Release Date: 3 February 2023
Writer/Director: Anurag Kashyap
Producer: Ranjan Singh
In a scene after the interval, a television news reporter stands with a man sobbing profusely and appealing to his missing daughter to return home from wherever she had eloped to.
The reporter then speaks to the camera (in Hindi), “This man crying tears of blood is a former legislator and now a love jihad victim. Do you think we are not under threat?”
The Hindi words used are, “Dekhiye inhe aur boliye ki ham abhi bhi khatre mein nahi hain?”
It is soon revealed that the girl’s father was furious at her elopement but was crying fake tears for the camera to somehow make his daughter return home. He wants to keep his reputation intact and hopes that once she is back, he would deal with the Muslim man in his own way later on.
At a time when the country is still not over the Shraddha Walkar murder case at the hands of her boyfriend Aaftab Ameen Poonawalla, and rallies are being taken out across Maharashtra against ‘love jihad’, filmmaker Anurag Kashyap has released a film villlainising parents of Hindu girls who elope with Muslim men.
Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat, written and directed by Kashyap of Gangs of Wasseypur fame, released a week ago.
Amrita Suri is daughter of an affluent father and lives in the Dalhousie hill station of Himachal Pradesh. She is a rebel who has secretly created an online character named ‘Saloni Ammi’ for a social media app called Tong Tong (a play on Tik Tok). Saloni Ammi dons a face-covering burqa, dances on Bollywood songs like ‘Mohabbat se chalti hai duniya’ and plays fangirl of a DJ and podcaster named DJ Mohabbat.
As her family has not allowed Amrita to have a mobile phone, she takes help of a local boy named Yakub who records the videos and posts those on her behalf. Yakub is simple, childlike and cheerful, but no match to Amrita’s family status. Yakub and Amrita are sort of friends.
So childlike is he that when a policeman thrashes him in the lock-up for speaking to Amrita, on complaint of her elder brother, Yakub forgets it the moment he is free and heads straight to Amrita’s house. He must keep his promise of taking her outside Dalhousie to a concert of DJ Mohabbat that is scheduled a week later.
An excited Amrita readily agrees to elope with him. In her naivete, she hopes that she would enjoy the concert, return safely home after a week and explain herself to her family. The two young buddies are blissfully unaware of social consequences of what they assume would be a harmless adventure.
Little do the friends know that police have launched several teams to track them and they are all over news channels. Heartbroken by her father’s tears, Amrita cuts short her trip and returns to him. Yakub, having seen the anti-Muslim rhetoric on television, decides against returning home. He plans an escape from Himachal but is caught by the police.
Amrita’s brother shoots Yakub dead on the spot, no questions asked, no explanation sought from him.
It’s a scene that can make viewers choke and pray that the innocent boy would wake up to a world of less hate and more love, a world deserving of him. Viewers who consume their news and form their views from Kashyap’s toxic Twitter feed, that is.
Almost Pyaar is clearly a commentary on India’s so-called right-wing and its supporters, against whom Kashyap rants endlessly on his Twitter account, often calling them “Hindu terrorists” or “Hindu Taliban”.
It’s a fictional tale with fictional characters, and seen through the lens of actual cases from the ground, comes across as a giant work of deception and ignorance, if not of deliberate whitewashing of the reality.
Here is a scrutiny of its many sub-plots and narratives.
Hindus Hate Muslims?
When Amrita’s brothers are unsuccessfully chasing Yakub to thrash him for merely speaking to their sister, they catch hold of his father, who is a vendor.
One of the brothers hold him by his collar and asks him his son’s whereabouts, to which a stunned father says, “You used to call me chacha”. The brother angrily replies that he should be grateful that Hindus are allowing him to live with them, but he should stay within his limits.
In another scene, Hindu residents of Dalhousie, commenting on the elopement of Amrita with Yakub, tell reporters that Muslims should go to Pakistan. In yet another scene, a woman changes her attitude towards Yakub dramatically when she learns that he is Muslim and has made a Hindu girl elope with him.
