If we were to gauge the Indian Muslim community based on its portrayal in Bollywood films, then we would most probably end up with a set of stereotypes in our hands.
Muslims in Bollywood almost never form the mainstream. They are the minorities even on screen. In a world where the Rajs and the Simrans rule – the Rahims and the Shabnams are pushed to the background.
Muslims have long been cast in roles that form the subaltern. They never seem to live the life that the “normal” Indian lives. Their dreams and aspirations are never discussed beyond the dream of a free Kashmir. Their existence is, more often than not, shrouded in the mystery of the rosary and the skull caps.
The Bollywood Muslim characters you most probably remember are – Salim and Anarkali of Mughal-e-azam; Umrao Jaan, Rahim chacha of Sholay; Sher Khan of Zanjeer; and in recent times, Rehan Khan from Fanaa. The Nawab, the veiled beauty, the tawaif, the loyal side-kick and the Jehadi/terrorist – These are the identities that our Hindi film industry has offered to India’s largest minority, as this article very astutely lists down.
It’s almost as if the middle class Muslims don’t exist at all. Like their children never go to schools; like they don’t go to the movies; as if they never fall ill; or save money for a bigger car!
Thus, in those rare moments when Bollywood offers a story which highlights this segment of India, it’s hard to not acknowledge it. I’m talking about Vidya Balan’s latest – Bobby Jasoos.
This film is the journey of Bilqis aka Bobby who wants to make it big as a detective. She lives in old Hyderabad’s Mughalpura mohalla; part of a middle class Muslim family with its own middle class dreams and boundaries which are directly at clash with Bobby’s ambition. Even though her father has stopped talking to her, she won’t let her detective dreams get compromised.
Vidya Balan manages a Cinderella fit into Bilqis’ shoes. She is absolutely spontaneous. Her accent, the jargon, the walk, everything has been done to perfection. In fact her character has been sketched out so well that you feel you know her personally. After a while, you start guessing how she would react. You can understand her excessive aggression while dealing with men who try to act too smart and her constant askance of some kind of approval and praise from anyone who draws out a father figure.
However, Vidya Balan is not the only one to give a power-packed performance. Almost the entire assortment of supportive actors brought on board by director Samar Shaikh deliver miracles. Bobby Jasoos draws the picture of a family which is as odd, as closely knitted and as divided as any other family. The sisters bicker constantly but still understand each other. The mother cries at every catastrophe that falls on the house but is the first one to extend support to her children.
I think Bobby Jasoos is one of those rare Bollywood films which go beyond the mere “namaz” routine while portraying Muslims on the big screen. Director Samar Shaikh takes his characters beyond the “enigmatic identity of Islam” which has been showcased in all major Bollywood films. There is no Iranian music playing in the background (like in Sarfarosh) neither is there any excessive sentimentalities about big words like “Kaum” and “Jehad”. In fact, Bobby Jasoos’s Muslims have no pretense about being from the minority religion. It’s hardly a matter to be discussed – it’s the usual, the mundane.
The only other film which comes to mind while dawdling over this theme of the “normal” Muslim is Nagesh Kukunoor’s Iqbal which also rises beyond the stereotypes and manages to draw attention to the humane desires and fears that the Muslim community faces just like its Hindu or Christian counterparts. It must be reassuring for a community which very much exists in India but is hardly ever acknowledged.