CCCC03: Civilisation of India and Contemporary Indian communities
Under the supervision of Dr Medha Kudaisya (email@example.com)
1. Introduction 2
2. The India Pakistan issue – A brief outline 3
Wars and the Kashmir issue 5
3. Hindi Films
On social and national issues 7
4. Hindi Films on India and Pakistan 10
Analysing a film – Border 11
Plot summary 11
Portrayals – fact versus fiction 12
The message of Border 17
A General Outlook 18
4. People’s interpretation of Bollywood’s representation
of the India Pakistan issue 19
5. Conclusion 20
6. Bibliography 21
CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION
“The Hindi cinema is not just a fictional device; it recalls that conflict ridden profile of “theological” matters in modern Indian history, the commitment to “secularism” inscribed in the Indian constitution”1
It is indeed an indisputable fact that the Hindi cinema tries to show a profile of those matters in Indian History that have, are and will be affecting people. Bollywood, being the second largest film industry in the world has over a million viewers. Several watch Hindi films everyday. So it is impossible that the way Bollywood portrays national level issues in its films would not affect the views the people have on these issues.
But is Bollywood showing the national and social issues accurately? This is an important question to raise since the sheer number of people who watch Hindi films leads to the fact that misportrayal would result in mass misinterpretation of national and social issues.
The aim of this project was therefore to study whether Bollywood films portray national and social events and issues accurately. To do this, a national issue was considered – the feud between India and Pakistan. Bollywood has portrayed this issue in several movies. One such movie, Border, was studied to find out how the film depicts the India Pakistan feud. Finally, a field study conducted among the Indian national students of the National University of Singapore to find out how the way Hindi films presented the India – Pakistan issue affected their interpretation of the national issue.
Chapter 2. The India – Pakistan issue: A brief outline
The unhappy, indeed tragic, animosity between India and Pakistan has overshadowed international relations within South Asia for most of the time since independence; and has powerfully affected the relations of both with countries outside South Asia.2
As Farmer writes, there have been rapprochements on several occasions. In 1972, Mrs. Gandhi and Bhutto even agreed on a line of control in Kashmir. But after every rapprochement, ill will has always broken out, often over some issue that seems trivial to other countries.3
This section aims to give an overview on the History and the current situation between India and Pakistan to lay the ground for the discussion of the Hindi film.
Photo 1. The India - Pakistan cease-fire line Partition
The partition of India following the end of the British rule, the emergence of Pakistan and the accompanying holocaust have been, are, and will be topics of importance and constant reference in the history of the world. Despite Gandhi’s principle of non-violence, partition was accompanied by unprecedented bloodshed, abduction, arson, rape and forced conversions4.
There was, during British rule, a widening gap between Muslims and other Indians due to various reasons. This led to the Muslims developing a desire for separate political treatment, culminating in partition. Partition was therefore, to Muslims, an inevitable result of history. To others it was a solution extremely difficult. This was because partition increased communal tension and led people to cross borders. Those who tried to do so were massacred, Hindus and Sikhs by Muslims and Muslims by Hindus and Sikhs.
Photo 2. A Muslim running for his life5
However, 7.4 million people succeeded in moving from Pakistan to India and 7.2 million people from India to Pakistan.6
Photo 3. Refugee family with nowhere to go7
Wars and the Kashmir issue
Since partition, India and Pakistan have been arguing consistently over Kashmir, which was thought of as a paradise by the Mogul emperors. Now, as Rushdie writes, “paradise has been partitioned, impoverished and made violent.”8
Photo 4. Kashmir – Paradise made violent.
Before partition, both the Muslim league and the allies of Nehru were active in Kashmir, and as partition drew near, the former favoured accession to Pakistan while the latter to India. A revolt then broke out and the leaders declared independence from the Maharajah and allegiance to Pakistan. India accused Pakistan of encouraging Muslims to rebel for ‘Azad Kashmir’. The thoroughly harassed Maharajah acceded to India in October 1947. The two countries engaged in hostilities and a ceasefire was agreed on in December 1948. The cease-fire line has become, to all intents and purposes, the international frontier, separating Jammu and Kashmir from Azad Kashmir. To this day, neither country recognizes the jurisdiction of the other over the former territories of the Maharajah.9
Since Partition, three wars have been fought between the two countries, two of them over Kashmir. The first war was fought in 1965. The second one followed soon after in 1971, but this time, it was about the formation of Bangladesh. The third war was fought recently in 1997. This war was again over the Kashmir dispute.
