Saturday, October 22, 2011

More on Bollywood vs. Islam

In Bollywood vs. Jihad Shikha Dalmia argues that Mumbai is a bigger threat than the Pentagon to fundamentalist Islam. 

You might remember that in May I shared this video:

Bollywood vs. Jihad covers much of the same material.  Here are the first four paragraphs of the article:

India is a country riven with religious, linguistic, socioeconomic, and regional clashes. But the battle that split the country in two last year concerned a far more basic, existential question: Munni or Sheila?

These are the screen names of the sex sirens who danced and lip-synced in Bollywood’s two biggest hit songs not just of 2010 but likely in the Indian film industry’s entire 112-year history: “Munni Badnam Hui,” from the blockbuster Dabangg, and “Sheila Ki Jawani,” from Tees Maar Khan. No sooner had the movies hit the silver screen than a cultural civil war broke out in India, Pakistan, and portions of the Middle East. Fans took to Twitter and Facebook to duel over which of the two dancers could undulate more gracefully to the melodies. Which woman had better captured the sexuality of the lyrics? The earthy, ethnic Munni in her backless blouses? Or the urbane, Westernized, English-spouting Sheila in her stringy outfits? Thanks to the songs, the opening weekends of these otherwise execrable movies were Bollywood’s biggest of all time. The Times of India, India’s equivalent of The New York Times, declared Munni and Sheila to be India’s Women of the Year.

Not everyone was amused. Bollywood’s suggestive eroticism has always pushed the boundaries of a sexually prudish country, rubbing traditionalists of all stripes the wrong way. But Munni’s come-hither bawdiness and Sheila’s saucy paean to her “too-sexy-for-you” body were just too much for some conservatives to endure, prompting the wife of one prominent civil servant to petition the courts to ban the songs on the grounds of indecency and immorality. Islamists in particular had reason to be offended: The woman who plays Sheila—Katrina Kaif—is Muslim. So is Salman Khan, the star actor who danced raunchily with Munni. As if to add insult to injury, a Muslim woman, Farah Khan, choreographed both of the racy dance numbers.

Islamic fundamentalists have long worried about the threat that Bollywood poses to their puritanical demands. Of late, they have even taken to making videos—rap videos, no less—condemning Bollywood movies as being the product of an infidel culture trying to brainwash Muslims against their own religious values and duties. They have ample reason to be worried: About 3 billion people, or half the planet, watches Bollywood, and many of them live in the Islamic world. By depicting assimilated, modernized Muslims, Bollywood—without even trying—deromanticizes and thereby disarms fanatical Islam. If you can have Munni and Sheila in this world, why on earth would you want to strap bombs to your waist and blow yourself up for the sake of 72 theoretical virgins?

It would be great if Bollywood could reform radical Islam.  I think there is a good chance.


C T said...

But some of the leaders of radical Muslim movements already secretly indulge in "Western" vices. Remember bin Laden's porn stash? I think bawdiness is more a result of freedom than a cause thereof.

Henry Cate said...

Good point.

I think much of the rank and file of Islam is told that the West is evil so many of them suppor the radical Muslim movements. But if Bollywood can present an attractive alternative then the radical Muslim movements will lose support.