The woman tells Amrita that her life would be ruined if she did not return to her parents, to which a highly distressed Yakub calls the woman a “zombie”.
Through scenes after scenes such as these, the film establishes that Hindus harbour hatred towards Muslims.
But is the Hindu’s suspicion of the Muslim a product of hate?
This country saw a partition on religious lines in 1947, dividing it into a Hindu majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. All the key reasons that led to the partition and the unprecedented bloodbath that accompanied it are alive and kicking in the partitioned India while Hindus have reduced to a tiny, inconsequential and persecuted minority in Pakistan.
Fanatic Muslim mobs demanding killing of Hindus for any perceived insult of Islam are back on the streets in the same way they did in the run up to the partition.
Abduction and forced Islamic conversion of Hindu girls, a feature of communal riots before partition, has become so routine that several states have enforced special laws to deal with it.
If we cite Dr B R Ambedkar for a fair analysis of the contentious issues between Hindus and Muslims that formed the idea of Pakistan, the list includes cow slaughter, attack on Hindu religious processions for crossing mosques and religious conversions ( B R Ambedkar, Page 311).
Seventy-five years after partition, cow slaughter continues to be so rampant that several states have been forced to make the existing anti-cow slaughter laws more stringent to deal with the menace, Hindu religious processions are routinely pelted with stones when those cross mosques, and Dawah (Islamic proselytising) activities are widespread, carried out through funds from the many Islamic countries.
From hating kafirs (non-Muslims) as ‘worst of sinners’ and treating Hindu as kafirs to calling Vande Mataram haram, the mindset that created Pakistan is thriving, and that is bound to make the Hindu suspicious of the Muslim until the latter collectively and vocally discards it.
Hindu Girl With Muslim Boy — Key To Interfaith Harmony?
Is it not a wonder that almost every Bollywood film made on Hindu-Muslim love relationships in this decade has shown the girl as Hindu and the man as Muslim and not vice versa? My Name Is Khan, pk, Kedarnath, Kalank, Laxmii, Indoo Ki Jawani, Bombay Rose, Toofaan, Atrangi Re, Gangubai Kathiawadi, Double Xl and Tara vs Bilal are among such films. Read this piece by this correspondent on this trend here.
How then are we not expected to believe that these films are promoting conversion through nikah of Hindu girls and that Almost Pyaar is only an addition to this propaganda while pretending to be a commentary on Hindu-Muslim relationships in general?
Surely Kashyap, a keen industry observer, is well aware of this skewed pattern of Hindu-Muslim relationships in Bollywood and could have shown some novelty? Or is it that the hostile and violent reaction to Hindu men-Muslim women marriage storylines in the past, such as in films Gadar and Bombay, has ensured no filmmaker takes up those theme again?
Love Jihad Is Anti-Muslim Rhetoric With No Basis In Reality?
In a scene when Yakub realises for the first time that their elopement to watch music has triggered a row back in Dalhousie, he says, “Gharwale kuch zyada hi pareshan nahi ho gaye?” (Aren’t your family members a bit too worried?)
Amrita responds in dry sarcasm, “A big issue has happened. Love jihad has happened. I have run away with a Muslim man! Come on, let’s drink some alcohol.”
This is deliberate trivialising of the pattern of crimes where Hindu girls are lured into relationships by men from the Muslim community for sexual exploitation or conversion to Islam through nikah.
This pattern was given the name ‘love jihad’ by Christian organisations in Kerala more than a decade ago. Since then, it has been used by Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and tribal groups, besides Hindus, to protest against similar entrapment and conversion of their daughters. Hundreds of Hindu women have filed cases against Muslim men for hiding their Muslim identity and marital status to form relationships with them.
Only last week, a Hindu woman from the hill state of Uttarakhand filed a case against her husband for lying to her and later forcing her for conversion to Islam, after she discovered that he was Azhar Ahmad pretending to be Rahul, was already married to a woman from his Muslim community, and carried two Aadhaar cards.
In Pakistan and Bangladesh, Hindu girls are straightaway abducted from their homes for conversion-nikah.
But the film suggests the pattern is just a figment of Hindu imagination.
