‘Sooryavanshi’ beating the Hindutva drumAkshay Kumar, Bollywood’s poster boy, is back with yet another problematic film that perpetuates the beliefs of Hindu supremacists.
The first time I remember watching Akshay Kumar’s film was ‘Ajnabee’.
The plot of the 2001 suspense thriller had shocked everyone with its twists and turns, including me. At one point it was one of my favourite films. Even now, I do like to watch it if it is running on the telly.
Among all the actors, it was Kumar’s performance in the film that everyone had found fascinating. Being a superstar back then, he had dared to play a grey character, a rarity in Bollywood, as actors were so obsessed with the heroic image that they hardly played a negative role.
Since then, Kumar has starred in dozens of films.
In the 2000s, he did some comedy films like ‘De Dana Dan’, ‘Bhool Bhulaiya’, ‘Welcome’, ‘Bhagam Bhag’, ‘Phir Hera Pheri’, and ‘Garam Masala’. In that era, Kumar, with his impeccable comic timing, made all of us laugh.
But after 2014, his films have taken a different route. Rather than entertaining people, making us laugh in every scene, or impressing us with his action movies (Kumar used to be known for his action movies), most of his films now revolve around themes of hyper-nationalism and jingoism. His films have become like a mouthpiece of the present government in India, where he’s either praising them or pushing the Hindutva agenda.
Sadly, ‘Sooryavanshi’, Bollywood’s first biggest box office hit after the coronavirus pandemic, which Kumar stars in, also follows this template.
Directed by Rohit Shetty, who has also produced the film along with Karan Johar, the film is a part of Shetty’s cinematic cop universe, along with blockbusters like ‘Simba’ and ‘Singham’.
Kumar, who plays the titular role of Veer Sooryavanshi, is an upper-class Hindu man who leads the Anti-Terrorism Squad.
Although there’s Katrina Kaif in the film as well playing the role of Riya, a doctor, who later gets married to Kumar’s character, she’s nothing more than a love interest in the film who’s just there to dance and romance with the hero.
Back to the plot.
Sooryavanshi is hired by the Indian government to catch a group of 40 terrorists, who have been living in India for many years. The authorities fear that the terrorist group, Lashkar, whom these 40 terrorists are part of, is planning some large-scale attacks in Mumbai, bigger than the 1993 bomb blasts and the 26/11 attacks.
Sooryavanshi then goes on a mission to catch these terrorists, just while he battles his own problems in his family as his wife is leaving him.
It would be an understatement to say that Rohit Shetty’s films defy logic.
His films come with a tag of “entertaining” films. They are not for educational purposes. Nor does he try to break the conventions of cinema.
No qualms over that, though. Not every cinema has to be a masterpiece. We need no-brainer films to free and entertain our minds from all the chaos that surrounds us.
But that’s the least problematic part of Sooryavanshi. As a movie, although it promises to be an action-comedy, it’s blatantly Islamophobic and carries the Hindutva agenda flag.
In the movie, all the antagonists Sooryavanshi fights are Muslim. And all the heroes, besides him, are Hindus. The reason why I am highlighting the religion of the characters is because it’s important to look at how movies like Sooryavanshi are contributing to the intolerant social climate in India.
The film does have a few characters of Muslim men in the police who are depicted as ‘good’ cops, but it’s always Sooryavanshi, a Hindu man, who is seen pontificating people, especially the Muslim men about desh prem (love for one’s nation). He is always the one in the film who preaches Muslim men on who is an Asli Hindustani (real Indian) and what they need to do to be Asli Hindustani.
This portrayal that coincides with the present realities of India, where Muslim people face atrocities on daily basis and are taught the lessons of what it means to be an Asli Hindustani by Hindu fascists is dangerous, as it reinforces their pre-existing problematic beliefs.
Another visible Islamophobic trope in the film is it’s attempt to legitimise the idea of “love jihad”. Many characters who play terrorists in the film have been living in India for years concealing their identities and marrying Hindu women. During the final act, one Hindu woman finds that her husband is a terrorist and has been hiding his true identity. She’s then killed immediately.
At face value, this might just look like a plot, but it’s nothing more than the perpetuation of the radical beliefs of Hindu supremacists who, in the name of love jihad, have been attacking Muslims.
From justifying the special status taken away from Kashmir by the Modi government to reinforcing the hatred against Muslim people, leaders, and organisations by showing them as villains who closely work with terrorists, every effort is made by the makers to cash in on the Islamophobia that is sweeping the country.
In the end, Sooryavanshi achieves his mission and saves Mumbai from the terrorist attacks. But what he can’t save is the reinforcement of hatred against the Muslims through the movie. To say that this movie won’t fuel anti-Muslim sentiments would be myopic, because, in India, Bollywood plays a major role in shaping the minds of people. Like every other movie that is being made in contemporary Bollywood, the film could also flare up Islamophobic beliefs.
It’s really sad to see how our favourite Bollywood actors, whom we once cherished and looked up to, have not only become spineless but are nothing more than a puppet to the present Indian regime.
Kumar was one of the actors I looked up to. His comic timings, action sequences, and the ability to shine in all of his films pacified my heart. Whenever I feel low, I still watch clips of his comedy films.
But to see him and his greed to sell his film, at the cost of damaging the harmony among people and the social fabric is disheartening.
I won’t lie but both Ranveer Singh and Ajay Devgan’s cameo as Simba and Singham was definitely the highlight of the film. A few action scenes were great as well.
But when the intent of the film itself is questionable, there’s no point in praising little things.
“‘Sooryavanshi’ is dangerous. After watching it, it’s impossible not to think of Nazi Germany, where Hitler cultivated a film industry that paid obeisance to him and made propaganda films against Jews,” writes Rana Ayyub, an acclaimed Indian journalist for The Washington Post.
I couldn’t agree more.