Through her analysis of Bollywood films and her own experiences, Haleema discusses the role of Bollywood in identity politics and its role in shaping the Muslim identity within the region, including its growing significance under the governance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
‘Bollywood as an industry is politicised – Hollywood is the same’.
I remember watching a Bollywood film when I was around 10 years old, with my Hindu best friend at the time and her family. The story focused on a couple who eloped as the girl was from a Muslim family and the boy, a Hindu family. The story progressed with the family of the Muslim girl finding the couple and beating the boy badly. It highlighted deep Hindu, Muslim tensions. Funnily enough, the Hindu family was completely fine with the relationship as if to highlight that all Muslims were intolerant yet Hindus were perfectly accepting.
At the time, being 10 years old, I remember feeling uncomfortable about the story because of the audience I was watching with.
At 10 years of age, I felt that the film would make my friend and her family judge me differently. I even remember an off the cuff comment that one of her family members made, which even at 10 years old, made me uncomfortable.
I mention this incident because it recently came back to me when I was reading about the controversy surrounding a new Bollywood film.
Bollywood as an industry is politicised- Hollywood is the same. The ways in which political issues are covered is always based on the dominant ideology. In Hollywood, American imperialism is celebrated, in Bollywood, Hindu, Muslim violence is prevalent. Muslims are demonised, viewed as perverts, the ‘other’ and a threat. Hindus are portrayed as enlightened, progressive and under threat.
Coupled with Modi being in power in India, it’s clear that Bollywood is used to fight a cultural war. A war that may seem harmless but when we consider the increase in cow vigilantism and communal violence, it’s clear that Bollywood is a force to be reckoned with. With governmental campaigns such as beti bachao (save your daughter) so underpinned by racist notions about Muslim men and the need to prevent ‘love jihad’, film and screens play a direct role in perceptions and in violence.
Bollywood is violent and contributing to violence.
At 10 years old I saw it, 10 years later, it’s still happening. Until we ourselves reject the stereotypes and the labels perpetuated in seemingly innocent forms, we’ll see an increase in violence, an increase in tensions and an increase in othering.
Read more here – 70 Years On: Partition & Its Effects.
Haleema Akhtar is an undergraduate student at SOAS who is interested in social issues facing minorities and wants to work to create a fairer world in which minorities are not scapegoated or vilified.