Recently, with the increase of online streaming platforms and easy accessibility, thanks to cheaper internet and smartphones, the manner in which we consume entertainment has also undergone a drastic change. While these websites provide for new talent and fresh content, it has also led to a soft bigotry towards Hindus.
Last month, Netflix, in an attempt to ‘secularise’ Rabindranath Tagore’s classic ‘Kabuliwala’, distorted it to show a Hindu girl offering namaz. In Safdar Rahman’s ‘Chhipa’, netizens questioned Netflix for mocking Hindu god Lord Hanuman. And these are just examples. There are so many shows and so much of content these platforms push through social media which display their utter disdain towards Hinduism.
OpIndia got in touch with an industry insider who, in conversation with Nirwa Mehta, spilled the beans on why such platforms display Hinduphobia in full glory and get away with it.
So tell us a bit about yourself. How are you associated with the industry
I don’t want to be named because I don’t want my image to be spoiled as someone who talks to “Sanghis” and “bigots” and frankly there are many things you guys (OpIndia) say that I genuinely don’t agree with. However, I feel that not speaking is not a solution. I will try to be honest and I expect you to not censor my comments. Your readers are free to agree or disagree.
<OpIndia rolls eyes, but okay>
Do you think Bollywood is anti-Hindu? Often such criticism is launched, especially of late on Twitter. There is a Twitter handle named “Gems of Bollywood” that has recently been highlighting many instances. What’s your take?
I don’t think Bollywood is anti-Hindu. Yes, Bollywood has been largely soft on Islam if you are pointing me things that the Twitter handle “Gems of Bollywood” has been pointing out. But they (the Twitter handle) go overboard and I don’t think many things they claim as “anti-Hindu” were really written or produced with some evil intentions. I agree that Islam or Muslims are treated with respect or with kid-gloves, but you can’t really say Bollywood is unique in this regard. There are so many mainstream Bollywood movies, which are accused of carrying “Hindutva” agenda by leftists. If Bollywood was entirely anti-Hindu, how did such movies end up being made?
Maybe because India has changed, people have changed? People are voting a Hindutva party, so Bollywood is making movies to cater to this audience?
Exactly! So Bollywood had always catered to what sells. It produces what the audience is likely to make a hit. If Bollywood content has been anti-Hindu or Hinduphobic, people should have rejected those movies and made such movies flop. But many of such movies, which are being highlighted by that Twitter handle, were hit movies. Why did Hindus of those times make those a hit? Are you guys saying India was anti-Hindu before Modi started winning?
Maybe people were uncomfortable even then, but then they didn’t speak up. Or they spoke up, but were not heard because there was no social media?
That is an assumption. I don’t agree with that. I genuinely believe that Bollywood is definitely soft on Islam and Muslims, but it is not Hinduphobic. Yes, I can agree if someone says that Bollywood is no friend of Hindus or definitely not an ally of Hindutva, but you can’t treat Bollywood as an enemy.
People like Swara Bhaskar or Anurag Kashyap are quite brazen about making fun of Hindus and Hinduism, why can’t they be treated as enemy?
Yaar don’t confuse a bunch of vocal idiots to represent the entire industry. There are people like me who are behind scenes and I’m also doing creative work. Then there are technicians and others. Don’t call all of them anti-Hindu.
What is the point if there are people like you who say they are not anti-Hindu, but still end up being party to producing Hinduphobic content?
Arey but where is the Hinduphobic content? I told you that recently leftists have actually been alleging that Bollywood is toeing Hindutva line and even doing propaganda for the BJP with movies like Uri, Toilet-Ek Prem Katha, etc. There are movies that have talked about Islamic invaders and Muslim rulers like Khalji have been shown as barbaric people, which again has put leftists in discomfort. You can’t ignore all these and just focus on 3 or 4 people who are vocal.
And even old Bollywood was not anti-Hindu. Happy and temple-going Hindu families have been shown in so many Bollywood movies and blockbusters. Bollywood never tried to shame Hindus of their identity blatantly. You have to see it in aggregate, not just be stuck on 3-4 movies or people, whether from the current era or from the past.
