By Hariz Aftab
The theme of terrorism has never been so well-received in the mainstream Indian cinema and prominent OTT platforms as in contemporary times for there is a heightened demand for content. The global spread of Covid19 rendered the role of a catalyst in the growth of OTT platforms.The platforms have been pushed to create more content for the viewers and the plots of “Terrorism” oriented films and web shows (episodic or not) could be facilely molded in diverse ways and presented to the audience homologous to Romantic genre.
Moreover, the wave of jingoism influencing the psyche has made it the mood of the audience and they seem to be accepting of such storylines.
It is undisputable that films and shows on terrorism (without certain exceptions) are linked to Muslim perpetrators and this has happened in the period of stage dramas as well; allow me to quote acclaimed Indian dramatist Mahesh Dattani’s work “Final Solutions.” Although communalism is the point of convergence in the play, but the element of terrorism is associated with the Muslim character Javed.
Cinema holds the power to embed certain views in the mind of the audience and change attitudes, diverse studies have shown. It has the capacity to influence people’s beliefs and opinions. It could be employed to inseminate stereotypes as well. In duration, the movies stereotyping Muslim as terrorists are plentiful that the mention of all the names would be not less than a book. It has become a norm and masses have become accustomed to it. However, there are certain new trends in addition to this which could prove to disastrous for common Muslims in India. For example, the sympathy for terrorists in common Muslims and presence of terrorists and anti-India agents in common Muslim populace. The scenes conveying these trends are there for a small fraction of time but produce a larger negative impact.
In “The Family Man” Season 1, the character Pasha puts forth the notion that some of the ordinary Indian Muslim citizens sympathize with terrorists for religion. One might wonder how? The answer lies with Pasha’s conversation with his colleagues when he expresses that his father expelled him (for killing terrorists) from the house because he believed that Pasha was killing his brothers in Islam in the name of duty. This 32-second-long conversation might seem a trivial gossip to take cognizance of but in actuality, it is a direct bite of misinformation for the subconscious of fellow Indians who would probably start casting doubts on anyone from the Muslim community sooner or later. The viewers are bound to lock fellow Indian Muslims (whole community) in the cage of suspicion as long as they are not attached with the system or institutions and generate distrust towards them. While in actuality, Islamic scholars from All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) in 2017 appreciated the decision of Sartaj to refuse the body of his son Saifullah for burial as he was involved in anti-national activities. An identical case was reported in 2008 when a mother of a Lashkar militant refused to accept the body of her son.
Telegu action film “Naa Peru Surya, Naa Illu India” (My Name is Surya, My Home is India) starring Allu Arjun whirls around the character development of a military personnel and every person should be all praises for the film. However, the presentation of Indian Muslims as vulnerable and exposed to terrorism no matter when is simply inaccurate. The character Anwar (Muslim), a teenager, is angry by cause of severe injustice perpetrated by the villain Challa in the movie. He leaves the house denouncing India as his nation as he could not get justice for the murder of his father at the hands of Challa’s son. Surya, the protagonist, expresses his fear about Anwar being swayed by anti-India organizations and commands Challa to send his men to find Anwar. Such a portrayal leads viewers to two conclusions: 1) Indian Muslims facing injustice due to any reason in the country can turn to the path of terrorism and anti-national activities. 2) Such an easy fall for these organizations implies that the agents of said organizations live in proximity with the Muslim community. Once more, this portrayal could induce suspicion and distrust towards Muslim multitudes. However, in reality, Sartaj Akhlaq is serving the nation with wholeheartedness despite the horrendous mob lynching of his father by far-right zealots. Muslim girls of Karnataka remained firm upon their path to fight the discriminatory Hijab ban constitutionally.
“The Family Man” Season 2 blatantly validates the Islamophobic conspiracy theory “Love Jihad” or “Romeo Jihad” developed by Indian far right. The character Dhriti Tiwari, daughter of the protagonist Srikant Tiwari (Manoj Bajpayee) is befriended by a Muslim boy Salman who introduces himself as Kalyan (Hindu). He is employed by a terrorist organization to complete this task in order to kidnap Dhriti. This section of the plot further indoctrinates the viewers with the fear of common Muslim boys and men eying non-Muslim girls and women with love jihadi intentions. This fear is bound to generate distrust of the whole community where every Muslim is already a criminal in the eyes of the fellow Indian citizens. It has also led to physical assaults on Muslim boys by far-right zealots who are found talking to or travelling with non-Muslim girls.
These trends put the whole Muslim community under the radar of suspicion and mistrust. It is unachievable for fellow Indians to feel safe around Muslim citizens post such indoctrination. It will subsequently lead to discrimination, then alienation of Muslims in the society. Once it is accomplished, their marginalization will begin. Unfortunately, it has already commenced.
Hariz Aftab is a doctoral researcher and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org