Jodhaa Akbar

Jodhaa Akbar Poster courtesy of Raver“Gowarikar came before the media with half a dozen history books and said that he researched the subject thoroughly before making the film.” You will just have to imagine my cheshire cat grin upon reading that sentence in an otherwise eye-rolling reportage on the “controversy” surrounding Ashutosh Gowariker’s bollywood spectacular Jodhaa Akbar. I want every director of every historical movie to come with such arsenal to press conferences.

The movie, which I had the pleasure of seeing, along with two dear friends, at a run-down, mob-front, theater on the north side of Chicago, is underwhelming. Purportedly, it is the story of the Mughal emperor, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar (1556-1605) and his “romance” with the Rajput princess Jodhaa. The controversy seems to be in the realm of that pesky popular memory and history. Apparently, the offending parties claim that Jodha Bai is the Rajput wife of Jahangir – Akbar’s successor – rather than Akbar’s wife. And that brings some dishonor to some one. I really stopped reading after a while.

The movie doesn’t deserve any controversy. Irfan Habib and Muhammad Amin have the right attitude as historians: “… nothing to get worked up about”. Because if historians are indeed to huff and puff, the one-on-one combat sequences for all of Hindoostan are far more an egregious crime against history than whether Jodha Bai was Akbar’s wife or daughter in law. Man Singh, Pleez. Akbar did have (a number of) Rajput wives, and other wives, and not every one’s name is recorded. The one from the movie is named only by her given title, Maryam-e Zaman (Mary of the Times), in the medieval sources. A title that gave 19th century popular colonial narrators all kinds of wrong ideas about Christian influences on Akbar.

What I did find more troublesome than Jodha Bai, was the particular brand of Hindu-secularism at display in the movie. Wherein the open-ness of Akbar is needed only to give triumphal space for the Hindu dieties. And while Outlook India notes that this movie is the most noted example of an intercommunal romance where the man is muslim, I simply noted that every villain in the movie is a devout Muslim. Jodhaa Akbar, is a story about contemporary India and the world we live in, not about Akbar the Mughal King.

As teaching tool, I appreciated the bits of social and court historical display available in some scenes – the Diwan-i Aam, the Parcheesi, the night camps – but the rest would have to be avoided outside of a class on popular history and memory. My favorite scene was the “throw him over head first”. I dug.

For those who care, I have put the account made famous by British Orientalist about Jodhaa and Akbar, below the fold.

Here, then, is the account given by Vincent Smith – “the hegemonic historian of ancient India”, as Inden pegged him – in his biography of Akbar written in 1909. It informs some bits of “history” of the movie:

One night, Akbar, when on a hunting excursion, was Pilgrim-passing through a village near Agra when he happened to hear a party of Indian minstrels singing the praises of first Khwaja Muin uddin, the renowned saint buried at Ajmer, and was thus inspired to make a pilgrimage to the tomb of the holy man. Accordingly, in the middle of January 1562, he started for Ajmer with a small retinue, hunting on his way. At Deosa, midway between Agra and Ajmer, he received Raja Bihar Mall, the chief of Amber or Jaipur in Rajputana, who offered his eldest daughter to Akbar in marriage. The court made only a brief stay at Ajmir and returned by forced marches to Agra, leaving the heavy
camp equipage to follow. The marriage was celebrated at Sambhar. Man Singh, nephew and adopted son of Raja Bhagwan Das, the heir of Raja Bihar Mall, was taken into the imperial service, and rose ultimately to high office.

The bride subsequently became the mother of Jahangir. Her posthumous official title, Maryam zamani (or -uz zamani), ‘ the Mary of the age’, has caused her to be confounded sometimes with Akbar’s mother, whose title was Maryam-makani,’ dwelling with Mary’. The dust of Akbar’s first Hindu consort lies in a fine mausoleum situated near Akbar’s tomb at Sikandara. The building has been restored
by judicious measures of conservation.

Although it has been asserted that Humayun had one Hindu consort, that lady, if she really existed, does not appear to have exercised any influence. Akbar’s marriages with Hindu princesses, on the contrary, produced important effects both on his personal rule of life and on his public policy. His leanings towards Hinduism will be more conveniently discussed at a subsequent stage, and the effects
of the Rajput matrimonial alliances on public affairs also will become more apparent as the story proceeds. But at this point of the narrative so much may be said, that the marriage with the Amber princess secured the powerful support of her family throughout the reign, and offered a proof manifest to all the world that Akbar had decided to be the Badshah of his whole people—Hindus as well as Muhammadans. While the court was on its way back to Agra one of the keepers of the hunting leopards was convicted of stealing a pair of shoes. Akbar ordered the thief’s feet to be cut off.

Later in life he would hardly have inflicted such a savage punishment for a petty theft.

Akbar, the Great Mogul.

I recommend that you stick with the epic Mughal-e Azam (1960), one of the greatest movies ever, for your Mughliana romances for a while.

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54 thoughts on “Jodhaa Akbar”

  1. Yeah, the movie was not particularly good. All of the valiant characters were Brahmans, with the exception of Akbar. And Akbar’s relationship with Islam is a bit ridiculous in the movie. Apparently, he’s above the influence of his clerics, but totally in touch with the ascetics in the neighborhood. He visits the Chisti shrine before deciding to marry Jodha, he dances with some qawwali dervishes (in a very lackluster sequence), but doesn’t listen to the imams he keeps at court. All Akbar does is fight, promote Hinduism, and thwart the evil plans of Muslims. Evil bad terrible Muslims. Ridiculous.

  2. Raver: Akbar’s relationship with Islam is a bit ridiculous in the movie. Apparently, he’s above the influence of his clerics, but totally in touch with the ascetics in the neighborhood. He visits the Chisti shrine before deciding to marry Jodha, he dances with some qawwali dervishes (in a very lackluster sequence), but doesn’t listen to the imams he keeps at court.