Photo 5. Article on the 1971 India Pakistan war10
The two countries have, time and again, pledged to resolve the disputes peacefully, but have made little progress. India and Pakistan exchange artillery almost daily across the cease-fire line that divides Kashmir (see photo 1). In July 1999, India and Pakistan came to the brink of another war in Kashmir11. During the event, India fought an eleven week undeclared battle against Pakistani army troops who infiltrated the region.
Chapter 3. Hindi Films
When cinema came to India in 1896, Shyam Benegal writes, none of the people present would have predicted that within the next fifty years, India would be the largest producer of full length fiction features in the world.12
As Benegal continues, it is impossible to deny the hold that the Indian cinema has on the population. Since Satyajit Ray, most films that were made tried to weave in themes that had to do with day-to-day life. From the 50s to present day, these themes are what have made the Hindi film appealing to the mass audience. Concepts such as family values, undying love, the beliefs in fighting for justice and the importance of male bonding are the concepts that are highly relevant in society and have been emphasized in Indian films but have been ignored in other types of films. When these ideas are presented wrapped in technical finery, the resulting movies can’t help but appeal to the average viewer.
On Social and National issues
Time and time again, Hindi films have been produced that are based on social and national issues. Therefore, right from the old films of the 1930s, movies can be seen as being based on some form of injustice in society. Just to give a few examples, movies like Prem Rog (1982) and Balyogini (1936) dealt with the plight of young widows in society. Adhikar (1938), Deedar (1951), and Awara (1951) dealt with issues about social inequality, while movies like Hindustani (1997) deal with the problem of corruption in society.
More often than not, these films top the box office. The main reason for the success of such films is the extent to which the film is able to relate with the audience. As Fareed Kazmi points out, the higher the level of relation with the audience the greater it’s chances of success.13
One way in which these films relate with the audience is through the use of themes that were based on issues that the audience were familiar with. One good example would be the issue of communal riots all over India due to the Ram Janma Bhoomi - Babri Masjid issue in the early 1990s. Bollywood made use of the familiar issue to produce films that illustrated it. Bombay (1994) and Fiza (2000), just to name a few.
While such movies take on social problems as their main theme and most of the times show a traumatic tale with violence in the foreground, several Bollywood productions show a very simple family story with most of these issues weaved into them, thus subtly affecting the views of the audience. Thus Bollywood takes good care that its views are fed into people of all tastes. As Fareed Kazmi points out, while films seem to say that orthodox Hindus should accept Muslims into the society, most films have a deeper meaning which aims for the Muslim to ‘correct’ himself in order to gain acceptance into the social circle.14 In a movie like Hum Apke Hain Koun – a film that topped the Box office in 1994 - Bollywood shows societal discrimination, and takes part in it, by defining a Muslim couple in terms of their religion, whose characteristics “emerge as stereotypes represented by well defined signs of speech, dress social and religious practice, which are all different from ‘us’.”15
Thus, either subtly or openly, Bollywood films bring forth to the surface issues that lay dormant in society, be it issues of religious conflict, women’s rights or social inequality.
