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Muslims in the movies May 11, 2008

Posted by lollywoodhungama in Uncategorized.
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“Whenever India lost a cricket match to Pakistan, some idiot within the community would burst crackers and I ended up bearing taunts from people. They would say, ‘kya miya, bahut patake chalaye kal raat ?’ That was painful. I am a diehard Indian and I can’t tell you how such slurs feel,” says Imtiaz Alam, 29, an MBA based in Delhi.

Imtiaz has had to deal with many such obnoxious remarks. But moderates like him have reason to cheer. At a time when the media seems to highlight only negative stereotypes, Bollywood — long a bastion of secularism — is setting out to redress the balance. The result: a slew of films that project the voice of moderate Muslims.

Some of these efforts have even met with commercial success — like last year’s blockbuster Chak De! India. In the midst of the feel-good fable about nationalism and women’s empowerment was an interesting sub-plot — the anguish of Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan’s character) when he is accused of being a traitor after missing a penalty stroke against Pakistan.

His pain erupts when he resigns as coach of the women’s hockey team, lamenting that despite all his efforts, his countrymen never believed his commitment to the nation. Of course, the resignation is revoked and Khan goes on to lead the team to glory. SRK will also be frontlining Karan Johar’s eagerly awaited next film, My Name is Khan. Set to go on the floors in November-December 2008, the movie is being kept tightly under wraps. But the Bollywood buzz is that the film looks at Islamic terrorism post-9/11. SRK reportedly plays a peace activist who gets to see the terrorists’ viewpoint once he’s kidnapped by them.

Another movie last year, Dhokha, directed by Pooja Bhatt, was inspired by the London bombings and questioned why Muslims are viewed with suspicion following any blast.

The trend continues. In March this year, Pakistani writer, director and producer Shoaib Mansoor came up with the critically acclaimed Khuda Ke Liye (KKL). “The film, which is the voice of liberal Muslims, is the result of my anger with the way our religion has been interpreted by religious clerics and the world outside,” says Mansoor.

KKL deals with difficulties faced by liberal Muslims across the world and how their lives were affected by 9/11. “Liberal Muslims are shunned by their own kind internally (read fanatics) for being modern in outlook, while the world at large labels them fundamentalists and terrorists just for bearing a Muslim name,” says an anguished Mansoor.

This low-budget film tackles many prejudices head-on, juxtaposing the characters of the moderate Maulana Wali (played by Naseeruddin Shah) and the hardliner Maulana Tahiri, played by Pakistani actor Rasheed Naz. The first Pakistani film to release in India, KKL stresses that actions are more important than symbolism. Wali’s dialogue “deen me dadhi hai, dadhi me deen nahi (religion demands a beard, but that does not mean that those who have a beard are necessarily religious)” has been greeted by cheers and applause in movie halls.

“The film tries to show that Islam is a progressive religion and Muslims would like to be seen as proud members of this religion rather than fundamentalists,” says Mansoor.

Going by the response the film has received, its message seems to have widespread appeal. “The response in UK and UAE was overwhelming which shows how wrong the impression of the world about Muslims is,” says Mansoor. Shailendra Singh, joint MD, Percept Pictures — which distributed the film in India — couldn’t agree more. “We identified with the ingredients of the film, which is loaded with a strong message for the masses.”

March 2008 also saw the release of Subhash Ghai’s Black & White — a story of a terrorist who goes from hatred to repentance. Set in the heart of old Delhi, the film portrays a clash of ideologies between two protagonists — Urdu professor Rajan Mathur (Anil Kapoor) and terrorist Mahmood alias Numair Qazi (debutant Anurag Sinha). While Mathur holds a torch for non-violent and secular India, fidayeen Mahmood is hell-bent on creating death and destruction. No prizes for guessing the winner.

Though the film didn’t fare too well at the box-office, it did attempt to delve into the mind of a young fundamentalist.

FTII Pune graduate Sinha researched his role extensively. “Since I did not know much about Islam, most of my research came from visiting maulvis, police and the Internet. From maulvis I learnt how surahs are used in Koran and from the police I learnt how a terrorist’s mind and their hierarchy work,” he says.

Anurag’s research also led him to youths who clearly dissociated themselves from fundamentalists.

“No matter what community, I found youth today do not subscribe to any cliches relating to their religion.”

That is the inherent message of Black & White, which shows how Mahmood realises there is a world of Islam beyond fundamentalism, and how this realisation transforms him.

“There’s a certain level of intrigue in my character as events lead him to question his own identity and his beliefs. When he comes to Delhi, he starts questioning himself and that is where the growth of my character begins,” says Sinha.

Next up: UTV Spotboy’s Aamir — a thriller about a doctor who finds himself embroiled in a scary situation. TV hottie Rajeev Khandelwal — who plays the eponymous role — prepared for it by doing a workshop with theatre and film actor Nawaz Siddiqui.

“Nawaz helped me understand that a Muslim Indian and a Hindu Indian are Indians first. The divide is created not by us but by those who benefit from the segregation. With changing times, the common man is realizing this and moving away from communal forces.” With lots of help from Bollywood of course.

meenakshi.sinha@timesgroup.com

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