Reviewing ‘Bawaal’ and how Bollywood increasingly mocks the Gujarati Hindu?

It is time we discuss Bollywood’s unhealthy fetish for mocking the Gujarati Hindu. Every narrative in popular culture has consequences. And it is not okay to tolerate a clownish stereotype of this enterprising community that has generated more jobs in India and abroad than the whole of Bollywood put together.

Bawaal is guilty of taking a cheap dig at these people too. But that’s not the only reason avoid watching the film.

For starters, it wastes everyone’s time, including the people who made this film. It makes one wonder whether Bollywood is genuinely interested in telling good stories or whether films are just an excuse for money laundering. The plot throws up loophole after loophole, and each character acts without motivation. 


High school history teacher Ajay Dixit (Varun Dhawan) is obsessed with elevating his “image” around the town, so he marries a wealthy woman named Nisha (Janhvi Kapoor). Even though she had voluntarily informed him about her health issues before the wedding, Ajay behaves like he was forced to marry her and treats her like a caged animal.

Ajay gets suspended from school because he slaps a kid who asks him a question about WW II. Instead of reading more about the subject and working harder on his teaching skills, he hops on a flight for a European holiday on his father’s money. 

His reason – He will teach children history online from real WW II locations. School authorities and townfolks will be so impressed by this stunt that he could regain his old “image” and job.

The rest of the film is about how Ajay gets over his obsession with impressing people and falls in love with Nisha at the end of the trip.

Is it a fair portrayal of teachers?

In a country where private school teachers are overworked and underpaid, it is unfair to show that such teachers get by without doing any real work. 

A study revealed an alarming shortage of more than one million school teachers in India. Undoubtedly, the government and private players need to address this problem and make this profession a more lucrative option for youngsters. But at the same time, shouldn’t cinema also play its part in responsible messaging?

Won’t such movies draw further disdain towards this job? 

What is Bollywood’s problem with Gujarati Hindus?

There seems to be an increase in films promoting a caricaturish stereotype of the Gujarati Hindu community as people who talk sing-song, talk loudly and practice a collectivist culture. Long and short, recent films show they are people who deserve our mockery, not respect. 

All major Bollywood producers are guilty of promoting hackneyed ideas about the community that make no pretence about sticking to their traditional Hindu values. 

Consider Gujarati characters in OTT series like ‘Happy Family, Conditions Apply’ or films like Kal Ho Na Ho, Sanju, Jab Harry Met Sejal, Satya Prem Ki Katha, Jayeshbhai Jordaar, and Bawaal. Why are all of them shown in a way that makes one wants to mock them, not respect them?

In Nitish Tiwary’s Bawaal, a character called Kalpesh travels on the same flight as Ajay. His character suffers the same unimaginative cliches that Bollywood served for other Gujarati characters mentioned above. The audience is expected to laugh at his vibrant clothes, preferring travel with family and carrying home-cooked food during the journey. 

Doesn’t their representation remind one of how Indians from the southern states were mocked in Bollywood, especially during the 70s and 80s? Bollywood reduced the Hindu from the south to a vibhooti-smeared buffoon who was the butt of all ridicule in songs like Muthuswamy Bada Haraami (Vidhaata) and Ek Chatura Naar (Padosan) come to mind.

These typecasts coincided with times when Southerners, especially Tamilians, were subjected to a vitriolic hate campaign by the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.

On 30 October 1966, the late Bal Thackeray delivered an inciteful speech at his first Shiv Sena Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park, derogatorily labelling all Southerners as “yandu-gundus”. He rose to fame with his provocative “Uthao lungi, bajao pungi”, making an insulting reference to the traditional attire of the Dakshin Bharatiya Hindu. After this speech, emotionally-charged party workers attacked Udupi restaurants to target those non-Marathis.

Bollywood had then served the second whammy by typecasting these victims as clowns whose stories shouldn’t be taken seriously. 

The Gujarati community now stands at the same precipice. Especially since the Prime Minister, who has taken meaningful stands against Bollywood’s beloved Pakistan, was voted three times as CM by the Gujaratis. If Tiwary and his ilk have a problem with the ruling dispensation, they should take it up with them instead of targeting the Gujarati Hindu.

The audience may be wiser to remember that the Gujarati community deserves our respect for their commitment to entrepreneurship, joint family values, and maintaining their time-honoured traditions against all odds. They also earned respect as the Indian diaspora by integrating well into other societies without creating law-and-order problems. When we think of Gujaratis, we must remember Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Ratan Tata, Dr Vikram Sarabhai and Swami Dayanand Saraswati, not those baffoons from Bollywood. 

Ajay Dixit – The unworthy son and husband

We have said it repeatedly – Bollywood filmmakers must stop showing that abusive husbands are found only in the Hindu community. The problems faced by people stuck in bad marriages are heart-wrenching, and they will keep snowballing if the popular cinema refuses to have a responsible discourse about it.

We didn’t miss that Ajay’s last name is commonly used by Hindi-speaking Brahmins. 

Predictably, all the left-leaning media houses can’t stop raving about this film. We, however, advise you to use your time more productively.

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I watch how Bollywood engages with and represents Hindu society. A non-Marxist film critic writing in English.

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