Posted by: drmazharkhan | June 27, 2010

Islam, Secularism and Bollywood

Cinema has always been a reflection of the social and cultural changes around us. The evolution of Indian Cinema also stems from the evolved tastes and expectations of the masses that it hopes to please. Including portrayal of Islamic culture. Yet Bollywood has changed…and so has its representation of Islam.

In the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s Bollywood boasted of some of the best forms of intellectual expressions. And Islam was always smack right in the middle of the cultural showcase. Most of the movies had strong doses of Shayari, Urdu, Nawabs, Tawayafs and even the islamic veil (burqua)…Some famous examples are:

Chaudvin Ka Chand (1960),  Mere Mehboob (1963), Mere Huzoor (1968), Pakeezah(1972), Garam Hawa (1973) (a wiki article has referred to this movie as ‘Limiting Secularism: The Ethics of Coexistence’) etc etc.

These were some creative films. There were many other superhits depicting actual historical events from the Mughal era. For eg..Anarkali (1953), Mughal-e-azam (1960), Taj Mahal (1963), etc…

Through out these 2-3 decades, one could see, touch, feel and absorb soulful music, intellectual dialogues, spiritual calling, subtle romantic gestures (even through a full burqua, Sadhana was able to achieve heights of sensuality, with just her eyes), in depth exploration of  human emotions and above everything else, a sense of purity.

Even during the ‘Amitabh Era’, there was a careful portrayal of unity and the spirit of secularism with movies like Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Umrao Jaan (1981). A muslim character was considered necessary for a complete social picture. Even in Sholay the characterization of ImaamSaheb (played by A.K. Hangal) was mostly in sync with the cinematic efforts of keeping Islam as an integral part of any community, even a distant village in the hills. More so his efforts to offer Namaz on time was appreciated and even encouraged by the other characters.

But alas, in this new decade Islam’s standing in Bollywood is in a sorry state. Bollywood has characterized Islamic followers as  gun wielding, terror striking, cruel zealots. It has been years since a movie has been based solely on an Islamic family. Even if a movie does show an Islamic household or a character, it is somehow linked to its struggle with or actual participation in anti national terrorist activities.  Some notable examples are Roja (1993 – one of the first movies linking Islam to terrorism), Fiza (2000), Mission Kashmir (2000), Black Friday (2004), Fanaa (2006), Anwar (2007). These movies atleast had some substance. There are countless other senseless and research-less movies on Kashmir or Indian terrorism.

Today’s India needs, more than ever before, extreme understanding of secularism along with the spirit of co existence. Thus, the changing portrayal of Islam in Bollywood is a matter of grave concern. Nobody can argue or challenge the clout of Bollywood on the Indian masses. Therefore, one can only imagine the extent to which these movies must be disturbing an average Indian mind, filling it with assumptions and prejudice about a culture which is really their own.

In the coming years, I hope that movie makers realize this fact along with their responsibility and start imbibing inter-cultural, societal positivity in their Cinema, which would in the long run make our nation stronger and happier.



  1. You are quite right. From portraying the decadent Muslim society, Bollywood seems to have moved and there is a perceptible change in the portrayal of Muslims.

    Movies like Ishqia and MNIK are also different and yet they achieved commerical success.

  2. The perspective has changed, in 60s & 70s movies were made to entertain, however now the sole objective is business. Therefore the laws of business apply on movies as well. The most important of which is how to sell a product? Movies are no less than a product, to fulfill huge financial aspirations of producers. The art has been replaced by market. Thats perhaps the reason you see many acting maestros passed out from NSDs and likes don’t really find a role and the so called chocolaty faces with virtually no acting abilities, corrupted pronunciations find roles one after another. B’cause that sells. Similarily portrayal of Islamophobia sells faster today in films, in news channels, in our casual talks, in schools and in drawing room discussions….courtsey world media…

    • Asad, You have quite a valid point to make. Indeed, everything is ‘economics’ or broadly, the science of money. All the reactions, the trends, the efforts and even emotions can be summed up in ‘What sells’.

      You have added a new thought, a new direction altogether to this post. Islamophobia is ‘IN’ and it does sell. Unfortunately.

      • Portrayal of muslims in bollywood is polarized to two extremes. A muslim is depicted either as a terrorist or a so calles secular, drinking wine without a slightest of botheration about his faith. It seems a deliberate effort of global propaganda to force muslims psychologically align themselves with either camp.

      • actually Bollywood NEVER had the courage to deal with Islamic radicalism and terror. It has if anything made apologist movies, based on pious platitudes. Movies like Dhoka, or other ones from the Mahesh Bhatt family completely turns the table on the establishment and accuses them of infuriating Muslims!! the other trend are subtle messages of Islamic moral uprightness, which is simply rubbish…driving an edge between India and the west is a ploy many movie makers employ. Overkill, fictitious villainous Paki bashers against ‘victimized’ Muslims. Bollywood needs to grow a spine, and delve into Islamic theology, which inspires Islamic radicalism…it has very little to do with poverty, or illiteracry, much less being in a minority status.

      • Dear Deepak,

        Thank you for the comment. You have shone new light on the subject and I respect your viewpoint. I am glad that this post has been able to generate a healthy debate.
        As a thinking man, I have been trying to understand the situation from your perspective. I believe that every religion has a history and a message. And no religion, however ancient, can ever teach Violence. And yet every religion can be interpreted in selfish ways and narrow observations, to suit the ideology of the ‘practitioner’.
        This situation is much more common in Islam than in any other faith, unfortunately. I think, and it is my personal opinion (guided by a lost friend), that Islam should be studied from a Macro perspective. The essence. But then there will always be people who will distort the message.

        Finally, I would just say that I am more worried about my national brotherhood than cleansing of any religion. And I mean to say that Bollywood has to power to influence mindsets and perspectives. If a preacher brainwashes youngsters into terrorism, can not Bollywood (with its far reaching tentacles) brainwash ordinary citizens in to believing that Humanity is the greatest good?

        – Dr Mazhar Khan

  3. hollywood and bollywood all are controlled by the one world order. the bollywood movies controll the mind of indian masses and thats how society changes . the concept of love which once existed is now replaced with nudity, extra marital affairs,fashion etcdo watch the series bollywood exposed on youtube and also the arrivals

    • Thank you for the comment Mr Khan.

  4. Its like walking the line or cross it. nothing’s black or white, between the thick and thin there lies common self. On contrary to ethics the concept of Islam is too modern and revolutionary itself, and has direct approach to all that humanity faces or could face in present or coming circumstances. But what differs is the way or method of Characterisation caste and acceptance towards a particular society. You may outcast them because the difference of their ways from yours, out of jealousy, fear any thing, but some has courage, wisdom to embrace, to know. But pity, with all the good human’s growing marketing vwisdom is doing since the globalisation and free media it has separated the idea of salable and nonmarketable, if i cut it short then i’d say, “the profiteerings never seek truth but profit”.

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