Depiction Of Interfaith Marriages In The Indian Movie Industry Has Acquired A Problematic Pattern
The portrayal of the families of interfaith couples in Indian movies is stereotypical, imparting a quixotic pattern to marriages.
The depiction of an interfaith family in Tanishq jewellery advertisement has sparked a controversy. The advertisement shows a Hindu girl married into a Muslim family being given a baby shower, a Hindu ritual for an expectant mother, by her Muslim in-laws. The advertisement is titled Ekatvam.
Hindus directed their anger towards the advertisement with call for a boycott of the jewellery brand. A media network floated an interesting but fake news that an outlet of the jewellery firm was attacked by fanatics — though it proved to be a hoax — a well planned one at that.
Just as the advertisement firm has the right to depict a Hindu girl as a daughter-in-law in an Islamic household, and title it as 'Ekatvam', which incidentally and interestingly is also the term Islamists use for Islamic monotheism, so do Hindus have the democratic right to call for a boycott of the product based on the advertisement.
After all, advertisements are meant to influence consumer behaviour and buyers have the right to exercise their choice within the democratic framework — they have the right to boycott the product.
However, the question remains why Hindus are angry at this advertisement.
Depiction of interfaith marriages has always acquired a particular pattern in the Indian film industry.
Consider, for example, the movie Bobby (1973). Here, the boy is Hindu and the girl is a Christian. Screenplay was written by socialist and dynasty loyalist K A Abbas. The Hindu father of the boy was shown as an insensitive arrogant capitalist while the Christian father of the girl was portrayed as a very loving but fiercely self-righteous fisherman.
In Tamil Nadu, a famous inter-religious romance movie that became a musical cult classic was Alaikal Oyvathillai (Waves Never Rest, 1981).
Set in Kanyakumari district of the 1980s, the movie depicted a Brahmin boy and a Christian girl. The boy was the son of a poor music teacher and the girl was from a powerful Christian family. In the climax, the boy renounces his sacred thread and the girl removes her cross — creating a false equivalence between the two. The director of the movie was Bharathiraja.
The movie became a box-office hit for the extraordinary music of Illayaraja than for the storyline. In a tragic coincidence, a few months after the release of that movie, the district witnessed attacks on Hindu women by Christian rowdy elements at Mandaikadu, widely considered as the Sabarimala of women.
Though unrelated to the movie, the riots shocked Tamil Nadu showing the other or, perhaps, the real face of the religion marketed as the religion of love.
During the mid 1980s and 1990s, there was accelerated Hindu revival in Tamil Nadu. This reflected in the movies to some extent. Late K Balachander, considered as a legendary director, and who used to specialise on themes mocking and demeaning Brahmin community, surprisingly came out with a movie Kalyana Agathikal (marriage refugees, 1985).
A Hindu girl is wooed by a Christian. The girl could not get married due to demand for dowry. The boy proudly introduces her to his parents who openly say they do not have customs like dowry. Just when the Hindu girl is happy that such broadminded people exist, a bombshell is dropped. The prospective mother-in-law asks her to bid a final goodbye to her ‘old gods’.
She is shocked and realises that the dowry here is her religion. She says she needs a day’s time. The next day when her lover asks for her decision over the phone, she simply places the receiver near a tape-recorder and plays Skanda Guru Shashti Kavacham — the most popular Hindu devotional hymn of Tamil Nadu — as her answer.
Of course, the most controversial of the inter-religious marriage themed movies was Bombay (1995). A Hindu boy and a Muslim girl get married as Sri Rama Janmabhoomi movement unfolds in the background. Mani Ratnam was the director. He too had portrayed the arrogant economically and socially well off Hindu father versus the self-respecting angry Muslim father — though both were shown as communal minded.
The movie, interestingly, made two important statements.
When the girl becomes pregnant she starts telling her husband that Allah would protect the children and then changes her view to say that the children will be protected by multiple gods. When the twin kids of the couple are lost during riots, one is saved by a third gender person. When the child asks the eunuch what the meaning of a Hindu and a Muslim is, the eunuch explains that both are ways to reach god.
Despite superficiality and cliche emotional scenes, the impossibility of the marriage happening in the backdrop of rath-yatra (1990) with the children aged six to seven years during dome demolition (1992), these scenes depicted the real nature of interfaith marriages that are not aimed at conversion. When there is no mutual conversion, the marriages tend to be secular humanist and naturally tend towards becoming meta-Hindu.
The reaction to this movie was violent. It was released on 10 March 1995. On the morning of 10 July 1995, bombs were hurled at director Mani Ratnam’s residence. The director and his housemaid, Kamala, escaped with injuries.
The police arrested four people. But Ratnam, the brave fighter for freedom of expression and tolerance, signing petitions against the Prime Minister then mysteriously failed to identify the arrested during the identification parade. This led to the release of all the four arrested.
Such is the quixotic bravery of our intelligentsia.
Except one movie no other has spoken about the conversion agenda and aspect of the inter-religious marriages.
In reality, in most of the interfaith marriages the union is seen as means of conversion by the proselytising religions. Particularly, the proselytising religions, which have a male-centric theology with a male god and always the 'son of god' or a line of only male prophets, see the prospects of attracting women of other religions as means of a religious conquest.
Hindus have been at the receiving end of this theological strategy, which always runs as an invisible but important undercurrent in many of the real life, so-called interfaith marriages. The advertisement glorifying the Islamist household with a Hindu-born bride being respected simply creates a false one-sided glorification and markets it as ‘oneness’ — a term typically associated with the Islamism of radical kind.
Meanwhile, writer Chetan Bhagat wonders what Mahatma Gandhi would have said on this particular occasion.
Surely, Gandhi is one of the greatest sons of India and his contribution to not only India’s civilisation but also to Sanatana Dharma cannot be undermined.
But saying that he helped create India is actually negating Gandhi himself who considered India as eternal as the Dharma, which guided his life. In fact, he had to battle the people who used to say that British created India.
Now the colonial menome has mutated from British creating India to Gandhi-Jawaharlal Nehru creating India. Sure, they contributed like streams in the larger flow of national life. But to claim they created them is to show an insufficiency in the knowledge of the very core values of Gandhi and even Nehru.
That said, what would have Gandhi said about this advertisement.
For one, Gandhi would have honestly dealt with the reality even while giving an idealistic utopian sounding solution. He would have pointed out the murders of Hindu boys by the parents of Muslim girls and also the conversions happening in the inter-religious marriages.
He would have pointed out that such conversions are wrong just as he wrote that there should be 'no question of conversion' in Harijan dated 16-3-1947 when talking about interfaith marriages.
He would have also condemned using such a sensitive issue in a one-sided way for marketing what he would have considered as unnecessary, wasteful luxury.
Gandhi would have asked whoever designed that advertisement to atone for using the sacred institution of marriage and a sensitive issue like inter-religious marriage, for commercial luring.
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