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Film as Propaganda: the months between June 2023 & May 2024

Tanya Arora |
After the Kashmir Files & Kerala Story, now movies on the Godhra violence, Tipu Sultan, ’72 Hoorain threaten social peace

Visual media is widely recognised as an extremely effective means of (mis)leading and shaping the minds of the masses. While some use cinema to raise awareness among its audience, sensitively portraying issues and challenges, others use it to further an agenda. Recent specially commissioned, commercial Bollywood projects, some of which have already been released and many more which are still in the works, fit the latter category, going beyond just any agenda to actually generate community specific stigma and hate. And as is visible from several such public campaigns post 2014, these are targeted against all that is Islamic or Muslim.

Sudipto Sen’s ‘The Kerala Story,’ and it’s not-so-hidden goal of advancing Islamophobia and furthering communal divides by depicting Hindu women being targeted, converted to Islam, and then recruited by ISIS to commit ‘Jihad,’ had already caused plenty of controversy. The film vilified both Islam and the Muslim community, with Muslim men being demonised and an anti-Muslim propaganda was disseminated. That the focal point of the film was also based on misinformation, with unverified claims of 32,000 (Hindu) women being targeted by Muslims for conversion is a moot point. This was later corrected, only after the Courts stepped in. Much damage had already been done.

And now, the trailer for Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan’s ‘72 Hoorain’, promises to further feed in to anti-Muslim propaganda, has been released.

The first clip begins with the voiceover which says, “Tumne jo Jihaad ka raasta chuna hai, wo tumko seedha Jannat me leke jayega, kunwari, anchhui hui, tumhari hongi humesha k liye. (The path of Jihaad that you have chosen, will lead you to heaven, where 72 virgin girls will be yours forever.)”

Visuals of Osama Bin Laden, Ajmal Kasab, Yakub Memon, Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar are also showcased in the teaser video. The director has said in one of his statements that, “The slow poisoning of the mind by perpetrators turns ordinary individuals into suicide bombers. Let us remember that even the bombers themselves, with families like ours, have fallen victim to the twisted beliefs and brainwashing of terrorist leaders. Trapped within the deadly illusion (and lure) of 72 virgins awaiting them in heaven, they embark on a path of wilful destruction, ultimately meeting a gruesome fate,” reports Zee News. Co-producer Ashoke Pandit opined, “The movie will definitely make you ponder certain beliefs prevailing in the society and how they are a mere figment of imagination. It will make you think about the concepts and ideologies that are not even close to reality in any way, and how they are merely used to brainwash people to mould them into terrorists in the name of jihad.”

As is evident from the description of this movie as well as the words used to promote it, this will be just another anti-Muslim (and anti-Islam) propaganda movie which will depict a Muslim person embarking on the journey of ‘Jihad’ to ensure a place in heaven and enjoy their afterlife with 72 virgin women. As was observed after the release of the Kerala Story, the steady series of release of such propaganda-filled movies appear aimed at Hindu women as the target audience, so that a widespread fear can be instilled in their minds against Muslim men. To substantiate the Hindutva extremist promoted bogey of ‘Love-Jihad’, these fictionalised misinformed movies are now being released.

There are several more such propaganda filled movies set to be released this year in the run up to the general elections of 2024. The teaser for ‘Accident or Conspiracy Godhra’, directed by MK Shivaaksh and produced by BJ Purohit and Ramkumar Pal, has been released and the movie is set to be released in theatres soon. According to the teaser, the film promises to “show the truth” behind what caused the riots. The teaser calls the attack on Sabarmati Express ghastly. Was it a well-planned attack that led to the Gujarat riots or was it a result of a fit of frenzy? The film is ostensibly based on the Nanavati Commission report, which was the commission of inquiry appointed by the government of Gujarat to probe the Godhra train burning incident. The report had upheld the latterly promoted “conspiracy” theory behind the Godhra train fire. The perpetrators behind the Godhra fire involved Muslims from the Signal Falia area and there was no evidence regarding the involvement of any religious or political party in the conspiracy in the post-Godhra violence.

As per the makers of the film, “This movie was made after a lot of hard work and five years of research. Many shocking facts were discovered during the research for this movie, which are well presented in the movie with proof,” as reported by Indiatimes. again, it is evident from the description that this film will be similar to Vivek Agnihotri directed ‘The Kashmir Files’, which had presented a moulded one-sided movie on the Kashmir exodus of the Pandits and painted the Kashmiri Muslims as the sole perpetrators, forgetting to factor in sufferings of the Kashmiri Muslims into the script. Here too, surely the Godhra movie will not talk of the mass rape burning and murder of innocent Muslims in the aftermath of the Godhra train burning, or the charred remains of dead women and children found and buried in an unrecognisable state.They will not mention Bilkis Bano and her continued struggle for justice, as this will not further their divisive agenda.

