Charlie Hebdo

Prophet Muhammad movie in Indian homes is an edgy affair

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Nobody knows how the debut of movie “Muhammad, Messenger of God” in Indian homes next week would be reacted to by millions of Indian Muslims.

A new player in the Over The Top (OTT) streaming platforms, Don Cinema, run by an Indian Mehmood Ali, would release the movie on its App on July 21–a month which closes with Bakra Eid, or the Festival of the Sacrifice, considered holier than Eid al-Fitr, the two Islamic holidays celebrated world over.

The film’s score has been composed by that Mozart of Madras, A.R. Rahman, who had a fatwa issued against him on this movie itself six years ago, as it was on its Iranian film-maker Majid Majidi by a little-known Indian Islamic organisation, Raza Academy. Rahman was asked to read Kalima (The Word) again and re-solemnize his marriage.

The same organisation has issued a bugle again for this “intolerable” act by Don Cinema, wondering why Muslims are always the “target” even when it’s known that a “Muslim will die in honour than to see or hear even the slightest insult on his Holy Prophet.” The Academy has ended its appeal with the unveiled threat that it would cause “unrest” and “law and order” problem.

This movie on the Prophet of Islam was state-sponsored by Iran and released world over in 2015 but Saudi Arabia has banned it and so have a score of other Islamic countries who profess faith in Sunni Islam. As is known, Iran is the centre of Shia faith and Saudi Arabia of Sunni and the two have been violently divided over many a century over its purity.

The film took seven years in the making and has been hailed as a masterpiece by moviegoers yet the depiction of Prophet Muhammad, or anybody embodying him in art, cartoon or movies, is a taboo disapproved by Islamic theologians. Very few have crossed the redline and not paid the price.

In 2005, cartoons on the Islamic Prophet published by a Danish newspaper led to violent protests, attack on embassies and consumer boycotts and left scores of people dead.

In 2015, Islamic militants smoked out 12 lives at the offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo for depicting the Prophet in cartoons which were termed blasphemous.

Salman Rushdie’s is an episode known world over as his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” fell into crosshairs with Islam’s adherents and Iran’s late supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, calling on Muslims world over to kill the author.

Closer home, Kamlesh Tiwari, a Hindu nationalist politician, had his throat slit inside his home by two Islamic fundamentalists for calling the Prophet Muhammad as the first homosexual last year.

The movie which depicts the early life of Prophet Muhammad, claims to show Islam in good light and spread its message of peace and brotherhood which has been tarred by jihadis and terrorists in recent decades. It’s been mainly shot in Iran but when elephants were required for the movie, India refused permission to filmmakers who later opted for South Africa.

As it shaped up the storyline went thus:

An attack on Mecca is ordered to destroy the Kaaba by the order of Abraha, King of Habasha. One of his commanders lead a force of thousands of soldiers, horses and elephants. As the army reaches the gate of Mecca, the elephants halt and refuse to move on the divine order. Next, small birds in millions release a hail of stones onto the invaders and the army is wiped out. A month later, the Prophet Muhammad is born. This pre-Islamic Arabia is seen through the eyes of the Prophet Muhammad from birth to the age of 13.

The movie at no point shows the face of the Prophet. Only his hand and feet in the cradle as a baby, and a child from the back is shown. The identity of the boy who played the Prophet Muhammad has not been revealed so far.

The apprehension on reception of this movie in India is valid. The first attempt to depict the Prophet Muhammad in a movie called “The Message” happened 43 years ago. In 1976, Anthony Quinn played the Prophet’s uncle Hamza. The film didn’t depict the Prophet Muhammad’s face on screen but Muslims were offended nevertheless. The movie’s director, Syrian Moustapha Al-Akkad was killed in a 2005 suicide bombing in Amman. It’s not confirmed though whether the attack was related to the movie.

In 1977, gun-terrorists sieged the B’nai B’rith building in Washington DC and demanded the movie’s release in the United States to be cancelled or they would blow up the building. A policeman and a journalist died in the standoff.

Interestingly, this movie was released in 2018 in Saudi Arabia after a 42-year ban. It became the first Arabic title to get a theatrical release in Saudi Arabia. Since it was approved by the Middle East censors, many other Islamic countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Lebanon, Ethiopia etc also released the movie. This is only one of the two movies ever made on The Prophet, the other being the present one by the Iranian director.

