If there is one secular fabric that exists without much manipulation or political interference then it has to be Bollywood. Not that it doesn’t have any loopholes – but Bollywood still tries hard to keep its secularism intact. The recent phenomenon Bajrangi Bhaijaan, starring Salman Khan, once again proves that how much important Bollywood is to the image of the nation. The entire movie simply re-enforces that Bollywood has its heart in the right place.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan not only takes on religious extremism but gives a subtle message on harmony and peace, how people should live together without focusing on their religious loyalty. The character of Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi is a typical product of the RSS ideology but when a young mute six-year old Pakistan girl comes into his life, even he changes. Kabir Khan in Bajrangi Bhaijaan shows that a change is possible and it is something that Bollywood has re-iterated time and again.
Remember this famous scene from Krantiveer.
Though some might dismiss as a mere rhetoric, but such scenes or movies do affect the psyche of the common man.
Apart from Bajrangi Bhaijaan there are plenty of examples where Bollywood has tried to tackle the issue of secularism and showed how religious intolerance only harms the nation.
This is a legendary song from the movie Dhool Ka Phool. Sung by Mohammad Rafi, the movie tried to imbibe the spirit of secularism while a few critics observe how thematically similar it is to Shashi Kapoor’s debut movie Dharmaputra. Such examples are actually plenty in Hindi cinema.
Bollywood during its initial stage tried to create a Nehruvian Utopia, giving secularism a strong boost. But the political atmosphere of the country was contrary to what Bollywood was trying to show. It was during the 90s, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the riots and the Bombay Serial blasts, all proved to be a major dent in Bollywood’s attempt to continue with its secular image. At this critical juncture several movies, though excessively masalafied, along with Mani Ratnam’s Bombay tried to assuage things. Mani Ratnam’s was about an inter-religious couple, a Hindu boy and a Muslim girl and how they cope with Bombay the riots in the city as their children get lost. It was a poignant tale, a movie where religious acrimony as well as religious tolerance was perfectly blended.
Coming to more recent times, Bollywood has tackled the issue of terrorism as well and how it has mixed itself with religion. Though many movies choose to commercialize this subject, but in a world totally transformed by the events of 9/11, there are several movies, like Subhas Ghai’s Black and White, Karan Johar’s My Name is Khan, Kurbaan etc have made it a point to bring a proper picture to the events that unfold.
Also, movies like Oh My God, PK as well as Dharam Sankat Mein pitches in another aspect of Bollywood where religion or rather the guardians of religion have been criticized for making fools out of people and how religion has become a sort of business that exploits the innocent. All these movies have faced the ire of the religious zealots but have gone on to do extremely well at the box-office.
Coming to Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Kabir Khan chose the middle path and that’s how he scored a winner. The religious intolerance was depicted but again the characters also learn from their mistakes. Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi, played by Salman Khan, realizes that it is not religion that should bind people, but mutual trust and camaraderie as well as peace should be given a chance.
Bollywood, though, remains the last bastion of secularism in this country. We hope it will continue to be so and movies like Bajrangi Bhaijaan will keep on entertaining as well as educating us – mainly, about religious tolerance.