    Akbar’s tensions with Islamic clerics and his affinity for Sufi mystics are well known. He carried out various “pro-Hindu” measures that were unpopular with the Islamic clerics such as
    -Abolition of jizya tax on non-Muslims
    -Abolition of pilgrimage tax on non-Muslims
    -Non-discrimination against Hindus in the Mughal court

    Another sore point with Islamic clerics was Akbar’s view that there is truth in all religions, which resulted in his attempt to create a new religion Din-e-ilahi.

    His affinity with the Sufis, particularly of the Chishti order, is also well known.

    I don’t think that the movie shows Akbar promoting Hinduism. In the time of the Mughals, Hindus were treated with contempt and discriminated against (for example, as stated in the film, most of the officials at the Imperial Court were Turks, Persians or Indian Muslims). Akbar simply tried to restore some basic human rights to them (e.g., he issued a law which allowed Hindu women who had been converted to Islam and married to Muslims to re-convert to Hinduism – earlier, this was punishable by death).

  3. Its millennium guys!!!!!I think we are all eduacated enough to know that movies are just basically entertainment. I dont understand why ppl have to make movies look so ugly. Even if someone wants to add masala to it, let him, damn it. its his movie, his money, his production. We are just paying a single ticket rate and watching it. He is who paying million to make one pure good entertainment to entertain “US”. I watch Jodhaa Akbar. Its a lovely story base on what ever grounds. To me i wished there were more ppl like jodhaa Bai’s and Akbar’s Role, maybe then no one would had faced any problems btw the hindus and muslims in the world.Humanity is gone off this earth. Anyway, “Everything” is all man made in this world what is real, nothing accept birth and death. And the most silly thing is that ppl are just to free to critizise another. Hrithik was condemn by his fan. Ridiculous. All uneduacated ppl. Just like a blind leading another blind this is what they are doing, not thinking at all. When are such ppl around how will one enjoy movie with out critics. Its just too much. This time the eduacated one are been too much. history is boring, if someone is modifying in movies, just in movies, what is the problem. Dont tell me no one knows what and who the moghuls were???? “The”……….

  4. Ashutosh Gowariker’s doesn’t have a great record with historical films and loves to deal with cliches, be it the white man saving brown woman from Sati in Mangal Mandey or the White Memsahib lusting after the rustic Indian man in Lagaan.

    To be fair, having a Muslim character play a leading man romancing a Hindu woman is a major step for Bombay cinema. Indeed having a Muslim leading character is a nice change, because Bollywood’s Khan quintet (Aamir, Shahrukh, Saif, Fardeen and Salman) have almost always played Hindu characters.

    Hritik Roshan is one of the few Bollywood actors who has regularly played Muslim characters in his films, of course, they were all terrorists (so maybe that weakens my point :-)), but they were all poor misunderstood boys who were raging against the system as well (which strengthens it) but they were redeemed by the good Muslim woman (his sister, his wife) who usually shot him. Bollywood is surprisingly hard to read.

    There are a couple of interesting scholarly articles focussing on Muslim women in Bombay cinems by Mukul Kesavan and Fareed Kazmi in Forging Identities: Gender, Communities and the State (Zoya Hassan ed.1994)

    ” Muslim Socials and the Female Protagonist: Seeing a Dominant Discourse at Work Fareed Kazmi 226″

    “Urdu, Awadh and the Tawaif, the Islamicate Roots of Hindi Cinema Mukul Kesavan 244

    Lawrence Liang has written something on the changing personality of the Bollywood villain which discusses the Good Muslim- Bad Muslim phenomenon.

  5. “To be fair, having a Muslim character play a leading man romancing a Hindu woman is a major step for Bombay cinema.”

    This is absolutely true. There are a couple of fillums that stand out in which Muslim women and Hindu or Sikh dudes all in love, like Bombay and Veer Zaara, but not the other way around. You can guess why.

  6. “Indeed having a Muslim leading character is a nice change”

    Yes, but in a historical story that has to do with the Moghual Empire (the M.E. provides A LOT of fodder for films). I’m trying to comb through my memory to remember any recent/contemporary films whereby the leading character is Muslim but not in a setting hundreds of years ago, or plays a terrorist…

  7. “Bollywood is surprisingly hard to read.”

    Bollywood is ingenious. It’s able to take politically and socially contentious topics, completely dissipate the tensions, and churn them into nice, fluffy stories that everyone can weep while watching.

  8. “I’m trying to comb through my memory to remember any recent/contemporary films whereby the leading character is Muslim”

    SRK as Kabir Khan in Chak De India
    Kunal Kapoor as son of the maulvi in Aaja Nachle (but then he wasn’t the leading man)
    Muzammil Ibrahim as a police officer in the new Pooja Bhat film, but his wife was a terrorist :-)

  9. I am an Indian and I am puzzled how so many people can take these bollywood movies seriously. Most of these Bollywood movies are so ridiculous. I don’t know how anyone can watch them and not be embarrassed. There are some interesting and admirable movies made by independent minded people like Rajat Kapoor. But Jodhaa Akbar is not one of them. Instead I would recommend you to watch Rajat Kapoor’s new movie “Mithya”. It starts as a comedy but actually a deeply sad tale. Very well made. But you can be certain Rajat Kapoor will never be treated like a royalty by Bollywood people or the suckers who watch their stupid movies. That is reserved for celebrity morons like Aishwarya Roy, Hrithik Roshan and a myriad others.

  10. Re: “Ashutosh Gowariker’s doesn’t have a great record with historical films and loves to deal with cliches, be it the white man saving brown woman from Sati in Mangal Mandey…”

    Ashutosh Gowariker might or might not have a great record with historical films, but COME ON yaar, he had nothing to do with Mangap Pandey — that film was directed by Ketan Mehta!

