While most of our A-list actors follow Islam for religion, on the silver screen they mostly go by Raj, Rahul or even Chulbul Pandey! Why is it that films have an unwritten rule to exclude Muslims from regular entertainers? Muslims in Bollywood could be a case study in itself. And yet, we have had two wonderful films come out in recent times which ring the changing times.
Earlier, an A-list actor picked on a role of a Muslim mostly to prove a point, for the script and his career. So it is hardly a surprise that the three reigning Khans, who have been a part of Bollywood since the late ’80s, have played Muslims only in a handful of films. Why is it that if we see Shah Rukh Khan romance as a Raj or a Rahul it is perfectly normal, but if he is being Raees, his love story isn’t as important any more? Imagine, it took Salman Khan almost three decades to finally play a Muslim in Sultan. Despite the fact that our most revered stars like Dilip Kumar and most celebrated composers and lyricists follow Islam, Bollywood shows secularity only when the script makes demands. That is not to say that we have not had some very interesting films that have depicted the rich Islamic culture, but if their presence is to be unnecessary, a Bollywood filmmaker will most probably make-do without a Muslim in his film. After 70 years of Independence and co-existence, this is the sad fact of the matter.
If you ever sit back, you will notice the Muslim characters in Bollywood too have had a very interesting journey and equally befuddling clichés to fill through their minutes in the limelight. They started off as Nawabs and Badshahs during the earliest years of Indian cinema with films like Mughal-E-Azam and slowly slid into roles of criminals through the ’70s and ’80s, but looks like the tide has called for a change. It is obvious that with the new blood in Bollywood, the new minds are seeing things in a different light. After more than 70 years of freedom, it is now, finally, that Muslims in Bollywood are being perceived as human. It was refreshing to see Raazi and feel the glory and pain of a patriot through Sehmat Khan-Syed’s life. But do you really see many filmmakers making films like Raazi? No!
Remember, Salim (Mukesh Rishi) from Sarfarosh ranting at Ajay Singh Rathod (Aamir Khan) – “Phir kabhi kisi Salim se mat kehna yeh mulk uska ghar nahi.” Though eventually in the film they are all trying to hunt down Gulfam Hassan and get him to admit his terrorist activities, what Salim said, as an Indian Muslim, echoed the sentiments of many Muslim families across the nation. Every time a Muslim family sleeps through India winning an important match in cricket, they are labelled ‘Pakis’ by their neighbours, every time there is an Arab walking through a film scene, why is it that the audience concludes the baddie has entered the script? The prejudice is too deep. No matter how often Shah Rukh Khan says, “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist,” there are some who roll their eyes and think, “That’s what they all claim!”
And then suddenly, you have a film like ‘Mulk’ coming, making us all question every prejudice that we have subconsciously held onto. When Aarti asks her father-in-law, Murad Ali Mohammed, how does one distinguish between a bearded Muslim and a bearded terrorist, it’s inhuman to not see the unfairness of the question. Each and everyone sitting in the audience suddenly finds themselves in Murad’s shoes, thinking of a way to answer that question – how does one prove their innocence? And the answers are not as easy coming.
After so many years of subtle brainwashing, despite our superficial secularity, we know that a Dil Nawaz, despite his handsome face, quick wit and amazing charm, is very capable of raping a Shanta and even murdering Hassan, like it happened in Deepa Mehta’s 1947 Earth, but if we have to convince the masses that a Hindu lawyer is fraudulently framing a Muslim man and his family in a criminal case, he cannot look like a regular guy on the road; we will need a man rough around the edges and seemingly capable of being vicious with a reputation of playing a baddie in many films, to convince audiences that the Hindu is, in fact, doing wrong – right, Mr Anubhav Sinha?
But one ‘Chak De’, one ‘Mulk’ or even one ‘Raazi’ won’t be enough to make a dent into the prejudiced society we have formed, unconsciously or not. For now, let’s just be grateful for some who can see things more clearly than the others.