Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Jodhaa Akbar/Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi

After 17 years of probe, the Babri Masjid demolition report has been finally submitted by the Liberhan Commission. The contents of the report are yet to be made public. But politicians have already started the blame game.

Is it a matter of faith? Is it an issue of rule of law?

I think the problem is our definition of secularism in India. We have taken the concept of nation state from the West but not the definition of secularism. Secularism means the state is without religion. But here, the Indian state supports all religions. Can equality and impartiality be ensured in that case? After all, we are humans.

Invocation of secularism then becomes subjective. That's why we have seen so much politicking happening in the name of religion in India. In the Indian kind of secularism, rule of law becomes a joke. That's why we have riots (rioters are never punished), we have commissions (reports' recommendations are rarely implemented), but hardly any justice.

I am not very optimistic about the fate of the commission's report.

Personally, I feel that the Babri Masjid issue will remain a thorn in the side of Indian secularism, the symbol of gulf between the two blood brothers, Hindus and Muslims. I feel that Indian Muslims should have gifted the controversial structure to the Indian Hindus. Just as Akbar had, in the film Jodhaa Akbar, allowed his bride Jodhaa to build a temple in the prayer room of the Red Fort. Can there be anything bigger than peace? Doesn't Islam itself means peace?

Like, to attack and destroy does not signal strength. It signals brutality and animal power. Similarly, sacrifice does not signal weakness. It demonstrates higher values.

Is that too Bollywood type of a wish? Let me expound it a bit more.


Recently, when Ashutosh Gowariker's Jodhaa Akbar swept all the IIFA Awards, I made up my mind to see it. I had missed the film when it had released in the theatres. Luckily, on last Saturday afternoon, Vasantham Channel showed the movie in Singapore. I liked the film--for its gentle tone, its beautiful production, its credible acting, soulful music and above all, its message of harmony and love.

However, being a student of history (having had the opportunity of studying history from the masters of Mughal History at AMU), I could not be convinced of its authenticity. The details were there but the film did not give me a feel of the public life of the time of Akbar. I am not even going into the historical authenticity of Jodha, whose existence is denied by authentic historical records of Akbar's time.

But that is not the point of the film, as I understand it. On a plain level, it is a love story between two powerful, beautiful people--an emperor and a princess. They have an elaborate wedding, like all big budget Hindi movies have--NRI women love this kind of stuff, don't they?

But the film goes deeper than that. I think, at a subliminal level, Ashutosh wanted to appropriate the legend of Jodhaa and Akbar and create a myth: a Hindu myth. In a way, it was a Hindu appropriation of the Mughal history. The film shows the self-respect of a Rajput princess; it shows the bending of a Muslim emperor to the power of that self-respect and love triumphing over narrow religious dictats. Despite the protests of the mullahs, Akbar allows Jodhaa to have her own shrine in the Mughal palace. He abandons the Hindu pilgrimage tax and bans the forced conversion of Hindu prisoners. All very noble things to do! I am glad Akbar did that (did he?) and in fact, all Mughal emperors should have done that--at least the last two acts.

In a way, the film makes the (often portrayed as barbaric in the case of many rulers) Mughal rule more palatable to the Hindu mind (that has been made to see the 1000 years of Mughal rule, as Muslim rule, with Jizya and all that, as slavery of Hindus, destroying the great Hindu civilization). In a way, the filmmaker seems to say that yes, this is how we can remember the Mughals/India's Musilm rulers: by remembering Akbar and denying other rulers not much space in our minds and myths. And by extension, he seems to propose that this is how Indian Muslims could assimilate themselves in the Indian nation--with love and sacrifice, and mutual self-respect. You may disagree with me, but this is how I saw Ashutosh's film.

There is a great message in this film. For Muslims, the message is to be more accommodating. That's why, I was saying that Indian Muslims should have gifted the controversial place in Ayodhya to our Hindu brethren. As a gesture of goodwill. As a token of our love. As a recompense. Why did it not happen? Now it is too late. India would have been a different country today had it happened 17 years ago. Or is Jodhaa Akbar 17 years too late?

As for the film, I was disappointed only in one respect: the battle scenes could have been more impressive. After seeing several Chinese films made in recent years (especially John Woo's Red Cliff and Yimou Zhang's The Curse of the Golden Flower), one expects similar kind of action and production values and I expected that from a UTV production.

Finally, I want to say that let us banish (from our streets) all violence to the film screen. Let us keep all religions private and not allow politicians to make it a votebank issue. Let us love, live and let live. Let us be good humans.


Ye manzilen !! said...

Good points there Z.....Awesome!

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