    I have not seen the movie yet, but in general agree with spiderman’s comment. I mean, we only have to see the orthodox Sunni Badayuni’s writings to see what he thought of Akbar. Note that Gowariker also sanitizes his subject in various PC ways, and from what I understand has utterly downplayed the well-documented violence of the younger Akbar (i.e. Gowariker anachronistically apparently reads the “later Akbar” into the earlier one). Note also that this might well be for an interesting reason: he might wish to avoid peddling the message that Akbar (read: the violent Muslim) was “civilized” by Jodhabai — my understanding is that in the film Akbar is kinda always the way he is, and that it’s not especially wrenching for him to accept Jodha’s Krishna altar etc. But these are just some provisional thoughts — those who’ve seen the movie on this thread are better placed to say if my speculations are at all well-founded.

    Re: “most of the officials at the Imperial Court were Turks, Persians or Indian Muslims”

    According to Streusend’s book “The Formation of the Mughal Empire” (which I highly recommend, although it does prove that amateurs can write as badly as professional academics), the % of “Hindustani Muslim” notables in the Mughal courts of the period, and even much later, was vanishingly small. During the period depicted in Gowariker’s movie, I imagine not very many Persians would have been represented either. Turkic peoples were certainly the best represented. Even by the end of Akbar’s reign, I believe there were more Rajput notables than “Hindustani Muslims” (understood here as merely an ethnic/racial concept, of course) at court…

  11. Re: “I’m trying to comb through my memory to remember any recent/contemporary films whereby the leading character is Muslim…”

    Hey don’t forget Iqbal… the Muzammil Ibrahim film at least featured the male lead in ways Bollywood often does not: i.e. he is neither a terrorist nor is he the benevolent hyper-religious old man. His wife is a terrorist, but remember, the film is all about Ibrahim’s unearthing of his wife’s past, including rape and abuse at the hands of the police. [The relevant sequence in the film is quite well done, very disturbing and managing to avoid the sort of sordid titillation that used to be a staple of bad Hindi cinema from the 1980s.]

    If we go a little further back, Amitabh has of course played Muslim characters: in Saudagar (1974?) (a pretty damn good “off beat” film, where Bachchan is a gurh-seller in rural West Bengal); Coolie (1983); and an Afghan in Khuda Gawah (1992), to go with his legendary turn as a Christian in Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) and a man of some indeterminate communal identity (opinion is divided: many would classify this among the “Muslim roles”) in Muqaddar ka Sikandar…

    In general (a depressing reminder as to how sensitive “popular culture” is to the prevailing political winds), the representation of Muslims has definitely improved in Bollywood over the last few years: back in the 1990s all we saw were gangsters and jihadis. While major characters are few and far between, it is refreshing to see “normal” Muslim characters in various films from the last few years (Munnabhai MBBS; Armaan; Chalte Chalte; Khakee; to a certain extent Rang De Basanti; Aaja Nachle; Halla Bol).

    Btw, should have mentioned this earlier: 2008’s Halla Bol features Ajay Devgan playing a Muslim Bollywood star. The ranks of terrorists include of course Aamir Khan in Fanaa. And SRK played a Muslim in Kamal Haasan’s superb, wonderful and disturbing “Hey Ram” as well, and media reports suggest that he will be playing one in Karan Johar’s next directorial venture too.

    But spare a thought for Dalits: I can’t think of any major Dalit CHARACTERS in Hindi cinema barring, um, Achoot Kanya (1936), and Rekha in Ganga ki Saugandh (1978)– in both the Dalit is in love with a Brahmin (Sultan Ahmed’s Ganga ki Saugandh was politically prescient though, positing a Dalit/Muslim front — led by a Brahmin true, but Amitabh, about as communally transcendent a figure as has ever existed in post-1947 India) — against the wicked feudals; one may read this film as predicting the political order in U.P. and Bihar beginning in the 1990s)…

  12. Other recent films featuring Muslim lead-character roles: Dor (2007) (Gul Panang is very good in a dignified role); Khoya Khoya Chand (2007); and Insaan (2005) (Akshay Kumar in a hugely populist turn as an auto-rickshaw driver with the heart of gold, and Esha Deol as his reluctant burkha-wearing squeeze; do NOT check this film out, as it might be a bit low brow for the CM crowd :-)). [I’m omitting “ghetto” films, i.e. where basically everyone is a Muslim, such as Sanam Bewafa (1991; nevertheless Salman Khan’s only Muslim role that I can recall), or period pieces like Umraojaan (1981 & 2006)].

  13. Ok, one more and then I’ll stop: Tango Charlie, Halla Bol, and (most likely) Aaja Nachle are the only films I can think of featuring the Muslim man/Hindu woman romantic angle(other than Jodha-Akbar of course) — interestingly, ALL four of these are from the last couple of years…

  14. What did you make of the Mani Ratnam film Bombay, Qalandar? And the depiction of Muslims in Dev? I felt those were classic Hindu-liberal condescendingly sympathetic portrayals of conservative Muslims in ghettos. Also note that Muslims are invariably depicted as speaking good UP-style Urdu and being lighter-skinned in Hindi cinema, because of course South Indian Muslims don’t exist.

    Coolie was such a cliche of earnest yet populist old school “secularism”!! But I prefer those crass cliches to the more subtle ones we see today.

  15. Agree that Bombay is disappointingly banal and uninteresting, but Dev IMO is of a different mettle (interestingly the film was criticized as communal by several Muslims as well as Hindus, as was Hey Ram, and in my view for some of the same reasons). I had written a piece on it back when the film was released:

    http://qalandari.blogspot.com/2005/08/dev-beyond-bhai-bhai.html

    [Agree on the Urdu/light skin & eyes stereotype, which might well be why Hritik was chosen for the role of Akbar, despite contemporary descriptions of Akbar as swarthy and stocky and not very tall, albeit with light eyes!]

  16. Qalandar, was “Iqbal” the Kukunoor film where the kid is trying to get into the cricket team or is there another “Iqbal” starring this Muzammil Ibrahim? That film was definitely southern.

    I cannot believe Rahman produced such a damp squib of a soundtrack. That song with the dervishes, and that Mughal republic day parade type song – so utterly forgettable. They were taking liberties with the known facts and timeline anyway – why not use it to tell a halfway good story?

