Bollywood films that courted controversy over religious topics

Apr 11, 2015, 07:02 IST | The Hitlist Team

'Dharam Sankat Mein', which hit the theatres yesterday, deals with a man’s crisis relating to religious identity. We zero in on a few recent films that dared to venture into sensitive territories...

Bollywood movies are generally perceived as an entertainment package with song, dance, romance and stunts as its basic ingredients. But every once in a while there comes a film which dares to break the stereotypical mould — by exploring sensitive or taboo topics that are otherwise hastily swept under the carpet.

Paresh Rawal features in Dharam Sankat Mein as a Hindu man, who despises Muslims only to find out later that he was born Muslim and adopted by a Hindu family
Paresh Rawal features in Dharam Sankat Mein as a Hindu man, who despises Muslims only to find out later that he was born Muslim and adopted by a Hindu family

A case in point is 'Dharam Sankat Mein', which hit the theatres yesterday. The comedy, which stars Paresh Rawal, Naseeruddin Shah and Annu Kapoor, stirs up issues that generally don’t make for polite dinner table conversations even though they need to be discussed and debated upon. The film revolves around a staunch Hindu (Rawal) who goes through an identity crisis when he discovers he was born Muslim, but adopted by a Hindu family. The plot was considered so controversial and sensitive that the Censor Board reportedly invited a Hindu priest and a Maulvi to supervise the film’s certification process and asked for some “offensive” scenes to be deleted.

Religion, apart from a few other issues, has always been a sore point. But an increasing number of filmmakers are transgressing the boundaries of social acceptability on the 70mm screen. hitlist gives a lowdown on a few such films from the recent past...

'PK' (2014)
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Cast: Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma
Talking point: The film was mired in controversy as it was a satire on various sensitive issues like political beliefs, religion and superstitions which are so deeply rooted in the social consciousness of India. Aamir played an alien, who is stuck on Earth and gradually unravels the ugly face of human greed and misuse of religion to one’s advantage. Hindutva groups took offence to certain scenes, while some others pointed out that the film “unnecessarily” mocked Hindu beliefs and rituals, and portrayed Hindus as either atheists or fanaticsm, but didn’t touch other faiths. There were also concerns that the film did not reach any conclusion on the existence of religion, but simply questioned superstitions.

'Dozakh: In Search of Heaven' (2015)
Dozakh: In Search of Heaven
Director: Zaigham Imam
Cast: Lalit Tiwari, Garrick Chaudhary
Talking point: It was centered on a Muslim father and son duo, the former being a cleric and a true follower of the Islam. He doesn’t like the fact that his son is friendly with a Hindu priest and much to his discomfort, the boy shows a stubborn fondness for Hindu mythology and teachings. This results in a conflict and the man loses his son, eventually realising that he needs him more than religion. The film was inspired by a novel of the same name.

Apparently, the Censor Board sent the film to a self-revision committee post its certification screening since there was no Muslim in the committee that had watched the film. The then Board chief Leela Samson gave it a ‘U’ certificate and apologised to the director as the film had been shown to a couple of priests, albeit without her knowledge.

'My Name Is Khan' (2010)
My Name Is Khan
Director: Karan Johar
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol
Talking point: The film had SRK play an autistic Muslim man, who suffers discrimination in the United States and ends up losing his stepson post the 9/11 terror attacks. He is mistaken for a terrorist and undertakes a long journey across the US to prove his innocence to his wife (Kajol). My Name… faced a threat from a regional political outfit after the party took objection to Shah Rukh’s comments supporting the inclusion of Pakistani players in IPL that year and demanded a ban on the film. Incidentally, two years later, New York airport security detained the star for ‘extended questioning’. Though the exact reasons for the extensive interrogation was not disclosed, allegations suggested racial profiling was at play.

'Baby' (2015)
Director: Neeraj Pandey
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher, Mikaal Zulfiqar
Talking point: It tackled an extremely sensitive subject of terrorism, subtly driving home the point that it has no specific religion or region. This much-acclaimed thriller was banned by the censor boards of Islamabad and Sindh, two primary Pakistani markets for Bollywood films, as it was based on an Indian spy’s mission to catch a terrorist based in Pakistan. The film, which also featured two actors from the neighbouring country, was criticised for showing Muslims and Pakistanis in poor light.

'Oh My God' (2012)
Oh My God
Director: Umesh Shukla
Cast: Paresh Rawal, Akshay Kumar, Mithun Chakraborty
Talking point: The comedy-drama carried a significant social message without losing its wit and humour. Revolving around an atheist, it came as a breath of fresh air amid a huge pile of masala movies. It highlighted the commercialisation of religion in a country where people worship millions of deities and repose blind faith in godmen. While the film’s theatrical screening was halted at many places by right wing parties, a year later, the Madhya Pradesh High Court asked the Censor Board to take action against allegedly objectionable comments against Hinduism. The ruling was based on a petition alleging that the film makes derogatory references to religion.

Out of the closet

Onir’s 2005 film My Brother… Nikhil ruffled a few feathers for its sensitive plot. The movie dealt with the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS as well as the coming out of a closeted gay relationship between Sanjay Suri and Purab Kohli.

A still from My Brother... Nikhil
A still from My Brother... Nikhil

The film was based on a true historical fact, and the standard disclaimer, sources said, about fictitious content was just a compromise to gain permission from the Indian government to make the film.

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