'Jingoistic agenda': Naseeruddin Shah on the rise of Islamophobia, religious bias in Bollywood

Updated 16 Sep, 2021 12:17pm

Images Staff

Actor says the govt is encouraging filmmakers to make more pro-establishment films while Muslims are forced to remain silent.

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Veteran Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah spoke about religious discrimination in Bollywood in a recent interview to NDTV.

In the past, the Bollywood film industry was free of Islamophobia and religious discrimination but now the industry is being encouraged by the government to make more pro-establishment films, he said. Shah gave the example of the Nazi government in Germany and how it too used film to spread its ideology.

"They are being encouraged by the government to make pro-government films, to make films lauding the efforts of our beloved leader. They are also being financed, and also promised a clean chit if they make movies which are propaganda, to put it bluntly," he said.

The publication noted the revered actor didn't have definite proof but he remarked that it was "obvious" from the big-ticket films being put out these days. "The kind of big-budget films that are coming [...] cannot disguise the jingoistic agenda," he said.

The actor said he has not faced any discrimination in the industry because of his religion. Shah believes the reason for this is that he has made a lot of significant contributions to the industry and has built a powerful image merely because of the revenue he has generated. Although he was once offered a refundable ticket to Pakistan, he laughed.

Many Muslims in the industry do not speak up in fear of facing harassment, according to Shah. He gave the example of the Khans of Bollywood who have remained silent because of what they have at stake. "They [the Khans] are worried because of the harassment they face. They have so much to lose. It's a question of their entire establishments getting harassed."

Shah pointed out that Muslims are often penalised and punished for voicing their opinions.

In 2015, Shah faced criticism for praising a Pakistani book written by Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri merely because he was a Muslim. He was called anti-Indian.

The actor has never shied away from voicing his opinion. In the past he has faced a lot of backlash because of his interfaith marriage and not being a practicing Muslim. Recently, his comment about the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan — "Even as the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan is a cause for concern for the whole world, celebrations of the barbarians by some sections of Indian Muslims is no less dangerous" — received a lot of criticism, especially from Muslims in India. He later admitted that his choice of the word “celebration” was incorrect and he was only pointing out a small section of the community.

He also clarified that he was only trying to point out the differences between the Islam practiced in India, which was more inclined towards Sufism and tolerance, and the Islam practiced in the rest of the world. "By Indian Islam, I meant tolerant, Sufi-influenced practice of Islam in this country. I was referring to the Islam represented by people like Salim Chishti and Nizamuddin Aulia. Indian Islam is a religion that does not believe in the fundamental execution of the word of the law."

His statements received a lot of praise from the ruling BJP for speaking against Taliban rule. “I also received pats on the back from the rightwing. I don't need any such congratulations or label," he said.