Propagandist Cinema: The rise and rise of hate in Bollywood
The practice of portraying hate, especially towards Muslims in Hindi films as villains, demons and violent people, has intensified over the last few years
Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri's film The Kashmir Files epitomises the sense of hatred overtaking the Hindi film industry. The irrational support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, several ministers of the central government and state governments has helped such hatred to spread and expand. The Prime Minister did not just stop at posing in support of The Kashmir Files, he went a step further to tell his party's MPs that 'TKF’ had to be passionately promoted.
He seemed not to know which imaginary 'ecosystem' he was referring to that was stopping the film from succeeding, while he himself created an 'ecosystem' for its promotion.
The effect of this endorsement is visible. Supporters of BJP are organising shows of this film at private, institutional and government levels. People are being urged to watch this film. In fact, the film strengthens the BJP's 'politics of hate'. It is a wildfire-like extension of its hate rallies and public meetings.
Everyone in the Hindi film industry is amazed. Both staunch supporters and silent critics of 'TKF’ are beginning to comprehend its astonishing success.
This one film has struck a body blow to the decades-old secular stream and perceptions of the Hindi film industry. The members of the film fraternity who dislike both the craft and idea of this film are also not coming out in the open. They have maintained a firm silence. It looks like everyone is waiting for the storm to pass.
The first glimpse of hatred in Hindi films can be seen in Anil Sharma's film Gadar. However, even in Gadar, Anil Sharma did a tight-rope walk by showing Gandhian Muslims in Pakistan. This balance has been the tradition of Hindi films. In addition to targeting Pakistan and Muslims, the writers and directors have always had a patriotic Muslim character in their films. We also saw a similar character in Rohit Shetty's recently released masala entertainer Sooryavanshi.
Mani Ratnam's Roja was the first film that created a special image by giving faces, names and costumes to terrorists in Hindi films. Before that, villainous terrorists were only from neighbouring countries, foreign nations or elsewhere. Wearing a Pathani suit in Roja, the terrorist was shown moving from Pakistan to the border. His look (netted cap, surma-cast eyes and checked scarf over the shoulder) gave away his identity as a Muslim terrorist.
After coming to power at the Centre with a majority in the 2014 elections, Narendra Modi's government brought the experience of hatred from the Godhra to the rest of the country. Despite assuming the responsibility of the Prime Minister of the country, Modi never hesitated to practise the politics of discrimination and hatred against Muslims in all his dealings.
Artist supporters poisoned by his ideas spread this poison further through their tone and style. This poison can be seen in scenes and heard in dialogues on social media, short videos, reels and movies. The audience and intellectuals shocked by the hatred perpetrated by The Kashmir Files might not have seen and heard the 'hate campaign' that has been going on for the last three years.
After the sudden death of Sushant Singh Rajput, there was an organised attempt to defame the Hindi film industry without any basis. As a result of this effort, the hashtag 'Boycott' starts running at the time of release of every new film.
Clearly the central government and the BJP leadership are unhappy with the secular attitude of the Hindi film industry. Directly or indirectly pressure is being put on the Hindi film industry. The situation has become so dire that every script is being sent to the lawyers first. They advisewhether or not to make that intoa film. They ensure that the supporters of the government and the BJP do hot take offence toany dialogue or scene in their film.They are on high alert about this taandav and tamasha.
The Kashmir Files, only consolidates and concentrates in one frame the hate ideas being spread over the years. Radhika Menon's character in the movie, at a university like JNU, comments made to media and criticism of Congress are recreations of that same propaganda.
Hindi films were always about love, harmony and brotherhood in the society that emerged from the horrors of Partition soon after Independence. Films inspired by Gandhi-Nehru ideals in nation building filled progressive consciousness among the audience. Here we must not forget that Hindi films have been mainly influenced and infused with the upper-caste feudal thinking, just like in Indian society, but efforts for harmony in social diversity also persisted. Tolerance and compassion prevailed. For a long time, the love stories of Hindi films tried to bridge the gaps existing insociety.
The films depicted ped an idealistic society and families. They were guarded against fanaticism and religious hysteria. Audiences kept singing 'Tu Hindu Banega Na Musalman Banega, Insan Ki Aulad Hai Insaan Banega', though the family and society in the stories of the films remained predominantly Hindu upper castes to woo the majority audience of the country.
It can be said that the writers and directors created a fantasy world. This fantasy world was punctured from time to time by communal-minded writers and directors influenced by right-wing ideas but this hatred could not prevail. It did not become the mainstream.
Right now, it seems that the secular stream of Hindi films is getting thinner. The cinema has largely become a business. Most of the people active here are focusing on financial success. Yes, they also want to be in the 'good books' of the present regime and government. Apart from taking selfies with the Prime Minister, they are making a splash aboutnationalism in films that pleases the government.
The practice of portraying hate, especially towards Muslims in Hindi films as villains, demons and violent people, has intensified over the last few years. The Muslim character, who had been a friend of the hero for decades, is now part of a gang of villains. Here one mustmention the two films Uri: The Surgical Strike and Kesari which came in 2019 and Tanhaji in 2020. The terrorists and the villains in all three films were Muslims. Against them the hero stands, fights, wins or is martyred.
At the end of the day, India will have a heavy price to pay for the popularity of The Kashmir Files. It will be difficult to overcome the consequences of the hate fuelled with the supportof the powers that be.
The Kashmir Files has severely polarised the audiences. Just as the Hindu inside most of the voters of the country wakes up while voting, similarly the Hindu inside the critics and the audience has woken up while watching this film. This negative awakening will be fatal for Indian society and cinema.
(Translated from Hindi by Abhir More)
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)