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A deceit called Bollywood

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I recently on a whim (re)watched “Razia Sultan” movie. I had seen the movie as a teenager when it was telecast on Doordarshan in late 80’s/early 90’s and I clearly remembered a few scenes from the movie that a boy in his teens should – more on that later. Covid has made a lot of free time available to folks and one of the productive uses of free time is watching Bollywood movies. After doing it for the last year or so, I came to the realization that Bollywood output have been consistently “shitty” over several decades (just don’t blame the 80’s and 90’s) – fares that were mind blowing in my recollection are actually naught in reality.

Coming back to Razia Sultan, the movie itself was released in 1983, took around 8 years to make, and was a box office disaster. On the surface, it is a love-story between a Turkic princess and a black slave during the times of Delhi sultanate in thirteen century. There are melancholic elements to the presentation with lovers yearning for each other and their dealings with race issues of the times. We also get to peep into the Sultanate harems – I got more interesting details of harems from an Iraqi colleague who described the ones Saddam & Sons had. The makers did not apparently claim that the movie is historically accurate and the artistic liberties they took tell us more about Bollywoodians than about Razia.

The movie is actually a bore with incomprehensible urdu dialogues. Its strongest point is really its soundtrack. I have heard and knew the most famous track – “ae dil-e-nadaan”. However, more telling are the other tracks. Sample the lyrics below from song “hariyala banna aaya re” on the occasion of Razia’s impending wedding –

हरियाला बनने आया
देवताओं के मन
हैं खुशी से मगन
पि से मिलने चली
सज के रज़िया दुल्हन

Sample below another set from song “shubh gadi aaye re” on the occasion of Razia coronation-

फूल कमल सी कोमल काया
कलियों सी मुस्कान है
दुर्गा,काली,रणचंडी सी
इसकी आन बान है
सर पर ताज नहीं रज़िया के
हिंदुस्तान की शान है
चारों दिशाओं में रज़िया समाई रे
शुभ घडी आई रे……..

To the uninitiated or to non-Hindi readers, the songs eulogize Razia which is not really a problem. The songs use Hindu gods and goddesses to eulogize Razia which some may argue is also not a problem. The songs become a problem when you realize that Razia’s dynasty – and quite likely Razia, herself too – was quite busy destroying Hindu temples and Hindu culture during their rule. Most of the Islamic architecture from that period in Northern India is built on destroyed Hindu and Jain temples.

These standing buildings are historical specimens for which one does not have to rely on the analysis of famous historians or Bollywood to educate us what did happen and what did not happen in those times. We do not know what songs were sung in Razia’s court during her times, but her Bollywoodian eulogy from Hindu gods and goddesses in clearly problematic.

Bollywood apologist will tell you that it is a money-making industry, giving escape to poor Indians from their real, tough lives – just don’t think too much into Bollywood and just enjoy the song, the dance, and the melodrama. Some will argue that understanding the impact of Islamic colonial rule over India requires a lot of cultural sensitivity – just don’t expect Bollywoodians to have the intellect to dig deep into sensitive topics. What if you realize that the issue at hand is not really about money-making or cultural sensitivity but rather of deceit.

If that is the case, let us talk about deceit then.

Deceit 1: Presenting “cultural appropriation” as cultural assimilation
The Razia songs in the form of Hindu eulogies can be considered as prime examples of “cultural appropriation”. As defined within Western woke, liberal circles, cultural appropriation is adoption of elements of one culture by another when they have been at conflict. However, in Indian woke, liberal circles that have dominated Bollywood, these songs are classified as prime examples of “Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb” or assimilation of Hindu-Islamic cultures. Some will find “Ganga-Jamuni” term itself as an example of cultural appropriation by Indian wokes, as both Ganga and Jamuna are part of Hindu heartlands and don’t culturally represent Islam in any way.

Deceit 2: Hiding identity and revealing later
Some readers may confuse this class of deceit with “love-jihad”, which has been extremely controversial in recent times. What most do not realize is that this practice of hiding identity and revealing later must have been practiced and perfected over centuries. How does this deceit relates to Bollywood. In early days of Bollywood, it was a common practice for actors to ditch their Islamic names for Hindu screen names. The explanation was that actors preferred names familiar to their Hindu audiences to make them feel comfortable with their choices. These days there is no need for Hindu names, as Bollywoodian Ganga and Jamuna have already assimilated and Bollywoodians have moved to higher level of deceits – No.3 and 4.

Deceit 3: Hinduism’s inferiority
Our famous Bollywood movies are filled with subtle inferences that Hindu gods, culture, and beliefs are of no good. PK was in your face and its precursor, 3 Idiots, in comparison was much more subtle – watch 3 Idiots again to grasp the subtle messaging. The list of movies with the same/similar message is big but the audience has been lapping it up over decades and filling Bollywood coffers. Maybe Bollywood has a case to make to suggest that Hinduism is inferior, but unfortunately, there is no evidence to support their case. On the contrary, Hindu culture and beliefs have been tested through extremely tough times and if they are not better then they are also not inferior to others as well.

Deceit 4: Hindu guilt
Compared to No.3, more problematic is the presentation of Hindu guilt in Bollywood. Bollywoodians think that Hindus should feel guilty for protecting their faith and culture from the never-ending onslaught from Islamists. The masters of “cultural appropriation” have started to teach us this concept with scripts that result in moist eyes and guilty hearts for the Hindus. You do not have to look further than to watch another blockbusters – Rang de Basanti and Haider; if you like artsy moist eyes, try Garam Hawa. Moisten eyes has changed my views about Hindu guilt but then how about the guilt of Islamists.

Even if we take the argument that the numbers of Hindus killed by Islamic invaders and rulers are overtly exaggerated as those ghastly statistics are part of eulogies by the writer for the master (note the difference in eulogies in the times of Razia and the times of Bollywoodians), one can confidently say that the death ratio was comparatively much higher for the Hindus than the Islamists. Therefore, if the ratio is higher on the other side, surely Islamist should also have some guilt for the blood shed. Bolllywoodians, show the Islamist their guilt as well and talk about Gauri, Aurangzeb, and Kashmiri Pandits – I beg thee, sire!!

Note that we have not yet talked about excellence in Bollywood – in fact, Bollywood and excellence are like two parallel lines that meet at infinity. Another favorite analogy of mine to describe Bollywood is that Bollywood is like a really bad song (of course, a really bad Bollywood song) that after hearing it a number of times, you start to find beauty within it – O Bollywood! My Bollywood!

Bottom-line is that Bollywoodians are not the country’s intelligentsia or a center of excellence. Actually, they are as dim-witted as you and me, if not more. If Bollywoodians sell themselves and their movies, ask for excellence. If a Bollywoodian sells a product, check the product and not the Bollywoodian or his/her sculpted-body/figure or his/her fair skin or his/her intelligence.

Don’t be tolerant to mediocrity from Bollywoodians – walk away from a shitty movie instead of trying to recover the ticket price by watching it until the skimpy-dressed lady in the item song comes on screen or until till the end credits start to roll (your accountant will tell you that your ticket is a sunk cost and should be ignored). Instead learn to read subtitles and watch a better regional movie from India or an international movie from Japan, Korea, Iran, US, or Europe. Let Bollywoodians fight over for your time and money. Let them entertain us with their lurid affairs and scandals, but do not let them overreach with their judgment on Hindu gods, culture, and beliefs. Become intolerant to Bollywoodism!!

N. Lakhan

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