Another such movie named Tipu, which is a biopic based on the life of Tipu Sultan- the 18th century ruler of the then Mysore kingdom, had been made a few months ago. The announcement regarding the release of Tipu came along with the country-wide release of The Kerala Story. The said announcement of the film was accompanied by a short video clip that makes multiple claims which come off as Islamophobic in nature. The video clip claims that during Tipu’s time, “8000 temples and 27 churches were destroyed.” It also adds, “Four million Hindus were forced to convert to Islam and forced to eat beef.” It further goes on to claim that “more than one lakh Hindus were imprisoned” and that “over 2000 Brahmin families were wiped out in Calicut.” The film’s poster depicts an image of Tipu Sultan with what appears to be black paint smeared on his face, with the tagline: The story of a fanatic sultan. Significantly, the historical sources on which this movie is said to be based upon are unclear.

The list of propaganda movies planned does not end there. Another forthcoming movie “Ajmer 92” has been deemed as a communally charged movie that has the potential to create a “divide and rift” in the society. Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind president Maulana Mahmood Madanion has urged  the central government to ban this movie and “discourage those who are trying to divide society on communal lines”.

So far a quick search reveals that at least 20 anti-Muslim and anti-minority propaganda films are in the making and scheduled to be released before the general elections of 2024. The main agenda behind releasing such movies is to keep divisions rife, the blood boiling, ensuring that votes are cast on this perpetrated hatred and othering rather than bread and butter issues next year.

Powerful politicians from the present regime and the ideological outfits backing it seem clearly out to exploit mass cinema’s potent properties. Playing on the minds and opinions of the public, such films either instil fear regarding the impending Muslim threat to the nation, or glorify majoritarian politics and beliefs, trigger communal violence, control dissent and all opposing parties or forces, including real, alternative narratives. Propaganda films serve as successful political tools used by political parties to shape a nation’s present belief systems. On one hand, they are promote violent anti-Muslim sentiments, while on the other hand, also glorifying a mythical Hindu mythology and past. Movies with such depictions are also slated for release. Adhi Purush, another movie based on the Ramayana, is slated to be released soon. Additionally, the teaser of Randeep Hooda starrer ‘Swatantra Veer Savarkar’ is also out, which attempts to glorify the life of a political leader who was an aggressive votary of an exclusivist Hindu Nation, the Hindu Rashtra.

The Indian public sphere is smeared with perpetrated hate: inflammatory speeches, inciteful and triggering social media posts, stereotypes being promoted, misinformation being spread. All this ensures that opinions are coloured and exclusion then violence results.  The 1990s and 2000s have seen the mass targeted violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda, so much of it was enabled with a hysterical mass media, giving coinage to the term Journalism as Genocide. The Bosnian targeted killings also led to the establishment of The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was a United Nations court of law that dealt with war crimes that took place during the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s. During its mandate, which lasted from 1993 – 2017, this tribunal “irreversibly changed the landscape of international humanitarian law, provided victims an opportunity to voice the horrors they witnessed and experienced, and proved that those suspected of bearing the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed during armed conflicts can be called to account.”

Going further back to the period between the two World Wars, Nazi Germany had perfected the art of control over “mass entertainment films” to serve their agenda. Both radio and cinema enabled the regime to reach out to large groups of people, including those who didn’t read newspapers.

No work of art can be entirely separated from its creator’s politics, and the same stands true for the entertainment industry of India. The director’s subject choice, the actor’s choice of character, and the writer’s perspective and understanding of the story are crucial. These become even more important when their project seeks to re-enact and portray a historical event or a person who has had an impact on our present. In such cases, the very thin line between presenting ‘history’ and presenting a ‘propaganda’ is frequently blurred – usually on purpose- and the same is not realised by the audience who is at the receiving end of such films. The recent spike in the release of such films, with their explicit preposterous and altered representations of historical events, personalities, and issues, is nothing short of an ideological and cultural onslaught against the country’s most marginalized. The main goal is to turn the  popular imagination against India’s most discriminated, be they Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Adivasis, Women, or the LGBTQIA+ community.

Courtesy: Sabrang India

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