About a month ago, released a Bollywood film titled Tara vs Bilal. It was a love story between a woman named Tara Kaul and a man named Bilal Khan, where Tara gets cheated and dumped by a man named Karan Sharma till Bilal rescues her from repeated abuse by him.
She goes on to have nikah (marriage with Islamic rituals where both partners are necessarily Muslims) with Bilal, who assumes that her grandfather — the only family she has — would leave India to live with them in London.
The T-Series production seems like director Samar Iqbal’s attempt to whitewash the Jihadist reality of Kashmir (Kaul is a Kashmiri Pandit surname) and ‘love jihad’, the pattern of crimes where men from the Muslim community have been found targeting Hindu women for relationships for their religious conversion and sexual exploitation, often after lying about their religious or marital identity.
The pattern is so large-scale that at least 11 states have either tabled or passed anti-forced conversion bills to tackle it.
In what serves as a reminder of the controversial Tanishq ad two years ago, the family of Bilal is shown gifting dejhoor to Tara at the time of their wedding, to project how progressive they are. Dejhoor is an ornament traditionally worn by Kashmiri Hindu brides.
What’s particularly noteworthy is that Bilal’s Islamic religion has no role to play in the film except, it seems, to project men from his community as more trustworthy as husbands than Hindus.
A month earlier, released Double XL, which turned out to be a poor attempt at telling the story of two overweight women with career ambitions. What stood out was a sub-plot of romance between a woman named Saira Khanna and a man named Zorawar Rahmani.
Like Tara vs Bilal, the Muslim religion of Zorawar is of no significance to the plot of the film, which has been written by Mudassar Aziz. There is also a scene where it is revealed that Zorawar is a Pathan by caste or ethnicity.
The same month as Double XL, released Goodbye, produced by Ekta Kapoor. The film on a dysfunctional family showed a Hindu woman named Tara Bhalla (lead character) in a live-in relationship with a Muslim man named Mudassar.
The year 2022, in fact, began with the release of a film that showed a romantic relationship between a Hindu woman named Ganga (protagonist) and a Muslim man named Afsaan Razzaq. The film is Gangubai Kathiawadi, based on the real story of a woman who eloped from her home to work in Bollywood but ended up in a Mumbai brothel, where she rose to local fame as a leader of the prostitutes in the ‘60s.
The film is based on a written account by journalist Hussain Zaidi, and largely sticks to the raw material except the interfaith romance, which is purely fictitious.
Her relationship with Razzaq stands out strikingly in the film against her earlier relationship with a Hindu man named Ramnik Lal, who traps her in love with ulterior motives and sells her to a brothel.
Two months before Gangubai, released Atrangi Re, which showed a Hindu woman named Rinku Raghuvanshi (protagonist) in love with Sajjad Ali Khan.
Midway during the film, Rinku is shown as saying, “Hum bataiyein kisse kehte hain love… Hindu Thakur ladki… Aur ye, katai Miyabhai launda. Isse kehte hain love story (Should I tell you what love is…Hindu Thakur girl. And he, a Muslim. This is what you call a real love story).”
This interfaith sub-plot in the film seems to serve two goals. One, to project that a Hindu upper-caste woman and a devout Muslim man make for an impressive couple and two, to drive home the point that a Hindu family’s opposition to such a union can ruin the woman’s life forever.
A few months before Atrangi Re, released Toofaan, which was a love story between a Hindu woman named Ananya Prabhu and a Muslim man named Aziz Ali.
The woman’s father, played by Paresh Rawal, is shown to be a bigot who harbours prejudices against Muslims in his opposition to this alliance. He is shown to be eventually proved wrong in his opposition. The film was co-written by Farhan Akhtar, who also played the lead.
Before Atrangi Re, released Indoo Ki Jawani, where Ghaziabad girl Indoo Gupta’s date turns out to be a Pakistani Muslim, and she is shown to be a bigot for initially rejecting her as a suitable match. He eventually rescues her from a terrorist.
