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.