Razakar: More propaganda cinema disguised as history?

The film's teaser focuses only on alleged atrocities against Hindus, with many saying this is an attempt to stoke communal tension in Telangana before elections

A poster of 'Razakar' gives away the political design of the project
A poster of 'Razakar' gives away the political design of the project

Naheed Ataulla

It is a period film, a slice of history, insists the producer. There is not much clarity yet on whether the Telugu film Razakar has been certified for actual release, though the producer also insists it will release in October — barely two months before assembly elections in Telangana.

The ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) government is, however, determined to stall its release, maintaining that it is a political propaganda film designed to provoke.

The film’s two-minute teaser was released in Hyderabad on 17 September. Two features stood out: the slick, lavish production; and the promise of some of the most gruesome graphic violence, massacres and rape in recent times.

“It is an excellent film,” gushed suspended BJP MLA T. Raja Singh, controversial for his toxic hate speech. He had been invited to release the teaser and called on followers to “spread awareness” about the film.

The teaser starts with a scroll: ‘15 August 1947. India got Independence. But Hyderabad did not.’ The following scenes show bearded Muslim men claiming to turn Hyderabad into ‘Turkistan’. These are the Razakars, who forcibly cut off a Hindu man’s moustache — or tongue. Several bodies hang in the branches of a large tree. A Muslim ‘officer’ tears the sacred thread off a Brahmin’s torso.

The film Razakar: Silent Genocide in Hyderabad is produced by BJP leader Gudur Narayana Reddy, himself from Telangana. Once you know that, the timing of the release on 17 September, when Union home minister Amit Shah was in the state to address a rally, is a puzzle that solves itself.

Razakars were the private militia of the erstwhile Nizam of Hyderabad, known for their alleged brutality. They dealt with a heavy hand with Communists who had launched a movement against the landlords, and also the common people — both Hindus and Muslims — who opposed the Nizam’s wish to maintain an independent princely state instead of joining India or Pakistan.

The teaser, however, focuses on alleged atrocities against Hindus specifically. This is clearly an attempt to stoke communal tension in the state before the election, fumed BRS working president and IT minister K.T. Rama Rao.

"Some intellectually bankrupt jokers of the BJP are doing their best to instigate communal violence and polarisation for their political propaganda in Telangana," he posted on his social media handles. "We will take up the matter with the censor board and also the Telangana police to ensure that law and order situation of the state is not affected."

Rama Rao isn’t alone in his conviction that the BJP intends the film as a weapon to win the elections. Political observers recall similar attempts from Karnataka where the BJP tried to paint Tipu Sultan as an Islamic, anti-Hindu villain in the run-up to the elections in May — all in service of ‘uniting the Hindus’.

And this was a well-known historical figure, the ‘Tiger of Mysore’ who resisted the East India Company and British forces, eventually killed in battle against them. The sustained disinformation campaign against the Mysuru ruler was to confound people’s knowledge of history itself and humiliate Muslims in the state.

The Razakar, in comparison, would be easier to milk — after all, this is a faceless army, not a national hero, and not in any school history textbook.

The Telugu film, which is being dubbed in several other languages, follows in the footsteps of The Kashmir Files and The Kerala Story from earlier in the year, both films designed to demonise and stereotype Muslims wholesale under the guise of ‘true history’.

Gudur Narayana Reddy, the producer, predictably claims that his intention was to highlight lesser-known ‘historical facts’ that have been brushed under the carpet. “My grandfather lay before the jeep of the Razakars’ chief, Kasim Razvi, to stop them from moving ahead,” he says in a telephonic conversation.

“Atrocities perpetrated by the Razakars took place barely two kilometres from my village Gudur, in what used to be Nalgonda. I grew up in the village hearing the tales of their atrocities.”

A Congress party member for 40 years who entered the BJP only in 2020, Reddy — who also has plantations in Kodagu in Karnataka — claims divine inspiration led him to make the film: “On 26 January 2022, when my plane touched down in Tirupati, the name Razakar suddenly occurred to my mind. It seemed God was asking me to make this film.”

Production of the film started in August 2022. “My intention is not to spread hatred,” he adds. Again, not everyone buys his plea of innocence.

The period soon after 1947 saw considerable police action. However, many of the atrocities can be blamed on the Hindu landlords who sided with the Razakars. The Communists targeted by the Razakars had also risen up against both the landlords and the Nizam.

On the other hand, many Muslims called for Hyderabad’s accession to India, and they too were targets, as per BRS spokesperson Sravan Dasoju.

The film appears to have taken a few specific instances from that period and blown them out of proportion, says Dasoju. “It is raking up old wounds that healed years ago and threatens to polarise Hindus and Muslims,” he adds.

He does not deny that there were certain instances, but places them in a context of comparable violence throughout that time. “We have to understand that the context of the Razakars was a time of feudalistic suppression by the landlords and of people’s struggle against feudalism.”

“It is the BJP’s ploy to create animosity between two communities to get political advantage,” he continues, “as it does not have a development narrative per se to present to the people of Telangana or to the country. They have chosen Razakar to cover up their failures.”

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge offers a poignant contrast to Reddy’s position. Kharge actually lost his mother and sister to violence unleashed by the Razakars in 1948 in Bidar, then under the Nizam. Their house was set on fire. Kharge and his father were away from home.

On their return, people told them of the attack and advised them to leave. None would offer them shelter for fear of drawing the Nizam’s wrath. The surviving members of the family eventually settled in Kalaburgi in Karnataka.

As evident from his public life, Kharge however does not equate the Razakars’ actions with ‘Muslim aggression’. Instead, he taught his son Priyank — now a minister in Karnataka government — the history of those times. Priyank Kharge says, “I know many Muslim families who were targeted as the Razakars were mercenaries and religious affiliations played no role.”

Former MP and Telangana Congress campaign committee chairman Madhu Yakshi Goud also believes it is mischievous to frame the Razakar episode in the local history as a Hindu–Muslim conflict.

He cites the example of Shoaibullah Khan, the celebrated journalist, who supported Hyderabad’s accession to India, and was among the many Muslims killed at the hands of the Razakars. Goud is confident the Razakar narrative will not sway Telangana voters.

Reddy points out the film does include Shoaibullah Khan’s story and reiterates that it is not a hateful film. “If you ask people in Hyderabad when the state got Independence, they will say 15 August 1947. Politics has nothing to do with this,” he asserts.

Indeed, the BJP’s actions this year smack of a certain desperation. This is the first year since the creation of Telangana that it decided to co-opt 17 September as ‘Telangana Liberation Day’, with Amit Shah’s rally at the parade ground.

The Congress, thus denied permission for its own rally at the parade ground, moved to the outskirts of Hyderabad to announce its six electoral guarantees. Goud notes: “The BJP is down to a single digit in the assembly and the response the Congress is getting to the six guarantees announced is overwhelming.”

An aggression borne of defensiveness is what Priyank Kharge also sees: “It is the Joseph Goebbels approach. Wherever the BJP is weak, it comes up with commercial propaganda films to promote its narrative.”

In other words, we can expect to see more smoke and mirrors.

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