    It’s Rajasthan and Delhi tourism poster meets 16th century Saas bahu serial, only longer with more jewellery. And an Akbar with too many steroids and too little soul.

    Incidentally, Anne-Marie Schimmel’s recent Empire of the Great Mughals describes one of Akbar’s wives (Maryam-uz-Zamani being her title) as the daughter of Bhagwan Das (adoptive father of Man Singh) and Salim’s mother (p.40) and “Jodhibai” as Jahangir’s wife, the daughter of Uday Singh. (42).

  17. Qalandar Sahab a small correction
    The Muzammil Ibrahim film was called Dhokha not Iqbal
    By the way Salman Khan also played a muslim in a 2002 movie called Tumko Na Bhool Payenge .
    Also what about the recent movie – Anwar ?

  18. history_lover: I didn’t mean to suggest that the Muzammil Ibrahim film was called “Iqbal”, though on re-reading my comment it isn’t phrased very artfully…yup, “Iqbal” is by Kukunoor, and is a pretty standard underdog/sports film with Shreyas Talpade in the title role. Quite sentimental, but notable in its articulation of “normal” rural Muslims (very rare these days for non-urban demographics to get any sort of representation in Hindi cinema). Yes the Pooja Bhatt film is called Dhoka.

    Thanks for reminding me of Anwar: I didn’t like this nearly as much as Jha’s previous film “Matrubhoomi”, but it was visually more interesting, and has a(n) (intermittently) sensational soundtrack (in particular, the opening lines of “Javeda Zindagi” are among my favorite Bollywood musical moments this decade): http://qalandari.blogspot.com/2007/01/anwar-hindi-2007.html

  19. RE: ‘That film was definitely southern.’

    “Iqbal” was directed by a guy from Andhra Pradesh, but the film was not in fact “southern.” It was produced by Subhash Ghai’s film company, and none of the major actors were “southern” either (Shreyas Talpade is Maharashtrian; Naseeruddin Shah — well he is Hyderabadi but Hyderabadi Urdu-speakers are not generally what people think of when they say “southern”). It’s actually a “Bollywood” setup through and through.

    Tumko na bhool paayenge: how did I forget this classic? :-) Thanks for the shout, you’re so right…

  20. Speaking of Hyderabadi (as well as Muslim characters), if you want to see really lowbrow (but damn enjoyable) comedies, check out the recent spate of films that have been made in Hyderabad, using (for the most part) local actors. Much of the comedy in these films stems from a rib-tickling use of the Hyderabadi dialect, and an affectionate representation of the Old City tapori ethos. The first and most famous of these is “The Angrez”, which combines a funny “Old City” track with an appalling NRI-scene, but my favorite is the somewhat bigger budget follow up “Hyderabad Nawabs”, though there have been a few others too. This, along with the rise of Bhojpuri cinema, is to me yet another sign of the “secession” of large segments of the audience from the Bollywood paradigm, as the latter has shifted inexorably to a far more “up-market” base centered in major Indian metros and overseas desi audiences. But I digress…

    On this whole subject of inter-communal relationships, a potentially interesting topic is Sikh-Muslim romantic arrangements (perhaps Muslim/”other” more generally? in Coolie, the love interest of Iqbal (Bachchan)is Julie (Rati Agnihotri)): the highly problematic Gadar (2001) by Anil Sharma, essentially a re-enactment of the Ramayana with a Sikh Ram, a Muslim Sita, and a Pakistani Lanka/Raavan (I do note that in all the “Muslim woman” love stories, there is never any requirement that the woman convert or abandon “Muslimness”, reflecting both the difference between a proselytizing and traditionally non-proselytizing religion, and the contemporary socio-political debate raging in India on conversions (real and imagined)), and the too-clever-for-its-own-good Jhoom Baraabar Jhoom (2007) by Shaad Ali, which features no less than two Sikh man-Muslim woman couples (possibly both Sikh man-Pakistani woman), and two sets of “virtual” couples too (if you think Veer Zaara (2005) is being mocked, you’re darn right it is) — in a context where the entire film is populated by “minorities” of one sort of another (the film flopped miserably, but I highly recommend it).

  21. Re: “southern”, I was merely responding to the comment upstream about all Muslim characters being UP-Urduwalas, by pointing out that the Muslim family featured in Iqbal is south Indian. I have no clue about what Telugu or Malayalam films are doing with Muslim characters….

    Thanks for this list, lots of films here that I have never heard of.

  22. Ahh, gotcha — I didn’t connect the two…

    [Aside: I’m a bit puzzled: why did you think the family in Iqbal is “southern”? i.e., not sure what geographic region is being shown, but it is definitely an Urdu-speaking family no? (I could be wrong about this, as I have only seen the film once and don’t remember it too well).]

  23. It’s been a while since I saw it, but mostly it was the milieu, the clothes, the geography, palm trees, that suggested the south. It was definitely not a Ganga-ke-kinare type film if you know what I mean. I want to say the accent and language as well, because if I recall correctly it was certainly not your typical UP urdu being spoken – again, it seemed to me this was a Muslim family somewhere in rural south India. But I can’t recall specific instances of dialogue.

  24. Qalandar: Wow, thank you for all that information.

    Re a Muslim lead romancing a Hindu woman – I don’t think anyone here mentioned 1947 Earth where Nandita Das plays a Hindu and the two male (leads?) are Muslim – with one agreeing to convert to Hindusim and move with her to Amritsar. Though I don’t know if the movie would fit with the discussions above.

  25. Qalander, thanks for all the info; you should write a social history of Bollywood :)

    “why did you think the family in Iqbal is “southern”? i.e., not sure what geographic region is being shown, but it is definitely an Urdu-speaking family no?”

