Guide to Writing an “Off-beat” Bollywood Film

The only difference between a general big-banner Bollywood film and an “off-beat/ Intellectual/ hard-hitting” movie is that the latter has uglier aesthetics. Their attitudes towards Indian Hindu society are pretty much the same. 

After reviewing films and their themes for so long, the Gems of Bollywood team found some common themes at play in these films and decided to share this wisdom with anyone who thinks that only a brainiac can make these kinds of “new wave” films.

So, if you know anyone trying to make a film to seek the validation of left-leaning film organisations, festivals, media outlets etc., please share this list with them. They will, perhaps, thank you later.

  1. A somewhat relatable protagonist who has to break away from the “shackles of the cruel Hindu society”.

    Understand that any reference to samaj is about the Hindu community only. But since Hindus are seen as lesser-evolved souls by the “progressive” filmmakers, their films will also project Hindu families and societies as unworthy of respect and preservation.

    These are not our words. Read what Karl Marx wrote in the New York Daily Tribune on June 25, 1853. He describes Hinduism as “That religion is at once a religion of sensualist exuberance and a religion of self-torturing asceticism; a religion of the Lingam and the juggernaut; the religion of the Monk, and the Bayadere.

    He writes more:

    We must not forget that these little communities were contaminated by distinctions of caste and by slavery, that they subjugated man to external circumstances instead of elevating man the sovereign of circumstances, that they transformed a self-developing social state into never changing natural destiny, and thus brought about a brutalizing worship of nature, exhibiting its degradation in the fact that man, the sovereign of nature, fell down on his knees in adoration of Kanuman, the monkey, and Sabbala, the cow.

If Marx’s sneer towards Sanatan Dharma was so brazen, there is no reason why his followers would have a respectful attitude towards Hindus. It doesn’t matter how much these people claim to be respecting all religions alike. They won’t respect any film that portrays Hindu society favourably. Hinduphobia doesn’t even describe the condescending attitude these people have towards India’s majority. 

Name any “critically acclaimed” film you like, and you will find such a character. Be it the oh-so-acclaimed Salaam Bombay (1958) in which a young Krishna is abandoned by his mother to grow up among the drug dealers, pimps, and prostitutes in the back alleys of Bombay. What a cheap shot at Krishna Leela!

On our website, readers will find reviews of Bombay Rose (young Kamala’s father fixing her wedding to a much older man for money, tilakdhaari villain harassing her for lust, her dreams being of escaping their controls by settling in a Mughal Harem) and Garbage (every likeable woman, like Rami, should be wary of a practising Hindu and his religious guru’s teachings) that will show similar protagonists.

The protagonist in such films, who will have some traits similar to the urban young adult, cannot be connected to his/her Hindu roots if they want to attain freedom. They will remain unhappy and exploited if they stay within their fold.

The conversion mafia must be pleased with such portrayals.

  1. The truly emancipated woman is not heterosexual.

A recent, but not entirely unprecedented, feature in such “parallel” films is an admirable female character who is bisexual. Her sexual preference adds no value to the film’s plot, but there will be a scene or two in which she gets intimate with another woman. 

The audience may not even care about the character’s sexual preferences, but repetitively using this feature somehow reeks of propaganda already plaguing Western cultures. Media outlets like BBC, Vogue, and Insider and Western academic scholarship already promote the idea that heterosexuality is just a myth that must die out. 

Promoting hate towards heterosexuals is as bad as promoting hate towards the LGBTQ+ communities.
Some examples of such portrayals include Rami in Garbage, Shirley in Bombay Rose, Lajjo-Rani in Parched, Sita-Radha in Fire, and Begum Para-Muniya in Dedh Ishqiya

  1. Have an antagonist, preferably a patriarch, who is a practising Hindu.

    Water (2005), Parched (2015), Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitaare (2019), Dor (2006), and pretty much all of Anurag Kashyap’s filmography will show you an antagonist from the “upper caste” Hindu society, who is not fit to attend his family and wife’s needs. There is more to this characterisation than what meets the eye. 

In popular culture, there is long-standing propaganda deliberately portraying Hindu men as incapable of taking care of their spouses, physically and emotionally. Take Shamu from Mother India, for example. He abandons the family in abject poverty after losing his arms in an accident, leaving Radha to raise the famine-stricken family alone.

