When it comes to creating and portraying objective notions, Bollywood movies are not behind. Recently, the movie Sooryavanshi starring Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif was caught in the same boat. An important dialogue in the film caught the attention of the public eye. The dialogue states that in this nation, the amount of hate for Ajmal Kasab is equal to the love for APJ Abdul Kalam. This dialogue is different to understand the binary perspective that is promoted in the film. The implication becomes that either Muslims can be like Ajmal Kasab or they can be like APJ Kalam. There is nothing in between these two sides.
The movie Sooryavanshi is a part of Director and filmmaker Rohit Shetty‘s cop universe. The other films in that universe include Simmba starring Ranveer Singh and Singham starring Ajay Devgan in the titular roles. As a result, both the actors are also a part of this film (cameo) creating more hype and excitement for the movie lovers. Although these films are similar in action and scale, Sooryavanshi is more like the director’s debut film. His first film Zameen was released in 2003 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government was in power.
Zameen was a different film but in a thematic and ideological context, one might find similarities. It was a small-budget film with lesser cars blowing in the backdrop, but the political viewpoint is similar to the newly released film. Apart from the nationalism tone, the concept of sleeper cells was in focus. The doubt over the enemy within us was also a part of this flick.
What exactly is a Good Muslim and Bad Muslim Binary?
This concept of debate on Good Muslim and Bad Muslim has origins in the Partition of India. This is a part of the post-colonial Muslim identity. Good Muslims are the ones who work in the mainstream for the development of the country. On the other hand, the bad ones raise sectarian demands and hamper the growth of the country. After partition, the right Hindu right-wing groups were not interested in this concept, and they treated all Muslims equally.
They asked them to Indianize their identity and religion and illustrate their loyalty and patriotism. Whereas, the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru was the person to introduce this distinction among them. He brought forward the concept of good Muslims and bad Muslims.
In the film Zameen, Pankaj Dheer played the role of Captain Basheer Ali (Pilot), Jai’s (Abhishek Bachchan) foster father. He was the captain of the flight that was hijacked in the film. So, you will find him speaking long paragraphs over true Islam to the terrorists or hijackers.
Apparently, in Sooryavanshi the responsibility to speak those paragraphs is given to Akshay Kumar. His character is not a Muslim one, still, he speaks about this Good Muslim and Bad Muslim Binary multiple times. One of his examples of a good Muslim is his former colleague Naeem Khan (Rajendra Gupta). He happens to be a retired policeman with over three decades of service. He is shown to have just returned from Ajmer Sharif (a modest sub-sectarian aspect to what’s a good Muslim).
The opposite to this is Bad Muslim Kader Usmani, played by Gulshan Grover. Unlike the clean-shaven officer, he is a stereotypical topi-wearing Muslim cleric. The look of a long beard, upper lip shaven, prayer mark on his forehead also adds to the binary.
He is depicted running a charity while having a hidden motive. This stereotyping of a bad Muslim is disturbing over a very sensitive social issue.
Some time back, Former President APJ Kalam was called a “Jihadi” by Hindu cleric Narsinghanand Saraswati. Later, he became the Mahamandaleshwar of the largest Akhara of Sadhus. Probably, some don’t even consider him to be good. So, the logic for good Muslims is also not clear.
The wrong description for a terrorist:-
Apart from the binary, that is a lot more incorrect or wrong being portrayed and promoted in films. In most films like this one, you will see that terrorists are often shown praying, offering namaz, or reading the holy Quran, whereas these things are done by an ordinary Muslim too. A Muslim is considered good when he participates in Hindu festivals and helps Hindu friends. Even Muslims shown in speaking about atrocities are considered wrong. Everyone realizes this, but apparently, this is asked by a terrorist in the film.
Filmmaking in the context of Islamophobia:-
It is not wrong to make a film on terrorists. But, it is wrong to stereotype their portrayal for the masses. The Film Sooryavanshi adds to the issue. As mentioned above, The problematic part is that praying, wearing religious markers, speaking against atrocities, etc which is a common act done by any Muslim.
But there have been some films that have made a correct and normal portrayal of Muslims. Some of them include Aparshakti Khurana — in Pati, Patni Aur Woh, and Luka Chuppi. Things are neither exaggerated nor understated. There is no attempt to create a particular stereotype. Possibly, Indian filmmakers need to learn this bit.