Bollywood ‘takeover’: Pro-Modi films swamp Indian voters ahead of election

A grimacing police official, staring into the camera, declares her intent to publicly shoot dead “leftists” while attacking “left-liberal, pseudo-intellectuals” as well as students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), a left-leaning university space in the cross-hairs of the Modi government.

Men in skull caps, the visuals intercut with bloody violence, declare that Rohingya Muslims will soon displace Hindus and make for half of India’s population, while a harrowed Hindu woman fighting against these men says she wants to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A biopic on the early 20th century Hindu nationalist ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar has a voiceover that insists that India would have freed itself of British colonial rule over three decades before it did, if not for Mahatma Gandhi.

These are scenes from upcoming Hindi films slated for release over the next few weeks.

As India’s nearly one billion voters get ready to pick their national government in general elections between March and May, Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are receiving campaign support from an atypical ally: cinema.

A slew of new films, timed with the elections and often helmed by major production houses, are relying on storylines that overtly either promote Modi and his government’s policies or target rival politicians. Not even national icons like Gandhi or top universities like JNU are spared – the institution has long been a left-leaning bastion of liberal education, often antagonistic to the BJP’s Hindu majoritarianism.

Many of these stories peddle Islamophobic conspiracies commonly circulated among Hindu right-wing networks that are aligned with the BJP’s political agenda. At least 10 such films have either been released recently or are poised to hit theatres and television in this election season

“This is part of a larger attempt to ‘take over’ the Hindi film industry, just as other forms of popular culture have been infiltrated,” said Ira Bhaskar, a retired professor of cinema studies at JNU who also served as a member of the country’s censor board until 2015. Bhaskar was referring to the growing Hindu nationalist narratives found in pop culture forms like music, poetry and books.

 

The latest films include biopics that glorify the controversial legacies of Hindu majoritarian heroes and BJP leaders. Savarkar, a controversial anti-colonial Hindu nationalist, advocated rape against Muslim women as a form of retribution for historical wrongs.

Two of the upcoming films, Accident or Conspiracy: Godhra, and The Sabarmati Report, claim to “reveal” the “real story” behind the Godhra train burning of 2002 where 59 Hindu pilgrims died in a fire that was the spark for anti-Muslim riots orchestrated by Hindu right-wing groups that claimed over 1,000 lives, mostly Muslims. The riots happened when Modi was the state’s chief minister.

 

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Another film, Aakhir Palaayan Kab Tak? (Until when will we need to flee?), shows a Hindu “exodus” purportedly due to Muslims. Then there’s Razakar, a multilingual release on what it calls the “silent genocide” of Hindus in Hyderabad by Razakars, a paramilitary volunteer force that inflicted mass violence before and after India’s independence in 1947. The film has been produced by a BJP leader.

In late February, Modi himself praised Article 370, a newly released film that lauds his government’s contentious decision to strip Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and statehood while placing hundreds under house arrests and imposing lockdowns in the region. Film reviewers have called the movie a “puff piece” and a “thinly veiled propaganda film” in favour of the Modi government while treating its critics and opposition leaders with “derision”.

Bhaskar said the new films were “clear propaganda, no doubt about it”.

<<Aljazeera>>