Tum Bhagwaan nahi. Sirf pathar ho, pathar.
Bollywood has a long-standing tradition of inserting elaborate scenes where Hindu Devi-Devta and their murti are mocked as pieces of stone that don’t have any capacity to protect their believers.
It started in the era of black-and-white films where a young hero, frustrated with the trials and tribulations of life, would question the power of the murti that his mother so devotedly worships.
The template was simple – the hero would stare at the murti in the eye and start an angry, passive-aggressive monologue on how the deity has let him/his family down. He would challenge the murti, saying if it had any real power, it would bail him out of his terrible situation. It is then shown in the film that his heart-wrenching rant has finally fallen on hitherto callous ears, and the hero finds some respite from his problem.
One would imagine such scenes being popular in Hindu-hating Pakistani movies. But this cynicism towards idol-worshipping practices has been a sub-theme in Bollywood films since its fledgling years.
Take Daag (1952), for example. Yusuf Khan, aka Dilip Kumar, plays a young man named Shankar, who cannot marry his girlfriend because her guardian brother doesn’t think they would be a good match. So, instead of convincing her family, he gets drunk and tries to throw away Bhagwan ki murti from his house.
How does that make sense, you ask? Well, Shankar blames ‘Bhagwan’ for destroying his life and even his drinking problems. Watch this scene here:
Interestingly, this movie was released just a few years after partition and independence of India, when there was a nationwide call for alcohol prohibition. Director-Writer Amiya Chakravarty, a communist, however, sent the message that alcohol is the last remaining solace for the poor and needy. The real problems are idolaters – Hindus like Shankar’s brother-in-law and their beliefs.
Around this time, the British theatre went through an exciting phenomenon that was later imported to Bollywood screens in the 70s. An unorganised group of British writers, who were male, young and ‘angry’ towards the traditional social ideologies and establishment of post-war British society, were creating plays, literature and related media. Their stories often had a working-class hero and left-leaning themes.
Their press dubbed this phenomenon the “Angry Young Men” movement, which fizzled in the 60s.
The ’60s were exciting times in Bollywood, as technicolour films replaced black-and-white cinema. In a way, they were also the more inclusive years compared to the 50s, as scolding the idols wasn’t a male bastion. Even leading women could chide their ‘bhagwan’.
Film Aradhana (1969) showed Sharmila Tagore as Vandana rebuking ‘Bhagwan’ when her long-lost son meets with an accident. He is recuperating in the hospital, surrounded by a team of doctors, but perhaps it was his mother’s passive-aggressive rant at the murti that saved his life. Watch the scene here:
Ironically, the film’s title means devotion. Aradhana was a blockbuster in India and the Soviet Union.
Much later, Karzzzz (2008), which was a remake of 1980 film Karz (the plot of which was lifted from American thriller The Reincarnation of Peter Proud) also showed a mother rebuking and threatening a curse on a murti of Kali Ma.
The scene sets the stage for return of the woman’s dead son as she threatens Kali Ma that if she did not bring back the dead son, her temple would become desolate wasteland. Watch the scene here:
A repeated message in many such films, often written by pro-communist scriptwriters, was that Bhagwan would only give you problems and grief. This message fitted well with the famous formula of the 70s movies, where the lead protagonist was already disillusioned with traditional values.
Left-leaning writers Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, impressed by the British New Wave of the 50s, imported the concept to the Indian screen as they introduced the “Angry Young Man”. They tried the formula successfully in Zanjeer (1973), in which Amitabh Bachchan played an angry, young, morally upright cop who fought atrocities and a corrupt system.
In the movie, when the cop Vijay gets arrested on fabricated charges, his lady love Mala sings an entire song – Bana Ke Kyun Bigaada Re Naseeba, Uparwale (Why did you spoil my fate, God). It is interesting to note that although Mala is a Hindu, she believes her God resides somewhere above the sky. Of course, Vijay walks out of prison on bail after this song.
In Bollywood, miracles happen through worship, but there is a catch. Allah grants wishes in return of true devotion expressed through namaz. But Bhagwan melts only after his devotee gives him an earful. Even then, Bhagwan is most likely to bless half-heartedly, or perhaps the filmmakers want us to believe that is all the power Bhagwan possesses.
For instance, this scene from Sooryavansham:
As Amitabh Bachchan’s career took off with Zanjeer, he went on to do many such films and was called The Angry Young Man’ by the press. It is easy to recall him as Vijay (again) in ‘Deewaar’ (1975), where he walks into a mandir when his mother is ill, glowers at the Devi’s Pratima and starts his monologue – Aaj khush toh bahut hoge tum. We are still guessing why Vijay used this tone and body language in front of a deity worshipped by millions.
Earlier in the film, Vijay is shown as a rebel who refuses to enter temples. Some scenes later, he is shown to bow to the power of Islamic holy number 786.
After he has rebuked Bhagwan, his mother returns from the hospital, and the film returns to the main theme.
The Congress government declared the emergency a few months after ‘Deewar’, and filmmakers couldn’t take as many liberties with narratives as before. It wasn’t possible to glorify smugglers and black marketeers onscreen in a time when they were all getting imprisoned in real life. Characters like Vijay in Deewaar could have only been shown behind bars.
