For a country like India that has its roots dug so deep in culture and tradition, people have more than just a national identity. If one can remember Akshay Kumar starrer BABY, one of the most famous dialogue from the film is about religious identity. The Hindu protagonist Akshay Kumar righteously shuts down a Muslim ISI agent saying that he writes ‘Indian’ in the religion column of any form. Religious identity for people in India is a big thing. Though the modern era would confer to moving towards a collective identity, India takes active steps to maintain the religious identity, mainly through politics. Another thing about India is influence. Indian cinema, in its history of over a century, has provided us with some great work, but more importantly, it has provided a platform to influence large audiences, something similar to a tool of propaganda. Indians aspire for what the protagonist wants to be, or what a superstar does in the movie.
A thing clearly visible in pop-culture shows and movies, notably, is the depiction of one particular religious identity- Muslims. The Indian mind is cleverly tricked into focusing so much on a central theme in front of their eyes that something in the backdrop always gets lost in translation. Seldom do audiences realize that a larger picture is actually being portrayed behind. This is because the audiences have been fed with a particular depiction that has inadvertently received a conformist approach. The issue, or depiction here, is that of Muslims in pop-culture. A friend of mine, who happens to be a Muslim, said that whenever a terrorist activity took place she would be worried on whether the perpetrator was a Muslim. The religious identity of a terrorist was one of the important things that she was worried about. This is not because these terrorists are likely to be Muslim but rather because in any terror activity that takes place with a Muslim perpetrator, there is often an enlarged mass media coverage and severely unjustified hatred towards Muslims.
Indian cinema seems to do very little to make any change. Speaking of Baby, the movie is sort of an entire crackdown on Muslims. Freedom of speech and expression is a defense for this, but continued portrayal of a situation makes it a worldview. Akshay Kumar followed with another patriotic movie, Holiday- A Soldier is Never off Duty which was another crackdown on Muslim terrorist and sleeper cells. What is astonishing to see is that in the entourage of twelve fellow soldiers of Akshay Kumar, there’s only one Muslim and one Christian. All others are Hindus. On the contrary, every terrorist and sleeper cell is a Muslim. However, both movies are a little considerate in their plot. Baby features Feroz Ali Khan played by Danny Denzongpa as the head of the squad, while Holiday- A Soldier is Never off Duty showcases a corrupt Hindu Police officer and Christian Joint Secretary of Defense Alvin D’Souza committing suicide to maintain the balance.
A major defense in this depiction is that content producers want to show what happens in reality to the audiences. Apart from movies, web-series too seem to follow the trend. Netflix India’s original series Sacred Games plays on the Hindu-Muslim conflict in one of the subplots. Ghoul, another of Netflix India’s original is entirely based around the Muslim terror scenario in a dystopian future. Both of these series portray Muslims in a very stereotypical role and mostly in the lights of terror activity.
Omar Alnatour, a contributor on Huffington Post writes in his article about statistics that prove all Muslims are not terrorists. In his article, according to the FBI, 94% of terrorist attacks carried out in the United States from 1980 to 2005 have been by non-Muslims. This means that an American terrorist suspect is over nine times more likely to be a non-Muslim than a Muslim. The report also cites that of several terror activities across Europe, the number of Muslims account for less than 2%. Nevertheless, American pop-culture too isn’t a stranger to this depiction. Amazon Prime’s latest series Jack Ryan deals with Islamic terrorism. The show is highly stereotypical in nature for the way it portrays every white American person to be very distinctive from his/her brown Middle Eastern counterpart.
The point being made here is that media is evidently forming conformist views in the minds of their audiences. Although it might not be very explicitly mentioned, the undertones behind these expressions seem to have an alternate motive. The criticism is not for depiction only of the Muslim community, but also the repercussions that this community faces due to such a singularly negative conformist view.
Picture Credits : heavenofhorror.com