Ban on Mulk in Pakistan ironic: Indian movies that dispel anti-Muslim stereotypes don't bode well with film censors across border
That Mulk attempts to restore the honour of an Indian Muslim family accused of ‘treason and ties with the Pakistanis’ based on a true event, is precisely the reason why the ban on Mulk seems ironic and deplorable.
"Agar aap meri daadhi aur Osama Bin Laden ki daadhi mein farq nahi kar pa rahe hain, to bhi mujhe haq hai apni Sunnat nibhane ka…" (If you can’t differentiate my beard from Osama Bin Laden’s beard, I still have every right to follow my Prophet’s path (sunnat) in this country).
This is the punch line in Rishi Kapoor and Taapsee Pannu-starrer movie Mulk which has reportedly been banned in Pakistan. Even before the release of the movie, the trailer of Mulk was banned. The News reported: “The chairman of Pakistan’s Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC), Danyal Gilani has stated that members of the CBFC unanimously decided not to approve the trailer of Mulk as its contents flout the Censorship of Film Code, 1980”.
Echoing the essential message well-embedded in this court-room drama, directed by Anubhav Sinha, another punch line that encapsulates the film’s key theme goes like this:
"Hum aur woh is mulk ko nahi banate, balki hum sab (mil kar) is mulk ko banate hain." (“Us and them” does not make this country. Rather, we all do.)
These two messages were respectively articulated in Rishi Kapoor’s lucid tone and then in Tapsi Pannu’s succinct tenor countering Islamophobia replicated in the anti-Muslim rhetoric triggered by Santosh Anand (Ashutosh Rana) acting as a lawyer in the movie. An engaging courtroom debate on 'religion and terrorism' stimulated great interest and applause in the movie itself, as well as in the audience in the packed cinema halls on last Friday. Inevitably, the judge in the movie’s courtroom (Kumud Mishra) is forced to think it over, and finally, he makes this significant comment: "The Constitution of India grants religious freedom and expression to every community in the country…"
But what’s utterly surprising to note is the decision of Pakistan’s Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC) to ban Mulk despite the fact that the movie avowedly aims to counter the growing ‘Islamophobia’. And more ironically, it is being banned in the Naya Pakistan which aspires to become an ‘Islamic welfare state’ under the PakistanTehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan, who is now the prime minister-in-waiting.
That the movie attempts to restore the honour of an Indian Muslim family accused of ‘treason and ties with the Pakistanis’ based on a true event, is precisely the reason why the ban on Mulk seems ironic and deplorable. Revolving around a terror recruit Shahid Mohammed (Prateik Babbar), his father Bilal Mohammad (Manoj Pahwa), uncle Murad Ali Mohammed (Rishi Kapoor) and the defense lawyer, Aarti Mohammed (Taapsee Pannu), the movie seeks to highlight the tough battle of a Muslim family faced with terror accusations and community distrust in a small town in Varanasi.
The movie sheds light on the communal harmony of multi-cultural Muslims with Hindus in Varanasi and thus, tries to reclaim the glorious past of the Hindu-Muslim brotherhood in India. It conclusively gives this message: Though the country is going through a dark phase, we should look to the past optimistically and unite as people of a syncretic culture and vibrant tradition. In fact, Aarti's rebuttal to the communal dichotomy of ‘us versus them’ reminds us that together we will lead this country, out of this storm, towards peace, pluralism, progression and national integration.
But the Federal Censor Board of Pakistan has banned this emotionally raw courtroom drama without citing any legitimate reason. Inevitably, the filmmakers have issued a strongly-worded statement which says: "We are disturbed by this prejudiced verdict and it is such an irony because our film talks about this very prejudice. We urge the Pakistani Censor Board to reconsider their decision. They will realise how essential it is to the well-being of the human race across the world."
Sinha, in fact, wrote a letter to Pakistan:
— Anubhav Sinha (@anubhavsinha) August 2, 2018
Tellingly, Pakistan's ban on the recent releases of Bollywood is currently a trend. Mulk is not the first time Pakistan has banned a Hindi film. Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Raees was also banned in Pakistan. Even before the release of the movie, Pakistan newspapers, like The Express Tribune reported that the "much-awaited Mahira and Shah Rukh Khan starrer Raees" would not be released in Pakistan. The Censor Board of Film Certification said that the Rahul Dholakia directorial, which marked Mahira’s Bollywood debut was not to be released in the country due to its ‘objectionable’ content.
The Pakistan censors had cited two major reasons for banning Raees. One, the movie ‘inappropriately’ portrayed the Muslim community, as Shah Rukh played a Muslim entity who indulged in the trade of liquor. Second, the content of the movie ‘undermined’ Islam. But even a layman would conclude that the Shah Rukh-starrer movie did not defame Islam and that it was sheer hyper-religiosity of the Pakistani censors to ban Raees.
One deduction that can be made from these bans is this: Indian movies which talk of Islam and Muslims, even positively and constructively with a view to dispelling the anti-Muslim stereotypes, don’t go down well with the film censors in Pakistan — a country with an overwhelming number of aficionados for the Bollywood. Hence, Sinha has rightly asked this question in his open letter to Pakistani audience:
“Why is it so that they do NOT want you to see the film that talks about co-existence. I know, sooner or later, you will have access to the film. Please do watch it and give me your opinion why did the Pakistan Censor Board ban the film”.
“It is not pro Muslim or Anti Muslim. Pro Pakistan or Anti Pakistan. It is about love that all of us as individuals should have, amongst us. It is about You. It is about Me. You have Hindus as a minority in your country and we have Muslims as a minority in ours. We all must work towards coexisting in peace and harmony,” he wrote.
Imran Khan has opted for anonymity over fame. There is no chance of a comeback. Imran is just not interested in being a film star.
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