CHAPTER 4. Hindi Films on India And Pakistan
The India Pakistan issue, like all other issues of importance in India has been portrayed in Hindi films. The enmity between the two countries has been portrayed either in the form of open hatred towards Pakistan or as an appeal for reconciliation. In fact, one only has to follow all movies created by Bollywood on the issue to find out different aspects of the issue. Hey! Ram (2000) and Earth 1947(1999) dealt with partition of the two countries. A very colourful illustration of the war between India and Pakistan was given in Border (1997). Tens of movies have been produced that illustrate the terrorism problem in Kashmir and in different parts of India due to the Pakistan problem - Roja (1993), Sarfrosh (1998), Pukar (2000), Mission Kashmir (2000), Fiza (2000) - just to name a few. Time and time again, movies have also been produced that dealt with other faces to the problems. Refugee (2000), for instance, dealt with the problems of Muhajirs (Indian Muslim refugees in Pakistan). Given Bollywood’s way of illustrating problems to appeal to all kind of watchers, it is hardly surprising that movies that have been produced on the India – Pakistan issue have attained tremendous popularity among the public. In fact, three of Zee TVs top five movies of the year 2000 were based on the India – Pakistan problem. Mission Kashmir, Pukar and Fiza won their recognition in India’s most widely watched television channel because of the way they illustrated terrorism in India that was due to the unresolved issues with Pakistan, combining with other conflicting emotions in life – love, jealousy etc, thus making an international problem personal and thereby appealing to a wide audience16
Moreover, Pukar won the award for National Integration in the 2000 National film awards because it worked towards showing the people a “common enemy”17
Analysing a film – Border
In this section, a film related to the India – Pakistan issue would be examined. Border is a recent film dealing with the issue up front. The film topped the Box-office at the time it was released18. Analysing the reasons why the movie topped the box-office at release would help us to understand how Bollywood uses films to influence and manipulate the views of the audience.
Revolving around the Longewala Post in west Rajasthan during the war of 1971 between India and Pakistan, this movie unusually tied reality to Bollywood and brought through a message that could and should be understood by most people. Not much can be said about the story without revealing the whole plot. Many young men, including Dharmveer (Akshaye Khanna) and a Raja of Rajasthan (Sunil Shetty) come together to fight a war with their battalion leader, Kuldeep Singh (Sunny Deol). They wait patiently as war develops and tell stories about their lives, their family, their children, their girlfriends, fiancees, etc...
Fighting dreams and relationships, they realize that they are putting up their lives up for their Mother, their land. Nothing, not even their children, wives, mothers or any other part of their family are more valuable than their own land. Slowly the whole battalion comes together during their stay at the post. War breaks out at the border, as tanks and soldiers surround the post. The battalion must hold on the whole night onto their post until the Air Force (commanded by Jackie Shroff's character) can strike the approaching offensive. Who lives, who dies, who wins, who loses??
Anu Malik's music and the cinematography of them were on par with the rest of the movie. Of the four songs, "Ke Ghar Kab Aao Ge", "Hamen Jab Se Mohobaat" and "Mere Dushman Mere Bhai" have been composed for the situation. Critics have acclaimed "Mere Dushman Mere Bhai" to be one of the best done songs in the history of Indian cinema, although the lyrics of the other three are perfect for the situations, this song's lyrics are touching as well as perfect. 19
Portrayals – fact versus fiction
Given this brief review of the film, let us now move on to look at how much of what these movies show is real fact and how much is added by the producers to provide spice to the film.
As mentioned earlier, Border was mainly an illustration of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan that led to the formation of Bangladesh. An interesting conversation between two soldiers based on a letter one of their sons had written summarizes the feeling of most people. “My masterji says that across the border the people are a lot like us. They even wear the same clothes as us and talk the same language. Father, if this is true, then why do we fight with them?”
Photo 6. Sunny Deol playing Major Kuldip Singh Suri in Border
Due recognition has also been given to the people who were involved in the war. Sunny Deol plays the role of major Kuldip Singh Suri, the commander incharge of the Longewala post. Records confirm that the commander of Longewala post was indeed a Major Kuldip Singh Suri who survived the war.
The main feature that made the film appealing to the common audience was the simple way in which the techniques of war was put across to the people. Complicated issues like why artillery firing is used and how an anti tank mine works are explained in very simple terms. Similarly, the plan for Pakistani attack of India is also portrayed truly. The Pakistanis were said to have wanted to breakfast in Jaisalmeer, lunch at Joghpur and dinner at Delhi. Indeed, records show this piece of information to be true20. The loyalty exhibited by the soldiers also appeal highly to the people. One illustration would be the soldier Nathura Das who goes on leave because of a sick wife. However, he feels that his duty to his country is more important than his wife and comes back when he hears news of war and eventually is killed by enemy bullets. A similar exhibition of loyalty is shown by all the soldiers when confronted with the question of leaving the post. Soldiers claim with passion that they would rather die than leave the land to the enemies.
An appeal to the nationalistic feelings of the people is also made by images. A large emphasis, for instance, is made on the Pakistani tanks crossing the Indian border (illustrated in photo 7).
