Talking religion in Lucknow

Updated: Dec 05, 2018, 09:20 IST | Mayank Shekhar

Why Anubhav Singh, the unlikely director of Mulk, is the voice you want to heed on burning national issues like communalism

Talking religion in Lucknow
Mulk (starring Rishi Kapoor, Taapsee Pannu), by way of a conversation, and the audience it is intended for, is the most relevant movie

Mayank ShekharReligion is a lot like paratha, says filmmaker Anubhav Sinha. While everyone rightly claims their mothers make the best parathas in the world, you take the claim, understand the emotion it's coming from, rather than fight the other person with a counter-claim about your own mother's prowess at frying the same bread. For, there is no such thing as the best paratha. Right? Sure, just as humans hating/killing each other, for generations, over the most existentialist question that competing religions attempt to answer: Who are we? Why are we here? And where are we headed? There is no right answer. And regardless of who has the better one, what can't be disputed is that our fates are common, so is the blood that flows in our veins.

"It's the same chat that restlessly honking cars have with each other on the road," says Sinha. Each driver asserts that his journey is more important. While there have been several great films this year, doubtlessly, Sinha's Mulk (starring Rishi Kapoor, Tapsee Pannu), by way of a conversation, and the audience it is intended for, is the most relevant movie, by a mile. That it came from the director of Tum Bin and RA.One was only mildly surprising. As a young engineer who moved to Mumbai to make films, Sinha says his misplaced definition of personal success — big stars, big budgets, etc — had kept him thus far from using his medium for self-expression. The reason he made Mulk, I suspect, is because, as he puts it, the good rarely markets itself well (believing in its victory in the long run), while the bad, namely hate, is much better organised, ruthlessly sharp in its messaging.

While there have been several great films this year, doubtlessly, Anubhav Sinha's
While there have been several great films this year, doubtlessly, Anubhav Sinha's

The conversations that Mulk makes — on religious polarisation, bigotry, communalism, which is what we were talking about too — essentially reflect the discourse that dominates social media, slotting people into fake binaries, like national/anti-national, religious/anti-religious, etc. We're going through a short phase in human history, Sinha says, quoting Javed Akhtar: "(Itihaas ka) ek page jaldi se palat diya toh do-teen saal nikal jaate hain!" Either way, he submits, we're all willing consumers of a conflict that doesn't actually exist, but can easily be created. Branding is an American phenomenon. And so once they were fighting "Kaamies," Sinha imitates the American accent (to say communists), who had to be hunted down: "Millions were killed, countries and economies destroyed, fighting kaamies." And now the US is fighting "terrorists"! A lot of other similar terms bandied about daily in India come to mind. Secularism, defined as separation of religion from state/politics is one of them.

It's a cuss word, currently. And while there is no proper Hindi substitute for it ('dharmanirpeksha' doesn't quite cut it), that carving a secular state from a deeply ritualistic nation is tough is evident, I realise, while chatting about religion with Sinha, before a live, educated audience in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh. "The problem is that one religion believes that no greater truth can be discovered, after its founding," says a gentleman from the audience, referring to Islam being at the root of the world's problems. A Sikh man gets up to counter, "But, hey, my religion did come after." An old lady admonishes Sinha, for what exactly I'm unsure, but advocated, "Sanatan Dharma is the only dharma. All other religions are simply communities." The fellow sitting a few seats away from her takes the mic to empathically declare, "There will be no messenger after the Prophet. The Quran says so." Nobody rolls their eyes. This can go on forever. We leave.

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to

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