Indian Muslim women individuality in Indian motion pictures


Indian Muslim women individuality in Indian motion pictures

With the instant triple talaq been declared unconstitutional, Gaurav Chowdhry finds it interesting to look back at how the Indian Muslim Women identity has been represented in Hindi cinema and if it will change now.
The only film that comes to mind centered on triple talaq is Nikaah (1982) directed by B. R. Chopra. Wrapped and packaged in glamour and spiked with generous doses of melodrama and lovely songs, the film took a very critical and incisive look at the system of triple talaq. The protagonist, Niloufer (Salma Agha), an educated, young and beautiful woman, is shocked when she finds herself treated like a ‘gift’ to be exchanged between her two husbands. The first one who pronounced ‘triple talaq’ in a fit of anger and the second husband who was in love with her from the time they were in college together and decides to hand her over as a “gift” to the first husband. She rebels for the first time and says that she is not a scrap of paper to be exchanged between men! It was a big box office hit that year.


A still from Nikaah (1982).


A still from  Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1906)

Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1906) and Mere Mehboob (1963) were rooted and presented in the Muslim ambience that eliminated any feelings of communal conflict at the root. The Muslims in these films were rich, aristocratic and conservative, and therefore, not truly representative of the common man or the poor. The hero and heroine were romantic young men and women, peppered with the leading lady peeping from behind the burqua and the lover spouting romantic shayaris and singing ghazals to her. But they were big box office hits among the mass audience irrespective of their communal identity.


A still from Pakeeza (1972)

Alternately, one saw the Muslim identity in courtesan-centric films like Pakeeza (1972), Benazir (1964) and Umrao Jaan (1981) that reflected yet another image of Muslim aristocracy and feudal lifestyles. They belonged to the genre of the typical romance sometimes ending in tragedy. Stories that brought out the pathos of Partition among common

However, there have been a few movies where the strength of Muslim women in films has been shown well. Unlike Nikaah, the film Bazaar, (also released in 1982) etches the character of Muslim women in a stronger light, and not one where they are hapless victims of men’s mood swings.

Bazaar is based on true incidents of the buying of young Muslim women by wealthy people residing in Gulf countries. The two female protagonists are Najma and Shabnam. Though these two women protagonists go through a lot of suffering due to a lack of support from their families and their communities, yet they gather strength and bravely raise their voices against these evil customs. In some way or the other both the women take a stand against patriarchy. The movie also conveys the message how economic independence in women can lead to their independence from being oppressed by society.


Some other good examples of such movies would be Sardari Begum or Bombay. In Sardari Begum, we see a woman who has been abandoned by her family for pursuing a career of being a singer and a courtesan. She is a rebel who chooses to pursue her art by going against the traditions of her family. In Bombay, the heroine is a Muslim woman from a lower middle-class family who goes against her family and community to marry a Hindu man.

Another movie from recent times that does a wonderful job of breaking the stereotype associated with Muslim women is Dor(2006). In this movie, a Muslim woman and a Hindu woman come closer and become friends due to some tough circumstances in their lives, however, it is the Muslim woman who teaches her Hindu friend about a life of independence and freedom.

The picture, sadly, is different today. It is as if the average Muslim is trapped in the identity of a terrorist or a mafia goon or a professional killer, almost without exception. A bit of ‘lip service’ is paid by putting in a few Hindu members of terrorist or mafia groups but one understands the psychology – it is ‘lip service’ for fear of reprisals on grounds of communal partisanism to the majority community.


A still from Bombay (1995)

The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has sometimes put its foot firmly down in having scenes deleted from some films for fear of hurting the sensibilities of the minority community. Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (1995) is a case in point. Ravi Vasudevan in Bombay and its Public (Journal of Arts & Ideas, No. 29, January 1996,) opines that the CBFC’s insistence on deletions of the given scenes was prompted by the censor board’s anxiety that they would lead to a re-kindling of anti-government sentiment among Muslims many of who assumed that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was a failure of the government to represent their interests.

What necessitated this geographical/cultural/political shift to a different country? Are the producers afraid of the CBFC clamping a ban on their films? Or, is it because it is easier to get dates of top stars and shoot a film in a single schedule entirely on foreign soil? Or, are the powers-that-be behind these films scared of communal reprisals at home from both the majority and minority communities?


Recently in the movie Pink, one of the lead women character was a Muslim but she was shown to lead a life like her other roommates, without any reference to her religion.

However, such movies are few and far between. Most such movies do not have financial backups of those where Muslims are shown in their stereotypical roles.

In majority of movies, the passive and helpless characterization of Muslim women in films didn’t change much over time. While Pakistani men are commonly depicted as terrorists, Pakistani women are shown in a relatively better way as they tend to fall in love with Indian men, such as in Veer Zaara and Ek Tha Tiger.


If we look at the character of Zara in Veer Zara, she is tolerant of all the wrongs that she is being subjected to, she is docile and doesn’t have a voice of her own. Even though the movie began with her being a rebellious character refusing to bow down to societal diktats, she soon becomes this sad woman whose sole purpose is to dream of being with her lover one day. Though a stronger woman character, Saamiya, helps Zara in uniting with her beloved, yet the character of Saamiya was not well etched other than a tool to just progress the story line.

The 9/11 tragedy of the twin towers reduced to Ground Zero has done the most harm to the ordinary Muslim on the street than he ever could imagine in his worst nightmare. This comes across nowhere more intensely, strongly and sometimes, even credibly than in the post 9/11 Hindi films.

Since 2001, Hindi cinema, consciously or subconsciously, has been representing a certain image of the Muslim community. Innocent Muslims across the world in real life are being almost universally identified with a terrorist or a gangster or a member of the underworld and victimized because of their religion.

Will the situation change now?

Source: – Google Search, PTI, Wikipedia, Instagram & autonomous research.

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