Given all these attempts at truthfulness , it is important to look at the other side of the issue as well. Firstly, an inaccuracy in the part of Bollywood is reflected by the use of AK47 machine guns in the face of death (illustrated in photo 8).
Photo 8. Soldiers lined up with non-existing AK 47 machine guns It is a known fact that there were no such advanced machine guns in the 1970s.
A pro Hindu/ pro Sikh anti Muslim theme runs through out the story. Firstly, as Fareed Kazmi points out in his book, J.P. Dutta shows no patriotic Muslim soldiers in the India army fighting the battle.
Photo 9. Sunil Shetty kissing the Koran before giving it to the archetypical Muslim villager
The only Indian Muslim character in the film, an archetypical bearded man wearing achkan and cap, is shown standing outside his burning home which has been bombed by the Pakistan army, imploring ‘Save my Koran, it is burning inside). A Hindu soldier (Sunil Shetty), rushes inside, brings out the Koran safely, kisses it with veneration and gives it to the man, who declares in amazement, ‘ But you are a Hindu’ (see photo 9).
Shetty then says, ‘Yes, I am a Hindu. And Hindus are the ones who, at their own expense have been helping others.’ The Muslim character, now suitably educated says, ‘And even then, there are some amongst us who call them infidels’ 21. Surely, in such a big battle, there were some Muslim soldiers who were patriotic towards their country? Even if they had not fought in Longewala, there is no need for Dutta to portray a completely non-Indian Muslim war.
This is just one illustration of the non-Muslim theme running through the story. Through out the story, it is noticed that Hindu and Sikh religion are given much importance. The cheers of the soldiers before, during and after the battle follow the Sikh greeting, “Waheguruji ki Khalsa” (illustrated in photo 10).
Photo 10. Soldiers cheering 'Waheguruji ki Khalsa'
Similarly, Hindu gods are also shown to be important in the battle. When the Pakistan army did the first artillery firing, all the army buildings in the area were blown up, except for the small Hindu temple in the center of the camp (see photo 11). Sunil Shetty who watches the scene with his Sikh comrade says, ‘All the buildings have blown up but Mataji’s temple is still there. Victory is surely ours.’
Photo 11. Mataji's temple standing while all other buildings were blown by enemy fire
Indeed victory was theirs and in the eyes of the audience, Mataji’s temple takes a fair amount of credit, especially since the temple is shown very often during the actual battle, giving strength to the soldiers.
Appeal is again made to Hinduism during the scene where Dharamveer (Akshaye Khanna) is killed. Dharamveer is a young soldier who had followed his father to the army. His father had been killed in the 1965 war and Dharamveer was overcome with patriotism and followed the footsteps of his father to fight for his country. During the battle, in the midst of fighting, he is drawn out of protection and into the enemy terrain where he is ruthlessly killed by bullets. The scene has a tendency to remind the audience of the story of Abhimanyu in the Mahabaratha, a young warrior who went to fight in place of his father and got brutally killed by the enemies in the process. Thus, image is used in the film to appeal to the subconscience of the audience. Dharamveer is made parallel to Abhimanyu, an young people’s hero in Hinduism. Thus the war is “made Hindu”.
The final anti Muslim illustration comes in the story when Major Kuldip Singh, in desperation after most of his soldiers have been killed, launches on a killing expedition with bombs around his neck, which he plunges into each tank that comes his way. His thoughts before the process is - Guruji has said that one Khalsa is equivalent to a hundred Allahs. Today the time has come to make his words true. In other words, while giving himself encouragement that his Guruji had said that one Sikh could stand-alone against a hundred Muslims, he is also publicly branding Muslims as cowards.
The message of Border
The message given by Border can be illustrated by a single equation:
Anti Pakistani = Anti Muslim
Just because the war was between India and Pakistan, and because Pakistan is a primarily Islamic country, the message translates that any war between India and Pakistan will only be fought by Hindus, thereby making Hindus the patriotic. Hindutva in its strongest form is thus illustrated in the film.
