Religion and Bollywood: Islam and Hinduism

I grew up in an environment where media played its role of being entertainer, teaching about life and religion as well. Especially, Bollywood films have been a big source of entertainment in my family due to language and similar culture. The Bollywood industry is one of the largest film industries in the world. The rate of film production is even higher than in Hollywood. Films are made on different issues each year to create public awareness about them but one issue has been consistent in Indian Cinema, and that is ‘religion’. Being majority Hindus, Indian cinema does not only focus on one religion but several religions. Films are made on Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, Parsi (Zoroastrian), and Buddhism. The subject of films moulded in different directions of conflict, rituals, integration and intimacy.

There have been uncountable films made on the topic of religion from 1913 till now. For example: Mughl-e-Azam (1960)1, Pakeezah (1972)2, Amar Akbar Anthony (1977)3, Fiza (2000)4, Veer Zara (2004)5, Tathagatha Buddha: The Life & Times of Gautama Buddha (2007)6 Jodhaa Akbar (2008)7, My name in Khan (2010)8, Oh my God (2012)9, Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi (2012)10, PK (2014)11, and Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015)12. All these films have been explaining the presence, practice, and opinion about different religions around the world.

Two films of the 21st century have been milestones in the history of Bollywood because of their collection and their subject. They did not only portray religion but collectivism and diversity at the same time. Veer Zara (2004) and Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) dealt with Islam and Hinduism in two countries, India and Pakistan, which do not share highly active relations. In this article, I want to see how the two religions are depicted in different situations. The reason for selecting these films is not only Hinduism and Islam but ethnic borders too.

Veer Zara (2004) is a story of an Indian Army officer and pilot (Veer) who falls in love with a Pakistani girl (Zara) who came to India to scatter the ashes of one of her family’s loyal servants. While helping her in doing so, they both fall in love but Zara engages with another man who puts Veer in prison by using his powerful connections. After 20 years, a lawyer fights Veer’s case and brings Zara to the court who has been living in the village of Veer and educating children there. After 20 years both meet and, based on Zara’s statement, Veer gets out of prison, and they both live happily ever after. This film sounds like a typical Bollywood love story, but the essential point is to see the differences between two countries based on different religions which caused Veer and Zara a huge problem. In this film religion and ethnic borders are both shown as a source of conflict and sorrow. It also revealed that, rather than being devoted to one’s religion, a person can protect others’ values by integrating them into their culture.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) is a combination of two generic words used among Hindus and Pakistani Muslims. Bajrangi is a name of one of the Gods among Hindus and Bhaijaan and means elder brother. The title of the film shows both aspects of religion and nation in it. This movie is built on a story of a true believer (Pawan Kumar) of God Bajrangi, who accidently meets a child (Shahida/Munni) who got lost in India during her visit to a shrine with her mother at the border of India and Pakistan. She was brought to the shrine because she is unable to speak and her mother believes that by taking her to a famous Sufi shrine her daughter will be able to speak. During their journey back home that girl mistakenly gets lost in India. After meeting with Pawan Kumar, that girl tries to explain her problem, but she fails because she cannot speak. Pawan brings the girl with him to his uncle’s house and starts searching for her family in his neighbourhood. Nevertheless, one day he comes to know that Munni is not Indian but Pakistani and Muslim as well. This gives him a big shock but due to his humanitarian nature he tries all legal sources to send her back but he fails due to the political situation in India and Pakistan. At last, he decides to take her home by himself from the border. During his journey, the Pakistani army gets to know about him as an Indian spy. Therefore he faces torture, but finally he brings Munni home with the help of a newspaper reporter who helped him throughout this journey and makes clear to the world that Pawan is not a spy but a kind person who helped a child to get back home. This film shows the difference of both religions but also gives a message of unity which is higher than any ethnic and religious differences. It also indicates that religion gives a message of peace and love which diminishes all the barriers.

Both these films illustrate the positive power of religion which on one side shows sacrifice of being separated but together and on the other hand all human beings as one unit. It is possible that these films dealt with this subject because it is something the audience would love to see or Bollywood filmmakers try to teach people the message of unity. These films did not only focus on religion in their story line, but both film actors who were Hindus/Indians are Muslims. The casting of this movie and use of Muslim buildings and Sufi music could also be a source of stressing the idea of collectivism, but this article is just a very basic idea about how religion is depicted in the film. A detailed analysis of films like this can bring out most of the aspects related to religion in Indian cinema because being a user of Bollywood for a long time I have seen people getting to know about religions through films.

SF

Note: Information about all films taken from IMBd.com (Internet Movie Database).

  1. This film is inspired by the real life event of Mughal time period. Where love has been depicted with its essence of religion. []
  2. This film is based on a story of a Muslim prostitute who had a pure heart. []
  3. A film based on three brothers who separate in childhood and reunite but have been growing in different religious environment. []
  4. A film about a brother and sister where the sister is going to search his brother who was lost in riots in Mumbai. []
  5. A love story of a couple from India and Pakistan. []
  6. A film based on the life of Buddha. []
  7. A love story of a Hindu Rajput princess and a Muslim Mughal. []
  8. Story of an Indian Muslim man who wants to reach the president and convey him a message that he is Muslim but not a terrorist. []
  9. Story on an atheist who searches for his answers from religious representatives. []
  10. A film based on an old Parsi couple love story. []
  11. A film about an alien who questioned all religions in a fun way. []
  12. Story of a Hindu believer who helps a Pakistani mute girl who is lost in India. []

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