Almost Pyaar is ironically set in Himachal, where a school-going Hindu girl’s throat was slashed by son of a Muslim vendor in April, leading to massive street protests.
This correspondent local Hindus complain that Asif and his relatives routinely hosted Islamic clerics from other states to their house, and their presence was making local Muslims “kattar” (radicalised).
In 2020, a college-going Hindu girl, Ekta Jaswal, eloped from her aunt’s house in Himachal’s Kangra with a man named Mohammed Saqib. She went with him to a village in Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut, Saqib’s hometown.
Within a week, Saqib looted the jewellery and cash she had bought, killed her, chopped her limbs and face and threw the parts in a field. Police cracked the case a year later. This correspondent met her family, .
What About Islamic Intolerance To Their Girls In Interfaith Relationships?
The film parallelly tells the story of a British-Pakistani girl, Ayesha, who falls desperately for a Sikh man named Harmeet who is too focussed on his music career to pay attention to women.
Ayesha comes from a dysfunctional family where everyone is in illicit relationships and has become a spoilt party-freak and alcoholic. She lies to Harmeet that she is 18 while she is still a minor, and manages to get close to him.
Her father, who Harmeet has no idea is a billionaire, gets him arrested and jailed for the severe charge of raping a minor. Harmeet’s world comes crashing down even as Ayesha’s protests go unheard by her family.
This plot seems to have been used for a show of balance, but carefully stays away from commenting on the Muslim intolerance to their women forming relationships outside their religious community. Nowhere in the Ayesha-Harmeet plot is there any mention of religion. At most, it is a remark of how poor parenting adversely affects children.
The age-old bigotry that continues to result in murders or forced conversion of Hindu or Sikh men for befriending or marrying Muslim women gets no mention in this film that pretends to narrate struggles of two interfaith couples.
Should Parents Set Their Children Free For Their Happiness?
The film repeatedly messages that the Indian society at large is a loveless institution that seeks to only preserve some twisted moral codes while never letting the members ever truly enjoy life or be happy — be it the Sikh family that disowns their own son for coming out as gay or the Hindu family that kills the Muslim friend of their daughter.
Love is all that people need, the film sermonises, but uses impossible plot twists to show those escaping this system as discovering joyful bliss. Yakub has no money, not even a vehicle, when he decides to take Amrita away from Dalhousie for a week. They soon run out of stolen money and fuel, but break into a fully furnished but vacant house.
They make omelettes and noodles, make Ting Tong videos and increase their followers, and sleep in comfortable beds, while Yakub never attempts to as much as touch her. When the house owners arrive, they are far from being furious and treat them with aloo paranthas.
Amrita and Yakub are living their dream life until it is rudely interrupted by her father’s fake tears on television.
Those weaving fictional tales can afford to completely obliterate the real stresses of the world to paint a picture where eloping minors are not trafficked or abused. But using this made-up world to trivialise real concerns, really?
Ironically, Bollywood has been a prime enabler of gender crimes by constantly portraying underage girls as perennially desiring sex or sex-objects to be lusted after, besides glorifying their molesters and rapists as heroes.
Kashyap’s own record is consistent with this trend. Kashyap himself has been accused of sexual assault by an actress. His magnus opus Gangs of Wasseypur was an unchecked glorification of debauchery and violence. It also reversed the religions of perpetrators and victim in a scene inspired from a real incident in Bihar’s Wasseypur.
While in reality, a Hindu girl was abducted and raped by a gang of Muslim men, Kashyap showed a Muslim girl being abducted and abused by a gang comprising Hindus.
In our view, selling elopement as beginning of a dream journey to minor girls is problematic. Ironically, the industry where its top icons charge as high as Rs 100 crore for a film, constantly preaches to its gullible viewers that love, and not money or materialism, is all that they need to be happy.
Note: This review was originally published on Swarajyamag.com here.
Swati Goel Sharma is a journalist with close to 10 years of experience with India’s leading publications such as The Times of India and Hindustan Times. She writes mainly on issues concerning the deprived and marginalised groups, women and children.
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