Can you recall any Bollywood movie for example that tried to argue that Dalits are not Hindus? Yes, in some of the old movies caste issues could have been highlighted, a Brahmin or Baniya could be shown as villain – that is outcome of the way education is given to us – but at the end of the day, a generic Bollywood entertainer shows a happy ending and not a civil war!
I am not denying the influence of leftist thinking at all. Many of Bollywood legends have been card-carrying communists. Outfits like IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) or PWA (Progressive Writers Association) were virtually the arms of the communist parties in Bollywood, yet the movies didn’t try to push any out and out anti-Hindu agenda. Take for example the movie Sujata by Bimal Roy. It talks about untouchability, but it doesn’t show or encourage the burning of Manusmriti or any such thing. It is a nice love story where Hindu characters reconcile with thoughts around caste without doing away with Hinduism. Today’s woke Bollywood generation will abuse an attempt like Sujata actually saying it’s manuwadi!
So you at least agree that there is a woke Bollywood generation that has an agenda?
I don’t deny at all. And you can call them Hinduphobic, and they are. But don’t paint the entire industry as such is the only thing I am saying because Industry is largely not Hinduphobic.
How powerful is this ‘woke’ lobby of Bollywood?
It is vocal, it is very organized, it is always angry, and it is looking to control everything, but it is not as powerful as they or you may believe them to be.
But they look to be in total control so far as web content is concerned. Almost every series on any OTT platform is full of Hinduphobic themes.
See, again I will say that you are generalizing, but this time I will give you that leeway. Yes, things are indeed very skewed so far as OTT is concerned. Primarily, because success of and on OTT is in a way not dependent on what sells the most.
A mainstream Bollywood movie had to sell tickets. People had to appreciate it. It needed to gather eyeballs to do well. So there was pressure on writers and movie-makers to not become “too revolutionary”. And that is why I earlier also argued that Bollywood is not anti-Hindu, because they had to come up with content that had ultimately to be accepted by an audience that was largely Hindu. In a way, such pressure doesn’t exist on OTT.
Are you saying OTT platforms don’t care about getting eyeballs? That sounds strange as any digital platform has to survive based on eyeballs and traffics too.
To an extent, yes, that’s what I’m saying even though it might sound strange. Currently, all OTT platforms or content being generated there are being driven by marketing and investment budgets. These platforms are not looking at making profits at this point of time in India. They are just looking to generate buzz and to create a content library right now. As a result, there is no huge pressure to perform well on “box office” as happens in Bollywood generally.
You guys give a call to boycott a series on OTT, but you know that it doesn’t affect the producers at all? If a Bollywood movie is boycotted and tickets are not sold, it will actually hurt the producers as they won’t be able to recover production cost. But the money that producers get to make a web-series is not at all dependent on how many people watch that series on any OTT platform. The producer is paid just to produce it. Even OTT platforms don’t make any extra money if you see an extra series or movie. The financial pressure is not that great right now as money is just being invested to grow the brand.
Since there is no pressure to gain eyeballs on every possible occasion i.e. there is no pressure to gain acceptance of the audience for every single production, they are making anything right now and don’t care much about your boycott calls. If it creates buzz, if it creates controversy, it only helps the OTT platforms as ‘no publicity is bad publicity’. As I said, money is being invested in marketing and growth currently, and a controversy is good marketing.
Interesting, so you are saying the more people outrage against Hinduphobic content and threaten to boycott a series, the more ‘successful’ it will become in the eyes of the OTT platforms?
As of today, yes. Because neither the producers are losing any money due to your boycott, nor the OTT platforms are losing any money as you have already subscribed to them and boycott of one series doesn’t mean less revenue for them. At the end of the day, it’s about money.
Since there is no financial pressure, the woke gang of Bollywood can do anything on OTT?
You can say that.
How do we defeat them?
As I told you, I don’t really think entirely like you people or like a “right wing” guy, so I can’t give you tips on that. It is your fight and you find out. I just wanted to say that you guys are wrong when you paint entire Bollywood or entertainment industry as anti-Hindu, and also that your outrage could actually be fueling more Hinduphobic content.