I can still remember the seating arrangements for our family film nights. Earlier in the day Granddad would pop down to the local video shop and pick up 2 or 3 of the latest Bollywood hits at 50p each and we’d hold on to them for the weekend, often replaying the songs once we’d seen the film, and recording them on to cassette tapes to listen to in our own time. We’d share bags of nuts and seeds and pass round mithai, a sweet confectionary consumed throughout the subcontinent, in our own diy cinema, with the adults sat on sofas and in armchairs and we children scattered around their feet. It was a family tradition to pile in at the end of a week and sit huddled together in this way, and I enjoyed the closeness of it more than the actual entertainment, because although I understood Hindi, I veered towards western culture and not my own.
My grandparents however, seemed to be swept up by it all. One of my earliest memories is watching them watching Mughal e Azam, a film unbeknownst to me at the time to be a depiction of my own damn ancestors. They had tears in their eyes as they repeated the dialogue and exclaimed in wonder at the first full scene in technicolor. Their daughter, my aunt would explain to me many years later that this was their only connection to a motherland that had rejected them, and allowed them an opportunity to feel things they had long buried and could not verbalise for all the intergenerational trauma. Through Bollywood they could reconnect with their neighbours, those folks they had lived with in relative peace before the British cracked open their divisions and poured fire onto them (as a Muslim, I only had beef for the first time aged 15 in the UK because as a community we had never eaten it ‘back home’ out of respect for others and then never bothered to take it up here). I’d always known how to speak Hindi, and only came to question how I’d learnt as an adult well into my 30s, whereupon I discovered the dialect that I spoke at home, that was so easily dismissed and ridiculed by other South Asians was in fact a handy tool in understanding them. It is the South Asian equivalent of the English language in Europe with its French and Germanic roots, and was devised by my ancestors for ease of communication.
I understood other South Asians but they did not understand me. I recognised parts of their culture as being identical to my own whereas they saw me as completely alien. I realised this would have been a deliberate ploy, to destroy any idea of my ancestors being worthy or valued.
It’s only recently that I’ve come to the conclusion that India doesn’t need me as an ally. It would sooner see me beaten to death. As a teenager my best friend was a Hindu Gujerati girl whose mother was an out and proud bigot and took every opportunity to bully my sister and I. I’d grown up bowing and scraping and apologising for something I didn’t understand, this lowly status on account of my Pakistani roots and as uncomfortable as that grown ass woman made me, as a 15 year old, I’d laugh it off and pretend it didn’t hurt. It was her daughter that loved to drink and meet up with boys but her mother scapegoated us, because we were the product of a broken family and Muslim. Her son groomed me for a number of years before it culminated in an attack, a thing that only happened apparently because I hadn’t stayed away. They blamed us even when it was their fault and this seems to sum up the relationship between India and Pakistan, partition didn’t come about as a result of Muslim uppityness but the very real fear that western backed Hindustan would commit a genocide against Muslims and it was for their safety that a border was drawn.
I don’t think India should ever have been carved up and by an Englishman at that, but I surely understand why many Muslims stand by it. That’s not the only reason, at least not anymore. The emergence of the Hindutva far right in India has been a frightening revelation for many, not least those who have been targeted by Modi’s paid goons. From the plight of Kashmiri Muslims to the attacks in Delhi at the start of 2020, I was reminded of the times growing up where I’d met Muslims who proudly identified as Indian, who’d sneer at us and our ancestors for embracing Pakistan. They looked down their noses at us just like everyone else, because Pakistan was the world’s toilet and Pakistanis fair game. I thought about them first when India set about turning on its proud Indian Muslims, and how history proves time and time again, India cares nothing for its minorities. Ironically this is a line meted out by Modi stans on social media, whenever they want to tear Pakistan another one, they roll off its track record with religious minorities for whom persecution is the norm. It is possible to exist in a world where all states are corrupt and guilty of crimes committed against their most marginalised citizens but this wouldn’t serve the propagandists.
People like Kangana Ranaut, a Bollywood actress who like many of her peers and colleagues backed up the Indian government’s extremist Hindutva agenda. With her huge platform she could have brought to attention the struggle of Indian farmers, now 5 months, 3 weeks and 5 days into it, but instead chose to slut shame another star with a huge platform, Rihanna, for doing it instead of her. Ranaut proudly presents herself as the pious right wing Hindu worshipper in stark contrast to an image of Rihanna where she is almost naked, bringing her leftist political views into it, suggesting somehow that leftism equates to immorality, revealing a lot about herself in the process. Ranaut thinks bodies are inherently shameful, and that’s her problem. I saw a happy Rihanna performing for her fans, something that Ranaut herself has form for, but perhaps she was not happy about it. That’s another issue for her to examine in her own time, but the hypocrisy should be concerning to us all. What sets them apart? Could it be some of that anti blackness poking its beak through a veneer of respectability Ranuat maintains in a white supremacist world, of which she is a card carrying member?
Bollywood has a lot to answer for. From its appalling anti black Beyonce lyrics to the kowtowing to fascism demonstrated to us by its stars, old and new, it is not worthy of our love and attention. They have shunned the underdog, dismissed pleas from their fan bases to cover the news not only affecting India but with repercussions for the entire world, because India is a mass producer of goods. People like Rihanna who are class conscious will immediately empathise with those power seeks to oppress. Only oppressors come out in defence of oppressors, as has been clear to see in the numerous rape and death threats levelled at not just Rihanna, but also Greta Thunberg when she reiterated her support for the farmers. They’re burning effigies of women in India, and Kanagan Ranuat has nothing to say about that. They’re praising Chris Brown for being a domestic abuser, because far right Hindus are nasty as hell.
My grandparents would have been devastated to see their favourite acting dynasties acting out in such hateful ways, they’d have been ashamed to have ever brought into the illusion of solidarity it presented with classics such as Amar, Akbar, Anthony, and how far its stars have fallen from grace. I’m glad they’re not here to see it, and for this I am also enraged.
Boycott Bollywood, the whole rotten lot.