It’s only in the movies where we’re afforded an opportunity to see a Mughal emperor spellbound by a Hindu devotional song (meant for Lord Krishna). In Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodha Akbar, we see Jalaluddin Akbar mesmerised by a bhajan sung by his wife Jodha Bai, that leads to a very interesting moment in the film. Yeah, probably didn’t happen but to watch the portrayal of a love-struck Mughal emperor standing there in admiration as his Rajput wife does puja, was something we’ve never seen on film before.
It’s a rare, nuanced moment in Bollywood’s history of the Hindu-Muslim love stories. We see the two put aside the ‘us v/s them’ debate, and honour their matrimony. Given Hindi cinema’s influence as a mass media, it is important that Bollywood come up with more such moments, especially in a time as polarising as this. Abhishek Kapoor’s Kedarnath was met with protests from the local pandits of the holy temple, saying that the film’s Muslim protagonist was endorsing ‘love jihad’. A term that’s unfortunately found mention in the news more and more since 2014. We need filmmakers to not shy away from inter-caste / inter-religion romances, fearing volatile protests from fringe elements of any faith. Also, Kedarnath is only the latest example in a list of Bollywood films that have implored the audience to choose humanity over religion.
Here are 8 times before the Sushant Singh Rajput and Sara Ali Khan-starrer, when Bollywood successfully peddled the idea of a more inclusive society:
This film starring Akshaye Khanna, Sonali Bendre and Danny Denzongpa, isn’t exactly some overlooked classic. But as one of Bollywood’s ‘message-oriented film’ from the late 90s, it bravely spoke of a social evil whose name hadn’t even been coined until then – honour killing. By the end of the film we see how an affair is responsible for city-wide riots, shining a bright light over how hate begets only hate.
Mani Ratnam’s love story between a Hindu man and a Muslim woman during the infamous ’92 riots, is one of the most nuanced mainstream films of its kind. It balances out masala moments like Manisha Koirala naming her twin boys – Kamal Basheer and Kabir Narayan, with the horror that was post-riot Bombay. Looking back even after two decades, the film had some compelling moments advocating religious harmony.
3. Gadar: Ek Prem Katha
Anil Sharma is probably the least subtle director in the history of Hindi cinema. To give you perspective, Sharma (or someone on his team) thought that a hand-pump would be the right weapon for Sunny Deol, while fighting a mob. But beneath all that debris of the 1947 partition between Hindustan & Pakistan, was a love story between a simple-minded Sikh man and a Muslim woman.
Yash Chopra’s romance mirroring the epic scale of Romeo-Juliet, Heer-Ranjha or Laila-Majnu used the different religions, as yet another hurdle for the love story. Apart from that, the two people belong to India & Pakistan respectively. This surely means war, or so you would think. But the film dwells on the us v/s them mentality, and turns it into ‘we’. The film argues that whether we’re Hindu, Muslim, Indian or a Pakistani – we’re all the same.
5. Jodha Akbar
Ashutosh Gowariker’s magum opus about a Mughal emperor and Rajput princess, is not just a gorgeous film to look at. But, it is arguably Bollywood’s most nuanced take on the Hindu-Muslim love story. The blossoming love between was peppered with moments which showed how the two embraced each other’s cultures – like that scene when Akbar issues a royal decree to be served a vegetarian feast, once a week.
6. My Name Is Khan
Karan Johar’s film about a Muslim man’s journey across a post-9/11 USA, is triggered by a Hindu-Muslim love story. Rizwan Khan starts off because of a ‘promise’ he makes to his wife, Mandira, after their son is killed in a hate crime. In a fit of rage, Mandira makes her husband swear that he’ll meet the US president and tell him not all Muslim folk are ‘terrorists’.
Habib Faisal’s take on Romeo-Juliet in the hinterland of Uttar Pradesh, needed something more than just… warring families. So, in walks the Hindu-Muslim love story between the Chauhans and the Qureshis. Starring Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra, the film depicts the ground reality of an inter-faith romance and how everyone tends to associate it with the family’s honour.
Promising a portrait of love stories in small-town India, Raanjhana told the story of a boy born in the home of a local pandit and how he becomes enchanted by a Muslim girl, in his neighbourhood. Adapted to the 2013 mindset, the parents are far more accepting towards the religious aspect of the romance. Instead, it is fringe elements from both religions that wreak havoc on the film’s principal characters.