In a climate of religious tension, Laal Singh Chaddha, worn by a Muslim actor, is at the heart of a lively campaign on social networks.
As the Bollywood remake of Forrest Gump nears its release with Muslim star Aamir Khan, the film is the target of boycott calls from Hindu supremacists on social media. The August 11 release of Laal Singh Chaddhadirected in Hindi by Advait Chandan, Indian adaptation of the famous American film with Tom Hanks, Forest Gump (1994), is one of the most anticipated cinematic events of 2022 in India, thanks to Aamir Khan who produces it and stars in the lead role.
Indian blockbuster actor Three Idiots (2009) and Dangal (2016) is, at 57, one of Bollywood’s most bankable. But excerpts from an interview he gave in 2015 have suddenly resurfaced on social media, backed by a flood of calls for a boycott of his film from Hindu nationalists. In this interview, Aamir Khan had expressed his discomfort and a “feeling of fear” growing, aroused by the coming to power of Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, to the point that with his wife at the time, they had considered leaving India.
“She is afraid for her child. She is afraid of what will be the atmosphere around us. She is afraid to open the newspapers every day.he said then. More than 200,000 tweets, many of them from BJP supporters, tagged #BoycottLaalSinghChaddha, have spilled onto the social network since last month. “Aamir Khan married two Hindu women and yet named his children Junaid, Azad and Ira”Muslim names, can we read in a tweet.
The actress who plays alongside him in “Laal Singh Chaddha”, Kareena Kapoor, “married a Muslim and soon named his children Taimur and Jehangir”do we also note in the same tweet and add: “That’s reason enough to boycott Lal Singh Chaddha, produced by Bollywood’s Love Jihad club. #BoycottLaalSinghChaddha”.
“Love Jihad” is a pejorative phrase created by Hindu nationalists that stigmatizes Muslims by accusing them of marrying Hindu women in order to convert them to Islam.
Islamophobia in India
The BJP finds its origins in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militarist small group advocating “Hindutva”, a project of Hindu hegemony. The fury aroused by his new film is such that the star had to express his patriotism in the press this week, a key concept in the government’s ideology. “I am saddened that some (…) think that I am someone who does not like India. This is not the case”did he declare, “please don’t boycott my movie. Please go see my movie”.
Bollywood cinema and other regional industries often spark controversy and even violence in film-loving India. But what Aamir Khan, one of the industry’s many Muslim superstars, is going through reflects the climate of intolerance, marginalization and defamation of Muslims which is evidently growing, worrying observers.
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“There is no doubt that Aamir is the target of those who sow hatred of Muslims”told AFP an observer, who requested anonymity for fear of becoming a target himself.
India’s tragedy is that the majority of Bollywood (…) is either apathetic or opportunistic or fearful.
Film critic and writer, Anna MM Vetticad
The world’s biggest democracy has a long history of film censorship but rights campaigners say Bollywood is also coming under increased pressure to accommodate the BJP’s Hindu nationalist propaganda. More and more films released recently tell patriotic stories whose heroes are soldiers and policemen, generally Hindus, who fight against enemies of India, at home or abroad.
This year the movie The Kashmir Fileson the historic flight of Hindus from Kashmir 30 years ago has provided the Hindu nationalists who acclaim it with a pretext to attack the Muslim minority.
The methods used for “Subordinating the Muslims and Christians of India to the majority community (…) goes through the demonization of these minorities and the requirement of proof of their patriotism”says film critic and writer, Anna MM Vetticad. And, according to her, “India’s tragedy is that the majority of Bollywood (…) is either apathetic, opportunistic or fearful”. The film will be released in cinemas in France on Thursday August 11.
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