Bollywood’s Muslim stereotype became the hot topic after clips from Neflix India’s newest film Mission Majnu started circulating on social media. The age old visual markers were ticked off — a man with kohl rimmed eyes who spits adaabs in every sentence with the backdrop of Pakistan manufacturing nuclear weapons. Actor Sanam Saeed spoke to Brut India about this kind of stereotyping and Bollywood’s ban on Pakistani artists, saying she doesn’t get why politics needs to penetrate cultural collaboration.
The Zindagi Gulzar Hai actor shared her favourite Bollywood film — Queen — terming the relatability factor as the reason. “It wasn’t a spectacle,” she said, as the conversation shifted to the way Muslims are often captured through the Bollywood lens.
“Of course, we always make fun of how Muslims are portrayed in Indian films with the kajol [kohl], namaz ki topi [prayer cap] and the green in the background somewhere to show that this is a Muslim person or Muslim community. It gets too political, they’ve always been highlighted as the enemy.” She added that she doesn’t recall seeing any projects where the two nations are friends and are collaborating together. She believes this is far from reality, “where collaborations are happening at every level”.
Jumping to the time before the ban was imposed, she said it did not come as a shock to see the cross-border cultural exchange take off. “It was exciting, it was about time. It felt very exhilarating, very liberating and kind of complete that finally these two hubs of culture, creativity and art were collaborating to form even greater stuff.”
She juxtaposed her sentiments after the ban was imposed due to the Uri attack in 2016. “It was a bit of a rude awakening, confusing — why mix politics with art and culture? Tragic but also, I guess we all got over it, it is what it is — you can’t fight it, there’s nothing you can do about it. Except stuff like this, what we’re doing now,” she said adding that despite everything, the artists are still trying to make their way and work together. “It’s unfortunate, it’s very tragic and unfortunate.”
When asked about her views on Mahira Khan’s comments about being wary of taking up Indian OTT projects which came around the time Saeed starred in ZEE5‘s Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam, she said their situations were different. “I never worked in Bollywood — this isn’t Bollywood, Bollywood is a completely different ballgame. By the time I was getting my foot in the door, the ban had come. Fawad [Khan] and Mahira really were at the brunt of it so I’m sure they are nervous and scared because of how they were treated.
“It’s definitely a confusing place to be in when one second you’re here and the next second you’re completely let go off. I can totally understand why Mahira would be nervous to take that step again because that was a tough step exit for them,” she added.