In a country with over 80 percent Hindus, when a concept like Hindutva is packaged in a high budget, multi starring movie with patriotic non Muslim soldiers fighting for their country, combined with excellent songs like Mere Dushman Mere Bhai, there are bound to be nationalistic feelings aroused within the hearts of the audience. An average viewer, who comes to watch a film for the sake of entertainment, generally does not have the time to research into the truth of a film. He is more inclined to take a film as it is and to believe what he sees. Thus, subconsciously, he sets up prejudices against the Pakistanis and since the film shows an anti Muslim, anti Pakistani illustration, sets up prejudices against Muslims as well.
A General Outlook
A look at Bollywood in general shows that the anti Muslim tone in films is not peculiar to Border alone. Ravi Vasudevan argues in an article in the book Film and Theory that although the language of the Bombay cinema is Hindustani and therefore the product of interaction between the Muslim and the Hindu culture, the spectator of the commercial cinema is primarily positioned in relation to the Hindu symbolic identity relayed through the cinema22. In an anti Pakistani film like Border, it is very easy for an anti Muslim sentiment to be expressed, simply because of the fact that Pakistan is an Islamic country.
Other movies dealing with the India Pakistan problem also show anti Muslim sentiments. In Hey Ram (2000) for instance, Muslims are shown to be the start of the atrocities that were committed during partition and Hindus were shown as being unwilling victims and as taking revenge unwillingly. Even if an actor plays a patriotic Muslim in a film, he usually plays a subordinate ally of a Hindu hero. This is illustrated in Sarfarosh (1998) where a patriotic Muslim officer acts as a subordinate to a Hindu superior officer. Interestingly, when a Muslim police officer is shown as being patriotic to his country, his enemies are also often Muslims. This is seen in Mission Kashmir (2000) where the main character is Inayat Khan (Sanjay Dutt), who plays the role of an honest police officer. However, the fact that he is Muslim and that he is an honest Muslim is overridden by the fact that he is fighting against a Muslim Pathan.
Chapter 4. People’s interpretation of Bollywood’s representation of the India Pakistan Issue
In order to find out the impact that Bollywood films have on the people’s interpretation of the India Pakistan issue, interviews were conducted amongst Indian national students in the National University of Singapore to find out what they thought of the way in which Bollywood showed the India Pakistan problem. Thirty NUS Indian undergraduates were given survey forms to write their opinions into.
60 percent of the students who filled up the forms said that they felt that Bollywood portrayed a biased view of situations. 80 percent of the interviewees felt that the films portrayed a pro Hindu/ pro Indian and an anti Muslim/ anti Pakistani view and that, after watching the films, they felt that being Indian equals to being Hindu.
Since all the interviewees were Hindus, it was only natural that all of them agreed to the fact that Bollywood films instilled a strong sense of national identity in their viewers.
One interviewee wrote, “India is a multicultural and a secular country. Bollywood has implied in Border and other films that India should be a Hindu country. As Hindus, several of us identify with the concepts the films show. How about the Muslims? If they oppose the ideas Bollywood puts forward, are they not moving further from the country? In other words, the national identity is instilled only in Hindu hearts, not in Indian hearts.” This summarises the feelings most of the students have about Bollywood.
Chapter 5. Conclusion
Bollywood, while trying to instill a sense of patriotism in the hearts of the audience by showing films of Hindu Indians patriotic towards their country, and thus expressing an international issue of the strife between India and Pakistan has, purposely or accidentally, overlapped it’s horizons with the internal issue of communal strife between Hindus and Muslims in the country. Thus from the gaze of Bollywood and it’s viewers, both problems have become one and fused into each other. The implications? The average Hindu viewer feels, as stated above, that Indian Muslims don’t feel at all for their country. Prejudices thus subconsciously develop. And all this is because of the fact that the views of a significant minority is not well represented in a film.
Benegal Shyam. The Enduring Allure of the Big Screen, A century of Indian Cinema, 2000
Chakravarty Sumita S, National Identity in Indian popular cinema 1947- 1987, University of Texas Press Austin
Farmer, BH, An introduction to South Asia, Methuen and Co. 1983
Kazmi, Fareed, The politics of India’s conventional Cinema – Imaging an universe, subverting a Multiverse, Sage publications 1999.
Miller, Toby and Stam Robert, Film and theory : an anthology, Malden, Mass. : Blackwell Publishing, 2000, p396
Mukherji, Sarindu, The unwritten story of partition, Hindustan Times, July 7, 1996