This projection isn’t limited to cinema alone. These depictions have crept into popular literature too. During the colonial era, the British government patronized authors like Katherine Mayo, who would write about Hindu society and its men in the most derogatory, dehumanizing terms for Western readers. These books continue to be used by people in academia.

It doesn’t take anyone too long to find ordeals of Love Jihaad victims online to detect a similar narrative. Hindu women who manage to escape such relationships share how the men who faked their religious identity to trap them into conversion. These men would also tell these women how they were lucky not to have to marry Hindu men.

Last year, a young graduate from MP named Nandini filed an FIR against Shahbaz Seth, who posed as Rahul Gurjar, to trap her into a LJ relationship. Among other forms of torture, Seth would also keep telling her that “many Hindu girls married Muslim boys because they realized that these men were the best. Hindu men cannot compete with them. Allah is guiding these women to choose the right path and the right men.”

  1. Hindu Women must walk out of their homes for true feminism.

    These filmmakers will repetitively suggest that a woman in a Hindu family can achieve true emancipation only if she walks out of her marital/parental home into the unknown world and finds her way. They suggest the outside world isn’t half as bad as their Hindu patriarchal home. 

    These prompts to break up a family and messaging that the problems of Hindu women will resolve only if they walk out of the family are misleading and vicious. 

Are there films that highlight women’s issues within Muslim families? Yes, of course, there are. 

Films like Gully Boy (2019) and Darlings (2022), starring Alia Bhatt, have female protagonists from conservative Muslim families rebelling against conventions. However, the catch is that these women resolve their problems by involving their families. It is suggested that these families can put their daughter/daughter-in-law’s interests over long-standing practices.

The descriptions change when it comes to showing the Hindu family. It is, without exception, suggested that Hindu parents do not understand their daughters’ and daughters-in-law’s feelings and aspirations. And that any self-respecting woman should walk out of such an insensitive home.

For example, in Highway (2014), the actress played Veera Tripathi, who walks out of her wealthy family after exposing her uncle, who sexually abused her as a child. Her Hindu upper-caste parents are more worried about their image among peers than standing up for her, so she leaves them and decides to live in the mountains.

Here is another example – In Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016), Konkana Sen plays Shireen Ansari, who is in an abusive marriage, treated like a baby-making machine by her polygamous husband and wants to be financially independent. However, she fails to do so in the end. The last scene shows that she smokes a cigarette secretly with her friends, and there is a voiceover suggesting all religious societies exploit their women.

Any reason why Konkana’s Shireen didn’t get to walk out of the house, like her character Radha in Dolly Guddi Aur Woh Chamakte Sitaare?

  1. When in doubt, insert a sex scene

We get it. Arty filmmakers see sex as some sort of a weapon against traditions. They feel they are reforming the “backward society” by treating sex as a non-taboo subject. Nice. 

But can someone tell us why these filmmakers think of all audiences as pornography enthusiasts? Why is there a desperate attempt to show sex scenes even when the plot can go on without it?

The popular Left-leaning critics would argue that sex is an important discussion that every family must have, no matter how old the critics are. They would also argue that the so-called regressive Hindu society views sex as a taboo and that filmmakers should challenge this perception.

However, these self-appointed social reformers do not admit that they are fuelled by an ideology trying to normalise (and eventually legalize) paedophilia. They won’t tell their audience that Alfred Kinsey, the man they celebrate as the father of the sex revolution, argued that children benefit from rape. He argued, “Children are sexual and potentially orgasmic from birth (womb to tomb), are unharmed by incest, adult/child sex, and often benefit thereby.”

  1. A sneering interpretation of Hindu Mythological tales

    Deepa Mehta chose the names Radha and Sita for her protagonists in her film Fire (1996) which bragged about being the first to feature a lesbian relationship. It was claimed that the film is loosely based on Ismat Chugtai’s controversial story ‘Lihaaf’, but anyone who has seen the film and read it will tell you it isn’t true.

    The film is the story of two daughters-in-law in a Hindu joint family who have a relationship with each other. The film has all the above-mentioned elements.

    Most importantly, the main protagonist in Chugtai’s story is a woman named Begum Jan. Not a faithful adaptation, isn’t it?

So the next time you hear that an unknown Indian film has done well at a so-and-so film festival abroad and critics using the most complex jargon to praise it, you know what to expect in its plotline. Also, remember that the absence of these reasons is also why films like Kashmir Files (2022) and The Kerala Story (2023) are criticised by the self-appointed critics and intellectuals of our times.

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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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