Is `Refugee' a secular film?

Is `Refugee' a secular film?

Have you ever heard of a secular film? If there is such a thing, `Refugee' must be the one! You have the hero, Abhishek Bachchan, a selfless and brave Indian Muslim, who has a Hindu guru, a rare happening today for a Muslim; you have the Bangladeshi Muslim refugees, who are the real heroes of the film -- simple, good-natured folks who only want to live in peace in the land of their choice. You have the tough but good-hearted Indian BSF officer, who happens to be played by a Christian, Jackie Shroff. You have the nice Pakistani Ranger, acted by Sunil Shetty, a Hindu, as opposed to the bad Pakistani infiltrators.

But `Refugee' is also a bit of a devious film and whoever wrote the script knew very well what he was doing, as it takes advantage of the innocence of the average viewer to put across a few messages which are sometimes of adoubtful nature. First, notice that the real villains of the film are not the Pakistani infiltrators -- after all, like those who infiltrated into Kargil. In 99, you could term them as "patriotic", as they believe their scriptures preach a jihad on India and that dying for that cause will take them to heaven. No, no, the real villain is the Hindu character, who in the very first scene of the film offers a passage to Pakistan to the hapless Bangladeshis. He is certainly not patriotic and is ready to betray anybody, including his own race, for dirty money. And notice how he says "Ram, Ram", when he contacts the Bangladeshis -- an allusion to the `karsevaks' who brought down the Ayodhya mosque and maybe a hint that many worshipers of Ram could be crooks. Observe how this Hindu criminal is finally justly killed by a Christian and a Muslim, a not so subtle indication that Muslims and Christians are united against the scheming Hindus.

`Refugee' is also full of symbols which may look innocuous to the millions of naive villagers. Have you remarked, for instance, how the Bangladeshi refugees prostrate themselves on the ground when they reach the stone which marks the Pakistan border? Is Pakistan then the Promised Land? Or have you noticed how the heroine, a Muslim, sights her lover from an abandoned Hindu temple during a night halt in the desert? It must be one of the very few temples left by the invading Muslims, who razed thousands of Hindu temples, and are still at it today in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Then there is also the Sufi festival in Rajasthan, where both Muslims and Hindus pray together. Fine, but the scene is a bit misleading: it used to happen in the old times, as Hinduism has always accepted the divinity of other religions and a Hindu, even today, does not mind praying at a church or a mosque. True, the Sufis, because of the influence of Advaita, had softened their brand of Islam. But Hazratbal, the last real Sufi shrine in Kashmir was burnt down by Pakistani and Afghan militants and the traditional Sunnis look down on that kind of mixing up with Kafir Hindus.

There is one symbol though, which makes a good point, even if it is not done in a credible manner: the child of the heroes is born on a no-man'sland, with the help of Pakistanis and Hindus and under the benevolent guard of the BSF and Pakistani officers who have forgotten their enmity. Indiansand Pakistanis are indeed brothers and sisters, as everything -- language, customs, culture, color of their skin, food habits, music -- except religionunites them. Visionaries have always said that, as long as Pakistan and Indiado not reunite, in whatever manner, there will be wars. But it will certainly not happen in a filmy manner such as depicted in `Refugee'. First, Islam has to abandon its intolerant credo, and stop sending militantsinto Kashmir. The rest will then follow naturally.

The film is, of course, brilliant. The photography of the Rann of Kutch is superb. Kareena Kapoor acts as if it were her second nature. The music is enchanting and there is something endearing about Abhishek Bachchan. But all this cannot hide the fact that there is something rotten about Hindi films nowadays. We know how many of them were (and are still?) financed not only by black money, but also by blood money, which happens to be mostly in thecontrol of the Muslim underworld, in India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, DawoodIbrahim being the most known figure, but certainly not the only one. We knowtoo that there is a lot of extortion and blackmail going on inside the industry and crimes have been committed recently.

On top of all this, Hindi cinema is moving towards suicide: how long can you go on feeding the masses films that have hardly any script at all and which always cater to the dramatic side of the Indian ethos, however many beautifully choreographed songs and dances in more and more exotic locales they contain? It is time that Hindi cinema does a bit of introspection and that its script-writers, actors, musicians, choreographers, all talented people and often from Muslim backgrounds, start thinking about bringing the masses a little more than escapism and some pride in the country, as they did during the Kargil war. 


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