    Some folks in Andhra Pradesh speak Urdu, as do some Hyderbadis. My Andhra Pradeshi friend Iqbal is testimony [for reals, his name is Iqbal :)]

  26. Regarding the “inter-religious” marriages/love stories–

    Most of the films I’ve come across (and Qalander can correct me here) deal with the males being Sikh or Hindu and the women being Muslim. I don’t think there are many films depicting the opposite– Muslim males and Hindu, Sikh women, though this clearly happens in real life. I think this says much about how we imagine the role of gender and marriage within the context of religion (and I might be wrong, but I’ve always gotten the sensation that there is a patriarchal/patrilineal assumption at play: that whatever the husband is predominates and/or holds primacy over the woman’s religious and socio-cultural affiliations. So the popular logic goes that with a Muslim husband, Islam takes lead over a Hindu and Sikh woman, and that imagined fear is something that strums chords in large swatches of societies. Except when you are a Bollywood god like Shah Rukh Khan marrying a Hindu woman; there, all is forgiven by movie-goers.)

  27. “But spare a thought for Dalits: I can’t think of any major Dalit CHARACTERS in Hindi cinema barring, um, Achoot Kanya (1936), and Rekha in Ganga ki Saugandh (1978)”

    Bandit Queen? Or Phoolan Devi is not a Dalit?

  28. Re: “Some folks in Andhra Pradesh speak Urdu, as do some Hyderbadis.”

    This one is a “Hyderabadi” too!!! :-) My point is merely that in North India and Pakistan, when people say “south Indian”, they do NOT just mean someone who is geographically a southerner (e.g. Hyderabadis, or other Muslims speaking various dialects of Dakhani/Deccan Hindi/Urdu), but someone who is a native speaker of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, or one of the other “Southern languages”. Hyderabad is itself very well-known for its dialect etc., and an Urdu-speaking Hyderabadi, upon being asked by (e.g.) a Bihari where he’s from, will never say he is “from Andhra Pradesh” — if he did, the Bihari would conclude that he is Telugu-speaking; whereas, if he said he were “Hyderabadi”, his Bihari interlocutor would immediately “place him” as a Hindi/Urdu speaker (it gets trickier with “Deccan” Muslims from other places, as most are not aware that there are many Muslims in Bangalore, Aurangabad, and parts of Andhra, and even Chennai (where I have tons of relatives) whose first language is one of the Deccan dialects of Hindi/Urdu)…

    Re: ” Except when you are a Bollywood god like Shah Rukh Khan marrying a Hindu woman; there, all is forgiven by movie-goers”

    To be fair, real-life actors with Hindu women has never ever stirred any major controversy in India (and I continue to believe that a Muslim man/Hindu woman love story would not be commercially rejected for that reason; I think the prevalence of minority woman/majority man love stories speaks to an imbecilic reflex, not to fear of what the public will accept): even apart from SRK, Aaamir Khan is married to a Hindu, Saif Ali Khan was married to one, Salman Khan had a very public relationship with Aishwariya Rai, and just recently the sarod player Amjad Ali Khan’s son married a Hindu; directors Farah Khan and Leena Yadav are both I believe married to men from “the other” religion. That sort of inter-religious marriage is quite common in Bollywood circles, especially among celebs who have grown up in Bombay (SRK is the exception). Even among non-celebs, one hears of inter-religious marriages in the Bandra or Juhu crowd quite often.

    I completely agree with you that we need to look at this from the perspective of gender politics: specifically, the notion of women as “exotic” and “other” — once we recognize this trope, it is not difficult to see that in inter-religious stories, the “other” would be female, and that this “othering” would seem only “natural.” [The same trope often holds true in other sorts of boundary-crossing love stories: in “Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega”, the Tamilian in the couple is female, the Hindi-speaker male; in Dhoom 1, Abhishek Bachchan is Hindi-speaking, and his wife is Bengali. One exception was the mega-hit “Ek Doojay Kay Liye” (1983?), where Kamal Haasan played the Tamilian man in love with a Hindi-speaking woman — but is this really an exception, given that it was directed by a prominent Tamil film director?

    We could extend it beyond religion and ethnicity: back when wealthy folks were consistently depicted as “bad” in Hindi films, recall that all the love stories were “rich girl” and “poor boy”, and it was quite unusual to have a film be the other way around. One exception to this was the 1973 mega-hit “Bobby”, where Rishi Kapoor is wealthy, and Dimple Kapadia is the daughter of a fisherman — ahh but wait, Rishi Kapoor is Hindu in that film, and Dimple Kapadia, Christian! The same holds true for Saagar (1985), where Rishi Kapoor is wealthy and Hindu and Dimple Kapadia firmly middle-class and Christian.]

    I should have mentioned this earlier: among the communally indeterminate roles are “Refugee” (2000), which features a fabulous first-half, with Abhishek Bachchan playing a mythic character who spends his life shuttling contraband in BETWEEN the borders of India and Pakistan…his name in the film is “refugee” (I kid you not!). Sadly, this powerful first half is marred by a rotten second half that almost could belong to a different film, where Mr. Refugee is kinda forced to choose sides and starts working for the Indian state (this is quite inconsistent with the characterization from the first half); I note that his love interest is Pakistani, consistent with the ultimate identification of Mr. Refugee with the Indian state. Another possibly indeterminate role is Mithun Chakraborty’s in what has to be my single favorite mainstream masala movie from the last 25 years, Ghulami (1985). Mithun plays “Jaabar”, and his communal identity is never discussed in this film; if we read this as a “Muslim name”, then this would be an example of a “Muslim man/Hindu woman” romantic angle.

    Re: Phoolan Devi: as far as I know she was not a Dalit, although she did belong to what is legally referred to as one of the “BCs” or “OBCs” (“Backward” or “Other Backward” castes for purposes of affirmative action). When she joined politics she joined the Samajwadi Party, the voter base for which is disproportionately OBC (and even within that, Yadav) and Muslim, which would make sense. (Note that in the film too the dacoit band she joins has a prominent Muslim leader).

  29. Szerelem: good catch on “Earth”! Definitely fits into are “crossing boundaries” theme here, especially given that this film is based on a novel written by a Pakistani Zoroastrian!

  30. Qalander:

    Thanks for you extensive comments!

