Of late Muslims are acquiring a little bit of space in Bengali cinema. But sadly enough, they are being used as a stereotypical trope to represent the ‘otherness.’
The ‘otherization’ of Muslims is not uncommon in the Indian cinema. We have been witnessing this for many decades now. Recently, however, for commercial gain, the Bengali cinema has stepped into the scene to use the ‘Muslim community’ as a trope, stereotyping it to any length possible.
In the last decade, there had been quite a number of films, where Muslim characters have dominated. For instance, Birsha Dasgupta directed Shudu Tomari Jonno (2015). It portrayed a lead character in the film, Shiraz Chowdhury, who for the sake of his religion betrays his girlfriend; thus becoming a deceitful lover. In the same year, Aparna Sen came out with Arshinagar, adapting Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, showing romance between Ronojoy Mitra and Julekha Khan. Ronojoy with a curious gaze peeks into the life of Julekha. In 2016, Zulfiqar was released, directed by Srijit Mukherjee, which was even more controversial. This film was also adapted from Shakespeare’s two dramas- ‘Julius Ceasar’ & ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’. The film started with this voiceover-“Do you know that Kolkata, ‘the land of Durga Puja and Rabindranath Tagore’, has a dark underbelly? It has a ‘small country inside the city of Kolkata’, except ‘without a national anthem and a flag’. And can you guess which religion they follow?” Thus, all the negative tropes were applied. The narration goes on “The dock area, consisting of Kidderpore, Metiabruz, Garden Reach, (is) a small country, inside the city of Kolkata. Yes a country, only without a national anthem and a flag.”
The film was duly criticised for its reflection of prejudicial views. But the tradition seems to linger on. Now, we have another movie to our kitty. SoS Kolkata, which will be released in the cinema hall from tomorrow, according to its producer Jarek Entertainment and Pratyush Productions, follows the same trope, depicting Muslims in an ugly way.
Conceding the fact that we have just seen the 2:44 minute trailer, we can fairly guess it is another stereotypical narrative. After all, morning shows the day. Whatever we gather from the trailer is this: The mastermind of Khagragarh blast, which after all is a tale of fiction, is planning a “Mumbai style” terror attack in Kolkata. And guess what? The attack will be thwarted by a Muslim IPS officer, Zakir Ahmad played by Yash Dasgupta.
We want to draw a parallel here. In numerous Hollywood films, we have seen how the blacks are stereotyped. This, no doubt, makes the community vulnerable to a large extent. It is happening here too. The stereotypical depiction makes it easier to push the Muslim community into the discourse of terrorist activities, which makes them vulnerable- politically, socially and economically as well.
It is important to note one more issue. Nusrat Jahan Ruhi and Mimi Chakraborty, happen to be Trinamool Congress MPs, acted in this film. The duo represent two constituencies- Basirhat and Jadavpur. Both these constituencies have large Muslim population and their association with this kind of project makes the community all the more vulnerable. It politically marginalizes the community further.
But political acumen is a tall order for these movie stars, isn’t it?
It’s high time to sustain and advance the burgeoning swell of Muslim voices and authentic story telling within Bengali cinema. There is a need to create new, genuine stories for mass audiences.