It’s not clear how the release of this Iranian movie would play out in India. It’s unlikely the radical Islamic elements in India would look the other way. Even though the Shias in India might keep their peace since the movie has the blessing of Islamic Republic of Iran, the Sunnis would take the leaf out of Saudi Arabia’s book and all hell could break loose. For all we know, Don Cinema could itself develop cold feet. One surely can’t take one’s eyes off the movie even before one has seen it.

 

 

Abusing Hanuman: Where’s the leash to deter the barking Netflix

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

I once heard Salman Rushdie say: “I might be indifferent to religion but if it acts as a balm to billions, who am I to quarrel with.” This is a perfect position for both atheists and non-atheists; believers and non-believers. devotees and rational. If you can’t help or console humanity, a majority of whom are without power or hope, the last thing you ought to do is to hurt the faith which allows them to live by.

The only set who wouldn’t agree to this position are artistes. They are a different breed. They argue, they question, they debate and we all feel it’s for our advancement. There is no harm if dogmas are revisited. A faith reformed is a faith purified. It’s rationality. The problem occurs when your are not out to cleanse the faith. It’s to use your art to abuse the faith. Messenger, instead of message, becomes your target.

Unfortunately, it pays. More in the case against the Hindus than say Muslims or Christians.  If you take liberty against Muslims and their faith—dare even sketch a portrait of Prophet Muhammad—it’s unlikely you would see the next day. The retribution is swift. Charlie Hebdo isn’t the sole instance. But against the Hindus—you could slap at their Hanuman; call a “kutiya” (bitch) a Savitri; term “Chitrakoot” as “Paatal Lok”; show them genocidal—and its’ artistic license.  Worse, it ensures raving reviews and 10-serial contract with the new beasts in town: The Over The Top (OTT) platforms.

The OTT platforms are your Netflix and Amazon; Voot and Hotstar etc. The stream straight into your living rooms. There is no censorship. It doesn’t come under the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certiication) or the Cinematograph Act of 1952. Profanity passes off as gritty dialogues; sex scenes are watched together by both father and daughter, one skirting his eyes, the other holding her breath; a young kid bemused why the “uncle” on the screen finds a young boy in his mirror-image so tempting.

This is my third piece on the matter. One was on Leila, last year, a futuristic tale of Hindus in ethnic cleansing. The second was Paatal Lok which filled me with disgust. Now it’s on Chippa where an old man is narrating how his grandma once slapped “Hanuman” and the latter “sar jhukai. dum dabai, ae bhaaga (bowing his head, tail between his legs, he scampered for safety).  All three have been streamed on Netflix in rapid succession.

Twitteratis this morning were outraged at Chippa. Predictably, excuses came up: “Langaurs in Bengal are called Hanumans”; or “A specie of monkeys in India is called Hanuman.” Rebuttals came that “if so, why a man is seen kicking a kid while reading Hanuman Chalisa in Chippa;” or “If true in Bengal; why use this truism for rest of India?” Surely, two million Hindus of Bengal isn’t the same thing as 1000 million other Hindus in rest of India.

It’s easy to understand the motive. Such artistic liberties secure a platform, ensure good reviews and probably a 10-series contract from an OTT outlet. Guaranteed profits. Secured careers. Unlike Muslims, Hindus are unlikely to walk into the Mumbai office of Netflix and spray bullets. Their impotent outrage on the social media—for no mainstream media gives a hoot to Hindu sensibilities—actually drives up the viewership. India’s OTT market would be worth $5 billion in 2023, as per Boston Consulting Group. Netflix has reported a 30% hike in their viewership during these pandemic months.  Be pretty sure also they are not taxed either by the Indian government.

Not that Information and Broadcasting ( I & B) ministry hasn’t stirred. Just before lockdowns, a notice had gone to these OTT platforms in March to standardize their code of conduct and set up an adjudicatory body. China, France, Singapore all enforce it. However, in a meeting which the minister Prakash Javadekar summoned in his office, to abide by the rules of the Digital Content Complaint Council (DCCC), predictably, Amazon Prime refused. Netflix asked for extra weeks to firm up their mind. Others, such as Hotstar, Voot etc have come on board.

The OTTs hiding behind censorship is a joke. It can’t overrule what the courts in India find outrageous in light of the Constitution. You can’t be promoting religious violence or show barely-concealed pornography in the name of artistic licence. And if you could, dare and do it against Islam. You know as well as I do, you won’t.  Between money or a hole-in-the-chest, the choice is not too difficult.