    “That sort of inter-religious marriage is quite common in Bollywood circles, especially among celebs who have grown up in Bombay (SRK is the exception). Even among non-celebs, one hears of inter-religious marriages in the Bandra or Juhu crowd quite often.”

    Yes, and that’s my point. When it happens to celebrities, it’s a different story.

    However, the reality is that inter-religious marriages occur even in the non Juhu circles. And these instances bear the brunt of targeted violence, such as Gujarati Hindu/Muslim couples being zeroed in on during the riots and afterwards, or Hindutavadis “rescuing” women who have married outside of their “community,” offing Muslim men who dared to marry Hindu women (like in Bengal, courtesy of the West Bengal police force).

    So for the purposes of this discussion, strictly IMO, depicting love and marriage between a Muslim male and non Muslim females in Bollywoood films would be controversial for large sectors, whereas the opposite is less likely to mess with rigid mentalities.

  31. Re: “When it happens to celebrities, it’s a different story.”

    I guess I would make the point a bit more broadly: when it happens on the silver screen, it’s a different story. I think there’s a psychological suspension involved that leads me to suspect that a FILM with a “minority male” and a “majority female” angle wouldn’t be rejected by the public (none of the few examples mentioned above drew even the slightest protest on that ground; one can’t say that the films were too insignificant, as “Aaja Nachle” for instance, was briefly banned in U.P. as one line in one song was deemed offensive to the “mochi” sub-caste). Sure, a Hindu man/Muslim woman story is less likely to disturb folks, but I don’t think that by itself sufficiently explains the dearth of such films (too early to tell if that trend is changing, although most of the films I can think of that go “the other way” are from the last 2-3 years)…

    Generally agree with your comment, though on the West Bengal story, I never got the impression the young man would have ended up any less dead had he been Hindu (his love story was truly filmi — i.e. poor boy in love with the daughter of a rich businessman — but alas the ending wasn’t), and conversely, had he been as wealthy as his wife’s family I doubt he would have been offed — a reminder that social class yet remains the (obscene) faultline it is most difficult to surmount in India…

  32. Qalander:

    “Sure, a Hindu man/Muslim woman story is less likely to disturb folks, but I don’t think that by itself sufficiently explains the dearth of such films”

    Hmmm… don’t know. I mean, I see where you are coming from, but I know that the issue of a Muslim man marrying a Hindu and Sikh woman is a huge deal, given the fear of supposed conversion that a woman would have to go through (whether this fear is founded or not; I am sure there are plenty of unions where neither party has had to convert) coupled with regarding a woman as more of a recepticle of whatever the guy is, and the paranoia surrounding a Muslim takeover (in case you think I am exaggerating, I am to a certain extent because I am thinking about the life-threatening danger that Hindu-Muslim couples have had to face in specific circumstances, and for them it is very real. To be fair, it is not indicative of the entire sub-continent, but I do think that this rhetoric is sufficiently fused in the minds of many people).

    Bollywood films have always struck me as trangressing the lines, but always in a conformist way so that in the end, it is not transgressing the lines. There are so many films that do this– stories about adultery, falling in love with someone across the border, inter-communal stuff, movies about hot-spots in the sub-continent such as Kashmir, all of which provide something critical and DO reflect certain realities, but only to have all of that deflated into something acceptable and comfortable.

    “though on the West Bengal story, I never got the impression the young man would have ended up any less dead had he been Hindu…a reminder that social class yet remains the (obscene) faultline it is most difficult to surmount in India…”

    I agree with you here as well; class was a factor too, but at this point, you and I are both surmising this to the extent of how much of it was class and religion, unless we ask the woman’s Papaji himself.

    Qalander, you have an amazing breath of knowledge on Bollywood! Does your interest get piqued by Indian soap operas as well? That stuff provides the substance for much of my fuming and railing at Indian pop culture, with all of the ridiculous messages (and melodrama) that it exudes… :)

  33. Regarding soap operas, I have to say that Kasam Se and Saath Phere are the most retarded ones out there. Honestly- I can’t believe the messages they push about women in there– that the ideal woman selflessly sacrifices herself, even to the point of mentally losing it because we all know that women succumb to psychiatric problems because of their frailty, but overcomes it via her virtuous self sacrifice for the sake of the greater good and thus this is where her true strength lies as a human being and her role in society; they are of course religious and dutifully do boring ass puja everyday, and center their entire lives around family and children because women are not supposed to think about their own needs but everyone else’s instead, and dress up nicely in chiffon salwar kameez so as to be pleasing to the eye, and are kind to their servants in their big marble mansions, etc. Oh, and they are always fair. Indian women who are “dusky” and “wheat complexioned”???? Impossible! (Though average colored Saloni in Saath Phere is the quintessential victim of beauty standards, which is spot on, but alas, her goodness, which is, you guessed it– selfless sacrifice for the family– is highlighted, and thus we the viewers realize how unfair it is to judge someone based on the shade of their skin. Saloni may not be fair skinned, but she is the ideal Indian woman).

    I see one more female character who is a wimpy, whimpering, and helpless woman prettily dressed in pink, I will pull a gun out and shoot the screen.

    Excuse my rant, now I am really veering off course.

    Back to Mughals and Bollywood.

  34. Superb set of thoughts here, especially on Bollywood and “conformity” (I might add that I think the Hindi film industry has become MORE conformist over the last 15-20 years, as it has become ever more identified with the mores of the bourgeoisie, despite the veneer of more “different” stories; on the fringes more transgressive films are being made, but their transgressive potential is severely limited given that these are targeted — blatantly, and by design — to a certain demographic (some are even in English), and they don’t feel subversive so much as re-assuring to a class that wants Indian films “like” the Western ones it has access to).

    Re: “at this point, you and I are both surmising this to the extent of how much of it was class and religion, unless we ask the woman’s Papaji himself.”

    Ha! well said, and guilty as charged!

