Is Khan. India is the only country which has made a movie in defense of Muslims post 9/11. As Indians, we refuse to have our Muslim brothers labelled terrorists and be held accountable for the actions of a misguided few.
  • Akbar, the affable Muslim soldier in Lakshya.
  • Rashid in my favourite film, Pinjar.
  • Farhan Qureshi in 3 Idiots.
  • Kabir Khan in Chak De India.
  • Akbar in Amar Akbar Anthony.

There are countless Bollywood songs which mention “Allah” in them. Wouldn’t you say, that’s as pro-Islamic as one can get?

It’s not only Indian films; even Indian television has had Muslim protagonists who were adored all over the country. Tipu Sultan, a series based on a Muslim king who ruled South India was a huge hit with the masses.

The author mentioned that the movie Veer-Zaara showed Muslims in bad light because the Muslim fiance of the heroine, Zaara, was responsible for the separation of the lovers. However, he very conveniently forgot to mention the very Muslim Shabbo who was instrumental in uniting them in the first place. Also, Zaara and her family have been depicted as kind and benevolent Muslims who treat the Hindu governess with utmost respect and love.

4. Does Bollywood distort the Muslim culture and fundamentals?

Innumerable Hindu characters in films have been shown harassing, raping, murdering women and indulging in behaviour that would put anyone to shame, but that doesn’t leave me frothing at the mouth. This is because I’m aware that Hindus are, after all, humans, and humans are fallible beings who cannot be expected to have a squeaky clean image.

But let’s ignore my opinion of scenes involving Muslim characters and consider the stance of Indian Muslims. The movies that came under criticism in his blog, Veer–Zaara, Tere Naam and Dil Se, had Muslim actors. These proud Muslim men have a lot of clout in Bollywood and I’m sure they would have coerced the filmmakers to expunge scenes which they thought disgraced their religion. Clearly, the scenes Mr Yousfani deemed offensive didn’t evoke the same reaction from the Khans or the Muslim masses in my country.

India has a very high Muslim population. Since the portrayal of Muslims in Bollywood is not an ever-present bone of contention in India and since the Muslims here didn’t cry foul over the movies Mr Yousfani wrote about, I think Bollywood has nothing to worry about.

People, especially those living in different parts of the world, interpret religion differently. What offends a Pakistani Muslim may not offend a Muslim in India. Bollywood only takes into account sentiments of its primary audience─the Indian masses. Filmmakers cannot aim to please all the people all the time.

Contrary to popular belief on The Express Tribune, Indian Muslims are not tormented here. Indians, both Hindus and Muslims, are a fairly tolerant lot who live in relative harmony. Muslims are an integral part of India’s social fabric and most Hindus will not stand for any kind of intolerance towards Muslims. To the skeptics who find my words shallow, I say, log into Twitter and hound Shah Rukh Khan for answers. That should keep him amused till rapture.
5. Does Bollywood aid Islamophobia?

The emphatic answer is no. On the contrary, Bollywood has made Muslim artists popular the world over. Islamophobia is at its peak in the west but Americans/Europeans don’t watch Bollywood.

What, in your opinion, Mr Yousfani, aids Islamophobia in that part of the world? In my humble opinion, what can aid Islamophobia is the news of 11-year-olds being jailed under blasphemy laws and minorities being persecuted to such an extent that hundreds of them decide to leave their motherland forever.

I know this isn’t the Islam my Muslim friends follow. They speak the truth when they say Islam is a religion of peace and love because I see their actions mirroring their words. Islam should be known for the sentiments of the peaceful majority of its followers and not for the actions of an intolerant minority.

If there’s anyone distorting the Muslim culture and robbing it of its essence, it is the self-righteous ‘guardians of religion’ who get their knickers in a twist over trivial matters but fail to address the real issues that afflict their societies. Their twisted interpretation of honour and the paranoia it brings about is then imposed on unwitting and impressionable youngsters, who then go on to emulate the intolerant generation before them.

It’s a vicious circle that sets into motion events and mindsets that stunt the growth of society. It is the actions of these misguided few that malign Islam.

Amrita Singh

Amrita Singh

Passionate about trekking and travelling, the writer has just moved to Belfast, UK. Her obsession with the Himalayas grows every passing year and she keeps going back for more.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.