Why Manoj Muntashir Shukla’s apology for ‘Adipurush’  is fake and unacceptable?

An apology is no good without a genuine realisation of the wrongdoing. And if one were to carefully analyze lyricist Manoj Muntashir Shukla’s statements before and after the release of ‘Adipurush’, they will know that his latest apology is merely a desperate attempt to save face and, perhaps, remain professionally relevant.

Muntashir’s apology came hours after reports emerged that the producers (T-Series) were upset with him for the severe backlash the film rightly received over its sadak-chhap dialogues and miserable screenplay. 

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that one cannot take disgraceful liberties in a movie based on the life of Lord Ram, who is worshipped and adored by millions of Hindus.

However, until the reports of his fall-out with T-Series, Muntashir defended his work by falsely claiming, “The greatest saints and storytellers in our country have used it in the same manner I have written it (in Adipurush). I am not the first one to write this dialogue. It is already there.

The film, directed by Om Raut, was released on June 16, 2023.

Warning signs

T-Series, Om Raut and Muntashir had several warning signs about the giant catastrophe. They had every chance to fix the script and approach the subject with the deserved respect.

Long before the trailer, the film crew has been courting public anger for various reasons, including admissions of attempts to manipulate religious narratives. 

In 2020, actor Saif Ali Khan, who plays Ravan in the film, told a publication that the film would justify Ravan’s abduction of Sita and present him as humane. After public outrage, he apologised for his statement.

When the first trailer came out, it received angry responses for inaccurate depiction of characters and showing scenes that were not in the original epic. Ram was wearing leather footwear instead of khadau / paduka. Ravan, the mighty kind of Lanka well-versed in the Vedas, resembled an “Al-Qaeda terrorist”. His famed Pushpak Viman looked like a Targaryen dragon. 

Various scenes seemed plagiarised from Hollywood hits such as Game of Thrones, Thor, Evil Deed, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter series and Avengers. Hanuman sported a hairstyle like medieval Europeans. 

The filmmakers dismissed the outrage, saying it was created for a large-screen experience, not mobile phones. But later, Raut claimed he wanted to make a Marvel-like entertainer to reach a younger audience. 

Raut announced they would fix their mistakes and release a better trailer.

This year, Raut released a trailer with different clips that safely masked the problem spots in the plot. It was released a month before the film came out on June 16.

Among other publicity shenanigans, Raut requested producers to keep a theatre seat vacant during every screening in honour of Lord Hanuman. Hindus believe Lord Hanuman is present whenever Ramyan is narrated. Muntashir also went on national television to assert passionately that the film was an exact reproduction of Valmiki’s Ramayan.

Although Hindu cine-goers in India are used to seeing their devi-devatas, sacred texts and sentiments being mocked on screen by Bollywood wallas for decades, they witnessed a new kind of low this time.

In ‘Adipurush’, the audience was appalled to see that Raut and Muntashir had viciously misinterpreted the Ramayana. As Gems of Bollywood pointed out, the film lacked bhakti, conviction, character, and, most importantly, the idea of Dharma. One could be forgiven for thinking this film was meant for viewers in Pakistan

Here are some examples:

  1. Lanka is not a ’swarn nagari’ but a dingy, depressing hell.
  2. Ravana is not a learned Vedic scholar but a humanised bull that makes snorting sounds in every second scene.
  3. Vibhishan brings his mistress along when he meets Ram for the first time outside Lanka. This mistress has a semi-nude scene with Vibhishana.
  4. Ma Sita and Vibhishan’s mistress show a lot of skin. This indecency is deeply insulting to Hinduism.
  5. The Vanar Sena doesn’t chant ‘Jai Shree Ram’. They chant ‘Raghav jahaan, Vijay wahaan’. Why so reluctant to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’?
  6. Ravana wasn’t pure evil personified, unlike what the film shows. The war was about Dharma vs Adharma, not simply Good Guy v/s Bad Guy.
  7. For some reason, Ram preaches about “winning the enemy’s heart through forgiveness.” This scene, created just for the film, attempts to minimise Kshatra Dharma, the core theme of Ramayana and an essential need in our times to preserve the rising Hindu consciousness.
  8. Then there were these dialogues that were nothing short of profanity. In Muntashir’s view, perhaps people spoke Urdu during Treta Yug. There were dialogues like “Bhaiyya, aap toh apne kaal k liye kaalin bicha rahe hain“, “Jo humaari behenon ko haath lagayega, uski hum lanka lagaa denge.” and “Tel tere baap ka, aag tere baap ki, toh jalegi bhi tere baap ki”
  9. The characters are Raghav, Janki and Shesh (instead of Ram, Sita and Lakshman). It seemed like a calculated attempt to dodge the public outrage the filmmakers anticipated.