  35. Re: “I am sure there are plenty of unions where neither party has had to convert…”

    To be fair, in my experience, conversion is more of an issue with Muslims or Christians than it is with Hindus. The religious Muslims I know would consider conversion a sine qua non of marriage (with both “sides” one would have to do the hard work of convincing families to get over the threshold of “difference”, but less than conversion — even if this is only “formal”, and not understood to be genuine — is very rarely acceptable to Muslims). Traditionally one doesn’t/cannot convert to Hinduism, although starting in the late 19th century, the Arya Samaj tried to change that. Thus today you have a bunch of groups who believe in conversions to Hinduism (the Hindutvawaadis of course), but traditional Hindus don’t believe in conversion. This might tie in with the broader discussion here: given the patriarchal assumptions about women “going over” to their husband’s “side”, a Muslim man/Hindu woman love story might tap into fears about another one being “lost” to Hinduism. [This mirrors the controversy over conversions in India: virtually every outfit that wants these banned or severely restricted is actually a Hindu, implicitly testifying to the fact that almost all conversions in India are from Hinduism to other religions (mostly Christianity)].

    And this just occurred to me: in all the films I mentioned where a Hindu woman is romantically involved with a Muslim man, the latter seems quite a-religious and “unmarked”. Perhaps this is realistic, or perhaps this unconsciously quells the concerns discussed above.

  36. Yes these TV serials are really something. I’ve only watched a few episodes here and there, but the extreme and deliberate “payndoo”/”daqiyanoosi” ethos that is unapologetically peddled here really got me thinking: conceding how problematic these are (for the reasons you have mentioned), might we not see them as expressing a certain wistfulness, loss even? That is, at precisely the historical moment when urban Indian families are least likely to conform to the “model” of joint family, housebound bahu, “traditional values” etc., at precisely that moment we have a plethora of such serials, typically with a viewership of women over 40 (I find the (e.g.) SRK love story even more problematic because its regressive values are masqueraded as liberalism, and peddled even to the young). Nothing wrong with a 40 or 50+ viewership, but these serials are synonymous with the “auntie crowd”, and at least they do what they do overtly and not covertly. And the serials themselves testify to how “broken” the joint family “model” is from the perspective of India’s upwardly mobile, by virtue of their depictions of hopelessly dysfunctional and even psychotic families. Did even Shah Jahan’s sons hate each other this much? LOL!

    [I have not yet been able to come across data on viewership of these serials across different demographic segments. I would be interested to ponder the extent to which the serials’ viewership is comprised of people who continue to subscribe to the model presented as ideal, namely they live in a joint family, all the bells and whistles, etc.]

  37. Re: “Saloni may not be fair skinned, but she is the ideal Indian woman”

    She is also manifestly the best looking woman I’ve seen in these TV serials…

    This reminds me of a scene in “Sparsh” (Naseeruddin Shah is blind, and asks Shabana Azmi if she is beautiful; her response is something like):

    “Log kehtay hain kay goree hoon…aur hamaaray mulk mein khoobsoorat honay kay liye itna kaafi hai.”

  38. Rajput associations in Rajasthan have apparently been protesting the film for…I’m not sure what exactly, but the state BJP folks seem to think it unacceptable that a proud Rajput Hindu woman would have married a Muslim emperor, and are declaring that she must have been Christian. It’s bad enough that they interfere in interreligious marriages today, did they have to go try to clean up the history books too?

    http://www.telegraphindia.com/1080223/jsp/nation/story_8938710.jsp

  39. Qalandar:

    “might we not see them as expressing a certain wistfulness, loss even? That is, at precisely the historical moment when urban Indian families are least likely to conform to the “model” of joint family, housebound bahu, “traditional values” etc., at precisely that moment we have a plethora of such serials, typically with a viewership of women over 40 (I find the (e.g.) SRK love story even more problematic because its regressive values are masqueraded as liberalism, and peddled even to the young).”

    Interesting observation. I think it has to do with the whole globalization-modernity-cum juxtaposed with “Indian values” rhetoric. Meaning, these characters are all a bunch of wealthy, capitalistic, consumption night-mare families, but they have the “Indian” values in tact– which are the things you have mentioned. Essentially, what’s being churned out by the mass media (which globally disseminates this Indian pop culture) is this: conformity wrapped up in lots of gold jewelry, absurdly big bindhis, layers of heavy make-up, incense smoke from pujas, and C.R.E.A.M. These serials embody the middle class’s obsession with identity in the face of having lots of paisa, and the serials provide a comforting message: you don’t really have to change or modify anything at all– just keep spending away and hyper-inflate everything.

    Re: viewership, it’s not only 40 something socialites watching these soaps. It’s women AND men (yes, men sitting with their wives following each twist and turn of the plot with bated breath) not only in India, but also in Pakistan and in the diaspora (not sure how popular they are in Bangladesh, etc,).

    Random note, but the ubiquity of the lovely saadi in Indian soaps has sparked a fashion trend in Pakistan. Long live the Desi Soap Empire.

  40. Qalandar:

    “I think the Hindi film industry has become MORE conformist over the last 15-20 years”

    Yeah, but filums from back then were conformist as well. Silsila, for example, took on adulterous liasons with past lovers and shamelessly audacious flirting during Holi– all of which does occur– but in the end, what happens? Everyone goes back to their current spouses, and this time, they WANT to be with their spouses!!

    Or another film with Rajesh Khanna (when he looked quite dapper). I think Asha Parekh or Jaya Pradha was the heroine. Anyway, in this film, Rajesh is a handsome Army fauji. He loves Asha, they have sex, she remains pregnant, he dies. But wait– they had a mandhir shaadi in the Himalayas (or was it Kashmir?), so even if they don’t have a marriage certificate, they were husband and wife in Bhagwan’s eyes, and the kid’s not illegitimate, and thus, woman and child earn our sympathy.

    Mind you, it’s fine by me if you have pre-marital sex etc, but clearly, it’s not ok for Bollywood, which has to sanction love affairs with God’s blessings.

    Though Saalam-Namaste arguably discusses pre-marital sex, living with your lover, madamji getting pregnant, blah blah. But tin the end, conformity rolls in.

