NEW YORK: A new Bollywood movie “Sooryavanshi,” which is drawing big crowds in India, projects the right-wing Hindu nationalist agenda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, with its every third frame having a “bloodcurdling Islamophobic image”, according to an opinion piece in The Washington Post.
“It (the film) justifies the abrogation of the special status accorded to Kashmir, where thousands of youth were detained and an Internet blackout was imposed in 2019,” Rana Ayyub, a noted Indian author, wrote in the article: Why an Indian film’s success at the box office should worry us all.
“Like the government, the film argues that the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution has wiped out terrorism from the valley,” Ms. Ayyub wrote in her article.
“The film stokes the dangerous ‘love jihad’ conspiracy, which paints Muslim men as colluding to seduce or kidnap Hindu women or girls and convert them to Islam, she said, calling the flick ‘dangerous’.
“But other Islamophobic tropes are the center of the film, which has as its male lead one of the biggest stars in India, Akshay Kumar — a big fan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and an actor famous for his jingoistic, hyper-nationalist films,” the article said. Ms. Ayyub wrote:
” ‘Sooryavanshi’ is one of the most successful films in India after the covid-19 lockdowns were eased. Its success contributes to the climate of hate and discrimination that India’s estimated 200 million Muslims must face every day.
“Every third frame of the film is a bloodcurdling Islamophobic image. While an upper-class Hindu character played by (Akshay) Kumar gives lessons in patriotism, the Muslim antagonist responds with hate.
He is ungrateful, with a long beard and skull cap. Each time the protagonist sermonizes the Indian Muslim to fall in line, the audience in the theater where I saw the film whistled and applauded…
“If the filmmakers had read any news about Kashmir, they could have had a brush with reality. But who wants to talk about reality when the purpose is propaganda?
“Propaganda sells, obviously. News just gets in the way.
“Recently the police in India filed a case against 102 Twitter accounts that include journalists, activists, and lawyers who spoke out against the anti-Muslim violence that unfolded in the northeastern state of Tripura in October.
“Hindu nationalists vandalized mosques and attacked Muslim homes, but the Tripura police went after those who spoke against it, accusing them of sedition.
“For weeks in New Delhi, Muslim Friday prayers have been obstructed by Hindu nationalists. The Muslims were finally displaced, and a grand Hindu prayer service was organized in the presence of a leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Nov. 5.
“In this context, a film like ‘Sooryavanshi’ is not just entertainment. The film makes a point of repeating attacks carried out by Muslims, ignoring the numerous episodes of violence carried out by Hindu radicals.
“(Akshay) Kumar’s protagonist speaks about the 1993 blasts in Mumbai but conveniently ignores the 1992 anti-Muslim carnage that preceded it. He conveniently ignores the 2002 riots of Gujarat, the Malegaon blasts of 2006 that killed Muslims after Friday prayers, and the Malegaon blasts of 2008, where retired officers in the Indian army were implicated.
“In India, Muslim seminaries and organizations are being hounded by the Modi government for allegedly spreading terror in the country using foreign money.
“In the film, a Muslim scholar and priest who runs an organization is seen as the mastermind of a terrorist nexus that receives funding from Pakistan. The filmmakers should have at least given writing credits to Modi and his allies.
“Disappointingly, the film is produced by Karan Johar, a well-respected director who made a film called ‘My Name Is Khan.’ That movie addressed the demonization of Muslims post-9/11.
But that was before Modi. Johar’s new worldview is celebrated by the government; he recently received one of the country’s highest civilian honors in the presence of the prime minister and his powerful minister of home affairs, Amit Shah.
“‘Sooryavanshi’ is dangerous. After watching it, it’s impossible not to think of Nazi Germany, where Hitler cultivated a film industry that paid obeisance to him and made propaganda films against Jews.
“In a sane world, India’s film industry — and actors, directors, and producers from all over the world — would denounce it for its criminal and brazen Islamophobia. But maybe I’m asking too much.
“If Bollywood continues this aggressive descent into nationalism and hate, it will have blood on its hands. No box office record will be able to change that.”