Before Indoo, there was Laxmii (originally titled Laxmii Bomb), where a Hindu woman named Rashmi was shown eloping and marrying a Muslim man named Asif Ahmed (played by Akshay Kumar) and her proving to her family that she had made the right choice.
The film has a scene where Asif is explaining to a child why he and Rashmi are not welcome at her Hindu parents’ house. He says, “They are still stuck with Hindu-Muslim.”
And before Laxmii, was that Tanishq ad released in October 2020 where a Hindu woman was shown to have married in a Muslim household, being pampered by her mother-in-law.
Before the Tanishq ad, there was Kalank (2019), where a married Hindu woman falls for a Muslim man, and Kedarnath (2018) that used a fictional love story between a Hindu Brahmin girl and a Muslim man to depict the devastating 2013 Uttarakhand floods in which 4,000 people died and 70,000 went missing.
As one can see, a spate of films on love relationships between Hindus and Muslims have been released by Bollywood in just four years. So what’s happening? Is it a trend? What explains this trend?
Let’s analyse a few associated questions.
Has Bollywood taken a fancy to interfaith love relationships?
No. These films aren’t a mix of interfaith love stories, but specifically love stories between Muslim men and Hindu women. The industry has not produced similar love stories between Hindu men and Muslim women in this time period.
The last major film on a love story between a Hindu man and a Muslim woman showed the man converting to Islam to marry her. The film was Ishaqzaade (2012).
Bajirao Mastani (2015), based on the marriage between Maratha Peshwa Bajirao 1 and half-Muslim Mastani, took great liberties in portraying Mastani as a devout Muslim even though historical records say she was a follower of Pranami Sampradaya, a Hindu sect based on the Bhakti worship of Sri Krishna.
In film Raanjhanaa (2013), a Hindu man’s love for a Muslim woman named Zoya remained one-sided and unrequited till the end.
Before these, films Bombay and Gadar that released in 1995 and 2002 respectively, dared to show marriages between Muslim women and Hindu-Sikh men, but that did not turn out well for the filmmakers. Violent mobs rampaged on the streets In Bhopal against Gadar, and filmmaker Mani Ratnam had a bomb thrown at his house for Bombay.
Has Bollywood found such interfaith relationships to be a success formula?
No. These films have not performed as well on the box office, as to bring about a deluge of such films seen in the past four-five years.
Kedarnath was an average grosser and triggered protests by Hindu groups. Laxmii did poorly, and so did Indoo, Toofaan and Atrangi Re. The Tanishq ad triggered a major controversy by Hindu groups with the brand pulling down the ad from their social media handles.
Yet, this theme was used in Double XL and Tara vs Bilal, both of which have been box office disasters.
What to make of Bollywood’s penchant for Hindu women-Muslim men love stories?
There are broadly two takeaways with the trend.
One, the fictional tales seem to be whitewashing the realities of such relationships in which thousands of Hindu women have suffered dreadful tortures.
Two, this is same one-sided interfaith relationship propaganda pushed by the Pakistani film industry that is in firm control of the Pakistani Military through its propaganda arm, Inter Services Public Relation.
I explain these two points in detail, below.
Bollywood Propaganda Versus Ground Reality
If one looks closely, this zeal of Bollywood in promoting such relationships is running parallel to protests against ‘love jihad’ all across the country.
From Christian groups in southern states to Hindutva groups in northern states to Sikh groups in Kashmir to Buddhist groups in Ladakh, communities have been agitating against Muslim men targeting their daughters for relationships for their conversion, sexual exploitation and to start a Muslim lineage.
Many women have filed police cases against Muslim men, accusing them of posing as Hindus for forming relationships with them and later forcing them to convert to Islam. Many women have accused them of forcibly feeding them beef.
Accusations of trapping Hindu women have been made by Muslim residents against local clerics too.
Family of a 21-year-old woman in Haryana, who was shot dead by her stalker Tausif Ahmed put a banner outside their house that said, “Nikita Tomar: Shot dead by Tausif in broad daylight for refusing to convert and marry him”.
What is being shown in Bollywood films has little resemblance with the ground reality. On the other hand, it seems that Bollywood is presenting alternate facts in order to camouflage the real ones.