And these are just a handful of examples.

The Disaster

The film was hauled over the hottest coals by the public. The film is such a disaster that it is nowhere close to recovering its reported budget of INR 700 crore. Many theatres pulled it down because nobody came to watch this widely-hated interpretation of the great Ramayan. Many Left-leaning film critics tried to give positive reviews to prop up the movie, but the audiences were in no mood to forgive the filmmakers.

Other than severe public criticism, theatre boycotts and petitions to halt its screening, the Allahabad high court also made scathing remarks about ‘Adipurush’ while hearing a petition to ban it. 

Not only the dialogues of the film are so substandard, having cheap language, but so many scenes of the film depicting Devi Sita are disgraceful to her very character and some scenes depicting the wife of Vibhishana are prima-facie obscene also which are absolutely unwarranted and uncalled for. Even the depiction of Ravan, his Lanka etc., is so ridiculous and cheap [sic],” the Court observed. 

The court also directed the Centre to constitute a committee to ‘revisit’ the certificate issued to the movie.

Meanwhile, Nepal has banned the screening of Hindi movies until the dialogue ‘Janaki is a daughter of India’ is removed from Adipurush. Hindus in Nepal constitute about 80% of the country’s population and believe that Sita was born in Janakpur, about 200 km from Kathmandu.

Response to the Disaster

The first response of the filmmakers was to defend the film. They put Muntashir in the front to deal with the backlash and media.

Muntashir went on record to make the most absurd arguments defending the celluloid disaster. He kept changing his statements for convenience.

When a news outlet questioned him for belittling Lord Hanuman (whose speech was described by Valmiki as madhur vachan but was given Tapori-style dialogues in this film), he said, “Bajrang Bali is not God. He is a devotee. We made him God after seeing his devotion.” 

To another outlet, he said Valmiki’s epic merely inspired the film, and it shouldn’t be seen as a remake. This statement came from the same man who claimed earlier, “If people think we are trying to modernise the Ramayan, I want to tell them that not at all. We have presented the Ramayan just how people heard it in childhood stories.

He stated in another interview that the dialogues were not penned mistakenly. “It is a very meticulous thought process that has gone into writing the dialogues for Bajrang Bali and all the characters.” 

Om Raut, T-Series and other actors were mostly mum during this defensive phase. Raut was active initially and claimed in an interview that the film was an exceptional success and that people were chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ while watching it. T-Series released a statement saying the team has decided to alter the dialogues to value “the input of the public.

Nobody asked them why they had ignored the public input earlier.

Visibly, there was no acceptance of shame or remorse. In a lengthy tweet on June 25, Muntashir lamented how the public reaction stunned him. He even sermonised about how people had missed the essence of Ramayan.

It is possible that in a 3-hour film, I have written something different from your imagination for 3 minutes, but I could not know why you were so hurried to label me as Sanatan-Drohi.

Without apologising, he added, “I expected praise, but I don’t know why I did not get it.

As a few more days passed, he started avoiding questions on ‘Adipurush’, saying the interviewers should ask director Om Raut all the questions related to characters and history.

The fall guy

Perhaps Manoj Muntashir Shukla was picked out as the fall guy for the whole debacle. But it is no reason to feel sorry for him. He is as responsible for this fiasco as his director and producers.

After the first trailer was released, Muntashir had a chance to get his act together. He had a chance to back out of the project once he knew it was a deliberate sacrilege towards something so sacred in Hinduism. 

Instead, he defended that film and misled Hindus into thinking the movie would honour their religious beliefs. He lied through his teeth. 

If he had even the tiniest shred of integrity, he would have been honest in the interviews about how he had taken several liberties with Ramayan. He would have apologised sincerely to the Hindu community when the film was released while confessing his role in the decision-making process. He had a window to come clean when the new trailer was released.