  41. But Page 3 was a nice filum, as was Salaam Bombay. Depressing, yes. No songs, yes. Reminding us of Bombay’s nitty gritty realities- pedeophilia, child trafficking, prostitution, yup.

    Oh, and I liked Waris Shah, but more for Gurdaas Maan’s songs.

  42. Agreed on Silsila etc. (which I actually see as the film that prefigures the conformist crap of the 1990s and beyond; aside: the film has interestingly enough had an amazing ‘afterlife” in Pakistan, and the influence-counterinfluence of Yash Chopra and Haseena Moin is one of the most under-analyzed connection around IMO; the creative linkage was finally made explicit in Veer-Zaara)– but I didn’t really mean “conformity” solely in the sense of sexual mores (there I would agree that those films were more conformist — or actually that what is “conformist” for the core audience of Hindi films as shifted; the “core audience” today is a demographic fraction of what it was back in the day, i.e. the “pan-Hindi” audience is a thing of the past), but in the sense of political conformity. I think that several films of the 1950s and 1970s (not really the 1960s) were nowhere near as politically complacent as so many contempory “big films” are (although of course there are exceptions: Lage Raho Munnabhai, although it’s “edge” is perhaps rendered palatable by virtue of soft comedy and a saccharine resolution)…

    Page 3 to be honest I did not like much (I dislike virtually everything Madhur Bhandarkar has directed, although Page 3 was waaaaay better than his other offerings, like Satta, Traffic Signal, and Corporate)…given your screen name, you’ll forgive me when I say that I much preferred Fellini’s original to Page 3!

    Superb thoughts on the serials phenom: will need to re-visit and digest slowly…

  43. I live in Victoria, BC, Canada, and am a devout 52 year old Roman Catholic woman, who watched the movie four times (so far). It is the first time in my life that I have gone to a theatre to see a movie more than once. Does that send a message? The movie was brilliant and deserves many awards. We humans need to learn about Divine Love and live it.

  44. Qalandar:

    “the film has interestingly enough had an amazing ‘afterlife” in Pakistan”

    That film has also had a surprising backing in the Palestinian territories.

    Hey, you know which filum has had admirably endured on a world scale? Baazigar! I swear that everyone in Morocco, Turkey, Italy, and Spain knew the songs. “Baazigar, oooooooh baazigar…”

  45. On a lighter note, in case anyone is unaware, ultra-hottie Nandana Sen (she was in Tango Charlie; Black; and Strangers) is Amartya Sen’s daughter, and is thanked for her input in her dad’s “The Argumentative Indian”.

    I HEART Ms. Sen.

    Thought I’d share that.

  46. was a real story based on muslims and hindu
    But Akbar and jodhaa never fell in love…… and they were married because they were told too…………not love marrige

  47. most of the directors of the famous “love stories” genre of hindi films were conformist types in arranged marriages. it is only in later decades that the private lives of the films’ creators and the fables they created have started to resemble each other. richie rich punjabi khatris make films about richie rich panjabi khatris etc.

  48. I just got finished watching the movie. Although it might not be historically acurate, I enjoyed the actors, especially the young man playing Akbar, the music, the story-line, and the colorful costumes. I also liked Akbar’s message – there is just too much hate in the world today and it is good whenever someone is trying to bring people together in peace. Let’s just enjoy it!

  49. There are so many flaw in the movie.Akbar’s(Ak) mother was not in favour of Jodhabai’s(JD) wedding.She and her sister in law Gulbadan,who plays a very important role in Ak’s life was in favour of Ak’s wives Ruqaya and Salima.It was Ak who in order to favour Hindus married JB.Infact Ak is a person who very much respects his mother.Akbar wives name is not mentioned in any of the chronicle.His hindu wives are usually adressed as daughter of so and so.Infact Ak does’t describe any of his wife personally like his son,he is a person who tries to maintain equality in every part of his life,let it be his subjects or his household.So his rajput wife name may be Jodha bai,Hirabai or anything else which does,nt matter.Some historrians claim that daughter of Raja Bharmals is jahangir’s mother who was given a title Mariyam Zambani.It is the only mentioning of name in Akbarnama.There is a controversy whether Raja Bharmals daughter is Jahangirs mother or not,for Blochmann says that she is Jodpur rani not Raja Bharmals daughter.Even in his memoir Jahangir mentions Man Singh aunt i.e.Raja Bharmals daughter as a lady in his fathers household who is connected by marriage to Ak and not as his mother. Ak unlike Jhangir or shah jahan does not keeps runing behind any single lady and neglect a court meeting as shown in the movie.Maham Agna was not against the wedding.It was she who brings Ak’s harem(his remaining wives)to the place where the wedding took place and JB was placed one among his wives and he pushed to his capital asking his harem to follow.Maham agna’ death was due to her affection to her son AdhamK.After her sons death she mourned for 40 days and died.She was not in a mood to do all the cheap conspiracy.Bagwan das brother of JB who was a very powerful officer in Ak’s court was not given importance.The controversy with the ulamas was after Maham Agna life time and was not against JB,it was against Ak’s numerous wedding which was against the law of islam.The ulamas was against Ak having more than 4 wives.They wanted Ak to have only 4 offical wives and the remaining as concubines.He was against this,he wanted all his ladies to have status of wife to favour matrimonial alliances.Ulamas were thrown out by Ak which they deserve it.They disturbed Ak in ruling the empire and in his religious tolerance policy. Ak was a very great and powerful emperor.Nobody had the guts to challenge him like Sharufudin,wrongly protrayed in the movie.Infact it was Ak who challenged a Bengal rebellion,Daud in a single combat to avoid war.Hearing this Daud was so sacred that he ran away from the scene overnight.If Ak’s descendant are powerful they should sue the movie for this scene,for in Aks time there was no rebelion who had the guts to talk to him.Infact the moment they hear Akb is coming they just ran away from the suitation.The movie is just a imaginary story with 2 char by name Akbr &JB.The director in no way has read Akbarnama.He should hv taken a movie about jahangir or Shahjahan.By Sitapalamu ujain

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