“Aaj khush to bahut honge tum…Woh aadmi jisne aaj tak tumhare aage sar nahi jhukaaya, woh aadmi aaj apne haath failaaye aapke saamne khada hai,” lamented Amitabh Bachchan, as Vijay – the angry young man of the seventies, in front of a temple. A trip to Shirdi waale Sai Baba guaranteed results in films like Amar Akbar Anthony. The rape scenes were incomplete without a ‘Bhagwaan ke liye mujhe chhod do!” kind of pleas by the hero ki behen or heroine.
Vaishno Devi or Ajmer Shareef were places where our action hero sought solace from the villian-woes. Nirupa Roy seemed to have born solely with a purpose of raising kids as widow, walking out of mandir and spotting a prospective bahu for his honhaar beta, falling from the mandir ki seedhiyaan, being cured in a mandir, and if no calamity was taking place, she was gleefully praying inside a cosy compact mandir at home.
Religions in our films have held an utmost importance, right from our first talkie, Raja Harishchandra to the latest 300-crore club entrant (100-crore club is commonplace these days folks, any Action-Jackson flick can achieve that ‘benchmark’). Sadly though, looking back, it seems that when it comes to god-damn business, whoops God-business, our films haven’t evolved yet.
To begin with, we as a secular nation (at least the Civics textbooks would like us to believe so) have embraced all the religions and endeavour to coexist peacefully. Our films, too, reflect this fact, or at least try doing so. Our social fabric is intricately woven with threads of every kind, and it hence becomes easy to tear it apart with a feeble needle of provocation, resulting into ‘hurting religious sentiments’ – something recently witnessed in the #PK debate.
With PK, director Raj Kumar Hirani actually showed us mirror and called for some serious introspection. The only place he went amiss was perhaps like our predecessors, he too focussed only on religious symbols, rather than scriptures. There’s precisely where OMG – Oh My God scores over PK, despite being alarmingly loud, it at least mentioned Bhagwad Geeta and other scriptures.
Ironically, Shoaib Mansoor, a director from Pakistan succeeded in achieving the right kind of balance between religion and film’s screenplay in both his films, ‘Khuda Kay Liye’ and ‘Bol’. In ‘Khuda Kay Liye’, Naseeruddin Shah’s character lists silly things Muslims do in the name of religion, like banning music (The maulvis are shown cursing Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for committing such a ‘heinous’ crime), wearing trousers above the ankle, and focussing only on the outward appearance of being a Muslim, rather than being one from within.
The same director delved in the topic of polygamy among the Muslims and challenged the patriarchal society. Both these films questioned the norms that have become rules, despite having nothing to do with religion.
Christianity, too is rife with blind beliefs in our films and limited only to cross, confession box and the image of Jesus Christ, apart from other cliches of ‘tumko kya maangta’ kind of lingo (Not every Christian speaks like that).
If you read King James Bible, you’d be surprised to know that Christianity is much beyond the cross. In fact, Jesus Christ never advocated idol worship and even the Bible prohibits idolatry, be it Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-4) or the New Testament (John 5:21).
Furthermore, the Parsis are essentially eccentric in our films. Why can’t we have normal Bawajis in films, for Ahura Mazda’s sake? I know many Parsis who’re far different from those ‘uniformed’ Bawajis driving a ramschackle car with four dickraas and a wife called Shirin.
There are exceptions too, thankfully so. If you pick up DVDs of films like ‘Mehboob Ki Mehendi’, ‘Pakeeza’ or ‘Chaudvin Ka Chand’, or happen to listen songs like ‘Tu Hindu banega na Musalmaan banega, Insaan ki aulaad hai Insaan banega’, you can find shades of secularism. Things were subtle back then, especially in the fifties and sixties, despite the stories being set against Muslim backdrop.
Then came the eighties, where religious symbols became the norm in our films. The much touted Billa No. 786 went on to put these ‘sacred numbers’ on the top echelons of Islam, whereas the fact remains that it has nothing to do with the religion in question.
Well, it might be a revelation for some, but 786 is said to be the initials of the opening verse of Surah Fateha, which is a complete misnomer. Ask any Aalim or scholar of Islam and you’ll know he’ll swear by his books that Islam shuns every kind of idol worship or religious symbols, including taaveez and durgahs.
Similarly, Bhagwad Geeta clearly states, “Those whose intelligence has been stolen by material desires surrender unto demigods.” The Chandogya Upanishad states, “Ekam evaditiyam – He is One and only without second.” The Yajur Veda states,”Na tasya pratima asti – There is no image of him.”
Now imagine Aamir Khan poking fun at Muslims with 786 ka billa, the lucky charms and stones they worship or the Peer Baba ka durgah they bow to or questioning a priest on the concept of Trinity and idol worship in Christianity. He wears stickers of Hindu gods and godesses to protect himself from ‘maar’, but never includes 786 ka billa or cross as his armour, which surely might not be intentional, but clearly hints that the film has been made just to mock at Hinduism, hence the furore. You’re sending negative message, sir!
The character of PK never reads out verses from Bhagwad Geeta, Bible or Qur’an to drive home his point about the concept of One God – which is common all across the religions, but chooses to pick up silly rituals and religious symbols – something we have been doing in our films since ages, and it’s high time we move on.
Well, the problem with religious symbols and rituals as depicted in our films (and real life too) is the ‘My __is longer than yours’ kind of approach, while the religious scriptures clearly state that God is one.
Films are a strong medium to bridge this gap. One sincerely hopes that someday an alien would land on the earth again in a film and shall build bridges rather than ruffle few feathers. At the end of the day, we have no god-damn idea whether God exists or not. What if everything is just a silly, stupid concept? What if there’s nothing called God?
Unless proven scientifically, faith is the only thing we have, and PK seems to attempt at questioning that very aspect of our life that keeps us going – hope.
We surely need more films like PK and OMG, but with depth, not shallow religious symbols and silly rituals. Like Naseeruddin Shah’s character aptly puts in the film, Khuda Kay Liye: Daadhi mein deen hain. Deen mein daadhi nahin.”
To sum it up on a Floyd note, unless we can achieve this level of maturity in filmmaking, instead of OMGs, PKs and the threat called MSG, we don’t need no religions. Filmmakers, leave the gods alone!