Instead, he behaved as if ‘Adipurush’ was the most outstanding artistic contribution to the legacy of Lord Ram, even surpassing Valmiki Maharishi. 

His latest apology tweet comes when theatres are rejecting the film. Does it have something to do with the fact that T-Series is reportedly upset with him over how Hindus worldwide are condemning this high-budget film? Or does it have something to do with the fact that the audience now knows him as the most vocal promoter of the awful movie and may reject any film he is associated with from now?

Or perhaps, he has realised that however hard he works to impress the ISI-sympathetic cabal in Bollywood, they will not show up for him when he is in deep waters. We can’t think of any Bollywood big-wig who came out in support of the lyricist. 

Why is it difficult to believe Muntashir

A quick look at Muntashir’s interviews and tweets would reveal that he changes his statements according to the type of audience he wants to appease. It is difficult not to believe he is an opportunist who can tailor his conviction to suit his best interests. No wise person would ever trust such weathercocks.

Muntashir tried to take advantage of the rising Hindu consciousness this time while trying to stay on the good side of the Urduwood cabal. The ruse blew up in his face and how.

Shortly before the first trailer of ‘Adipurush’, he shared a video in which he compared Babur, Akbar and other Mughal emperors to dacoits. While the pro-Hindu netizens praised Muntashir for speaking up against the fake history peddled by Marxist historians, Bollywood celebs  like Richa Chadha and Neeraj Ghaywan accused him of “seeding hatred.” 

So does Muntashir care about the Hindu voice and preserving the faith of his forefathers? Nope. Not one bit.

In the 2017 edition of Jashn-e-Rekhta (a three-day Urdu cultural and literary festival held every year in New Delhi), Muntashir bragged how he would deliberately disrupt his priest father’s morning chanting rituals by blaring Islamic songs in praise of Rasool.

As a Twitter user pointed out, Muntashir behaved like a Rakshas. “Rakshas also used to harass Rishis and others while they were worshipping God”

In another radio interview, the ‘Adipurush’ songwriter also gloated about choosing his pen name as ‘Muntashir’ because the name Manoj Shukla (that his parents gave him) lacked the impact.

A man so embarrassed of his father’s faith cannot have any genuine respect for Hindu sentiments. Muntashir tried to manipulate the Hindu sentiment to further his career.

Lastly, the outrage intensified against him further when tweets by his wife, Neelam Muntashir, surfaced. In these tweets, Neelam cheered for terrorist sympathisers like Rana Ayyub, Barkha Dutt and Swara Bhaskar. Her account no longer exists.

Rejecting the latest apology

It is hard to believe Muntashir and his apology now. Apologies mean nothing to the makers of ‘Adipurush’. It is often a tactic to buy more time and trick people into patronising their work.

Even during the backlash after the film’s release, they chose to ignore the real problems in the film. Their lame token gesture (of changing a handful of dialogues and deliberately ignoring the more significant problems) was probably offered only so that they could make money out of OTT.

Nowhere in Muntashir’s tweet did he admit that his dialogues were unworthy of Ramayana’s reproduction. He apologised as if he played no role in the film’s making.

Let’s look at his apology statement in detail:

  • I accept people’s emotions have been hurt by Adipurush.

    (He also complained about people’s emotions in his June 25 tweet. What purpose does this re-acknowledgement serve?)
  • With folded hands, I extend my unconditional apologies.

(For? Does he even realise where he went wrong, or is it another trick to quell the problem? We think it is the latter.)

  • May Prabhu Bajrang Bali keep us united and grant us strength to serve our sacred Sanatan and our great nation.🙏

(Again, this is the same man who said that Bajrang Bali is not a God. It sounds patently fake when a man ashamed of his true Hindu identity as ‘Manoj Shukla’ talks of “serving the sacred Sanatan”. As hypocritical as Osama Bin Laden talking about World Peace.)

Muntashir’s attitude reminds us of how English musician John Lennon apologised after a massive controversy in 1966 over his comments comparing ‘The Beatles’ and Jesus. Here is his apology:

I apologise if that will make you happy. I still don’t know quite what I’ve done. I’ve tried to tell you what I did do, but if you want me to apologise, if that will make you happy, then OK, I’m sorry.

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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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