Film Atrangi Re showed a Hindu family brutally charring to death a Muslim man named Sajjad Ali Khan for marrying their daughter and starting a family with her.
The ground reality is just the opposite.
Murders of Hindu men for forming romantic relationships with or marrying Muslim women is way higher than vice versa.
Consider recent cases in national capital alone: A Hindu man, Dablu Singh, was stabbed to death by relatives of his Muslim girlfriend. Dablu’s mother told Swarajya that the killers had asked him to convert to Islam or forget their daughter.
Less than two kilometres from Dablu’s house, Ankit Saxena was similarly hacked to death by the family of his Muslim girlfriend.
Ten kilometres away, college boy Rahul Rajput was killed by brothers and cousins of his Muslim girlfriend, outside his house.
On the outskirts of New Delhi, Dalit man Sanjay Kumar from Faridabad was killed and his penis was chopped by father and brother of his Muslim wife, who he had eloped with. Neighbours told Swarajya that the woman’s mother often said she would not let her daughter die a Hindu.
An entire Dalit basti was attacked when a man from their colony eloped with a Muslim woman. Both were adults and had married with consent.
Same propaganda as Lollywood (Lahore-based film industry)
To understand this, one needs to look no further than the Islamic country created after partitioning India in 1947.
In Pakistan, where kidnappings and elopements of non-Muslim minor girls and women with Muslim men is an everyday occurrence, one struggles to find even one case where a Muslim woman has married a non-Muslim man without getting him to convert to Islam.
Bollywood actor-producer Raj Kapoor’s first cousin Jugal Kishore Mehta, became Ahmed Salman in order to marry a Pakistani Muslim woman.
Founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah is himself a case study. Jinnah married 15-year-old Rattanbai Petit, amid protests by her father (who was of similar age as Jinnah and hence had no clue about this romance) and condemnation by her Parsi community, as well as, the Parsi press. However, he forbade his daughter Dina to marry a non-Muslim man.
Mohammed Ali Karim Chagla, who was Jinnah’s assistant at the time, wrote in his autobiography Roses in December:
”Jinnah had only one daughter, and this story also, I have reason to believe, is true. She wanted to marry a Parsi belonging to a distinguished family. She asked her father‘s consent to the marriage. Jinnah, in his usual imperious manner, told her that there were millions of Muslim boys in India and she could have anyone she chose. Then the young lady, who was more than a match for her father, replied: Father, there were millions of Muslim girls in India. Why did you not marry one of them? To which, of course, Jinnah could have no answer.”
This skewed interfaith relationship pattern was one of the many reasons that Ambedkar cited to advocate complete transfer of India’s Muslim population to the proposed Pakistan.
He wrote this in his seminal 1945 book Pakistan, or The Partition of India: “…The Hindus are right when they say that it is not possible to establish social contact between Hindus and Muslims because such contact can only mean contact between women from one side and men from the other”.
In this earlier Swarajya piece, this author reviewed two major films in Pakistan to show how Pakistani films blatantly promote conversion-nikah among Hindu women.
In film Musalman, featuring one of Pakistan’s biggest stars, Shaan Shahid, there is a sub-plot about a Pakistani Hindu woman in love with a Muslim collegemate.
In the same film, Sita, shown as daughter of a Hindu politician, says that “Hindus are born-liars” and expresses regret that she was born into a Hindu family. Then she tells a Maulvi, “Maulanaji, main Musalman hona chahti hun (I want to become a Muslim).”
Despite Hindus being a tiny majority, at less than two percent of the population, such films continue to be made in Pakistan.
A 2019 Pakistani film, Kaaf Kangna, funded by its Army, was based on a love story between a Pakistani Muslim man and an Indian Hindu woman. The film also showed a Bindi-clad Indian Hindu woman fantasising about Muslim men in Pakistan in an item song.
That Bollywood is pushing the same religious agenda that the Pakistani Army is pushing in Pakistani films, makes one wonder both about the intent and financial sources behind such films.
Note: This article 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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