But even then, there was no clampdown by the Indira Gandhi-led government on narratives that rebuke practices, followers and beliefs of just one faith.
Maha Chor (1976) came out in the thick of the censorship phase. The movie is about a happy-go-lucky Robinhood-like thief who spreads pro-Congress political messages and loves secularism so much that he has built an identical temple, mosque and church in his locality. However, when he is worried about a family member, he runs to the nearest Devi mandir and outrages at the murti with “chup kyun ho, bolti Kyun nahi.”
Perhaps the onscreen mums in the 1970s faced minor health issues just so their loving sons could have an excuse to rebuke the divine idol.
These side character mums refused to take the back seat in the 80s and effortlessly took centre stage admonishing the Bhagwan. Even supporting characters were allowed to have dramatic monologues at the temple now.
Within 25 minutes of ‘Badle ki Aag’ (1982), Nirupa Roy discovers that her son is a dacoit and wastes no time clutching temple bells with ‘Aaj tu nahi, ya main nahi’. She bangs her head at the Shivling till a young bride tells her that her son Lakhan is, in fact, a social messiah who saved her wedding.
Upon hearing this, Maa has a change of heart and rushes to stop Lakhan from surrendering himself to the cops.
The change of heart is so abrupt that we could be forgiven for thinking that the writers of this film just wanted an excuse to admonish the Shivling.
Watch the scene here:
It was as if it wasn’t possible to make a film without such scenes in the 80s.
Here is another such gem from Teri Meherbaniyan (1985):
This short scene ends with Jackie Shroff making his friend marry the suicidal girl.
Another Jackie Shroff film with such a scene is Subhash Ghai’s Ram Lakhan (1989), where the ma (Rakhee) finds out that her sons had fought with each other.
In the film, these sons have grown up watching their mom talking about killing their villainous uncle Vishambar to avenge their father’s death. However, a minor spat among brothers becomes too much for her, and she screams at the murti.
In Waqt Ki Deewar (1981), directed by Ravi Tandon (father of Raveena Tandon), hero Vikram (Sanjeev Kumar) goes, “Kaunsa Bhagwan, kaisa Bhagwan? Wo Patthar ki murti! Jo na sun sakti hai bol sakti hai!” (Which God? Whose God? That idol of stone! The one that cannot hear or speak!).
He goes on to curse not only the deaf-and-mute murti but also murti-pujas, saying, “I went there for roti but idol-worshippers like you pushed me out.” In the film, Kumar plays an orphan who turns to crime early in childhood out of hunger.
Watch the scene below:
In Dharma Productions’s Agneepath (1990), the moment Mithun Chakraborty, playing Krishna Iyer, discovers that a close one is dead, he launchers a volley of abuses at his God, asking him why he had to be so cruel. Watch the scene below:
The ’90s and onwards
Somewhere down the line, probably Bollywood writers got bored of the dramatic monologue. The protagonist had to be miffed with the paththar ki murat, but maybe it was possible to bring down the melodrama.
Experiments with subtlety began early in the decade with movies like Roja (1992), for instance. The young girl is miffed with the Ganpathi Vigraha for getting married to her sister’s suitor. But she glowers in anger at the vigraha.
Others were not so subtle.
In Mohabbatein (2000), Shah Rukh Khan, playing Raj Aryan, repeats the famous Deewaar scene of ‘main mandir nahi jaunga’, incidentally in front of Amitabh Bachchan. Khan refuses to enter a temple or accept prasad, saying he rejected Bhagwan. In fact, Bhagwan was his old enemy as he had taken away his girlfriend.
In Iqbal (2005), drunkard ex-cricketer Naseeruddin Shah, playing Mohit, complains to Iqbal’s mother that unlike her kind Allah who grants her wishes, his Bhagwan is constantly glum. The dialogues were written by Mir Ali Hussain.
Subtlety soon turned into comedy in the films of the 2000s when the lead protagonist would mock the Bhagwan as he saw fit, but this time the scene is set to comic tunes to hint that it is supposed to be taken lightly.
There are several scenes in Chandni Chowk to China (2009) where Sidhu (Akshay Kumar), a baffoon and practising Hindu, set his belief at the centre of slapstick humour. Sidhu prays to ‘Bhagwan’ to change his luck to become rich. He wastes money on buying lottery tickets. So, what does he do when his lottery tickets don’t win a jackpot?
Sidhu curses ‘Bhagwan’ in supposedly comic scenes.
The Bollywood hero no longer delivers a dramatic monologue at the mandir. Now he wants you to laugh as he makes fun of the temple practices and devotees. He can now steal the vigraha, forcibly kiss a woman, and wear shoes inside the temple.
While the template remains more or less the same, it is clear that Bollywood wants its actors to be disrespectful towards idols of Hindu Devi/Devta over any minor challenge. Why do they need to repeatedly set the narrative that Hindu Gods can’t protect their devotees?
While the reasons for this hatred for idols remain to be known and discussed, we wonder if the writers of these films would have allowed a weeping mother and her angry son to scowl at and dramatically question the capacity of supreme powers in other faiths.
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