Does Raees ‘undermine’ Islam? An objective probe into Pakistan’s ban on the film By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi

By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvir

“Dhanda mera dharm hai, par main dharm ka dhanda nahi karta” (Trade is my religion, but I don’t use religion as my trade).

This is not only a punch line in Shah Rukh Khan-starrer movie Raees, but it also echoes the essential message well-embedded in this action-crime thriller directed by Rahul Dholakia.

Another punchline that endorses the point goes in the movie as the following: “Dhanda karte samay hindu musalman socha tha, jo ab soch raha hai? Sab apne log hai yaha par” (Did we discriminate between Hindus and Muslims when doing the business, then why will we do this discrimination now? All are our people over here).

Shah Rukh Khan in a still from 'Raees'

Shah Rukh Khan in a still from ‘Raees’

Despite these two strongly-worded messages articulated in a lucid tone and succinct tenor, the movie has been banned in Pakistan — an Islamic country with an overwhelming fan following of the Indian Muslim superstar SRK. Pakistan’s leading English daily, The Express Tribune reported that the much-awaited Mahira and Shah Rukh Khan starrer Raees would not be released in Pakistan: “The Censor Board of Film Certification said on Monday that the Rahul Dholakia directorial, which marks Mahira’s Bollywood debut will not release in the country due to its ‘objectionable’ content”.

A source privy to the development told the same Pakistani newspaper that the recommendations forwarded by the CBFC panel deemed the film “unsuitable for public screening” and that it could not issue a certificate because the film ‘portrays Islam and a particular Muslim sect in negative light’.

Thus, it is believed that the ban on Raees in Pakistan is a direct result of three major factors playing out in the movie: First, the movie ‘inappropriately’ portrays the Muslim community, as Shah Rukh Khan plays a Muslim entity who indulges in the trade of liquor. Second, the content of the film ‘undermines’ Islam — the state religion of Pakistan — because it subtly portrays Muslims as criminals, violent terrorists, wanted men and gangsters. Thirdly, a specific sect of Islam — the Shia community — is miffed with the movie because it did not like the use of particular religious symbols in the film.

Before we proceed on an objective analysis of the first two issues, it is quite pertinent to fathom the intricacy of the third issue. Let’s not forget that the film shot into controversy not only in Pakistan now but much earlier in a section of the Indian Shiite Muslim community.

Even before the release of the movie, the film unnecessarily dived into the Shiite controversy when a number of Shia community’s members protested against the movie and lodged a police report. This occurred just a day after the release of the trailer of the movie Raees. Hindustan Times reported then that members of the Shiite sect in Uttar Pradesh, particularly in Bareilly, found a scene from Raees offending and, therefore, they decided to boycott the movie. The community’s clergymen wrote a letter to the Central Board of Film Certification demanding the exclusion of the scene in which ‘the actor is seen jumping over a religious structure’.

But a critical content analysis of the action-crime thriller candidly exposes that there is nothing much in the film to be hyped by the Shia clergy.

They have objected only to a shot in the trailer of Raees in which Shah Rukh Khan is seen jumping over a sacred religious structure. The actor is seen jumping over a procession during a chase sequence and the procession carries A’lam Mubarak, an Islamic structure which is commonly revered by the Shiite Muslims. But in reality, the movie also has a well-spirited portrayal of the sacred Shiite Islamic symbols like Ya Hussain and Ya Fatima (recitations to seek blessings from Prophet’s daughter and grandson — Hazrat Fatima and Imam Hussain) which are greater in significance. But these positive messages have been wholly overlooked amid the undemocratic and pointless controversies created by the hardcore religionists in both India and Pakistan.

It is more ironic to note that in its justification of banning the movie, Pakistan is stating: “we could not issue a certificate because the film portrays Islam and a particular Muslim sect in negative light”. How come this country flogs this fiction when its own provinces witness the atrocious attacks on the Shiite community’s shrines, mosques and imam barahs day in and day out? Even the houses where members of the Shia religious minority offer their prayers are set ablaze by the terror goons in broad day light.

According to Pakistani Urdu media reports, only in the last month of Muharram, which is the most sacred Islamic month in the Shia calendar, several Shiite women, children and elderly people who were praying at home in Karachi were terrorised. Clearly, it is a paradoxical statement that the Censor Board of Film Certification in Pakistan has issued to ban the Indian movie.

As far as the first and the most intriguing bone of contention is concerned, the movie’s alleged ‘inappropriate’ portrayal of the Muslim community is not a defamation of Islam by any stretch of imagination. Especially at a time when the Islamic clergy often exhort to “look only at Islam and not to what the ‘bad guys’ in the Muslim community are doing”, such rhetoric of ‘Islam-bashing’ is logically unfounded.

The movie script which demanded Shah Rukh Khan to play a Muslim entity who indulges in the trade of liquor is an out-an-out depiction of many ‘deviated’ and ‘non-practicing’ Muslims like Abdul Latif and Dawood Ibrahim who undeniably are frowned upon in the Indian Muslim community. Tellingly, it is widely believed that Raees’ story is based on the criminal life of an underworld figure in Gujarat, who was also an associate of Dawood Ibrahim. Nonetheless, the filmmakers are reported to have denied this stating that “the story of the film is a pure work of fiction, not based on any person; living or dead.”

Even if the movie throws a bad light on the Indian ‘Muslim’ gangsters, it is also an effort to combat all vanguards of the communal violence and disharmony. But one wonders why Pakistan happens to be the only Islamic country where the film is not being screened. The Censor Board in Pakistan should ponder as to why all other Islamic countries are screening Raees if it is really an onslaught against the ethos of Islam. Do the censors believe that Pakistan is the only Islamic nation in the world?

Given the fact that the Rahul Dholakia-directorial has earned a positive reception in the wider Muslim world except Pakistan, it is indeed staggering to note the hyper-religiosity of the Pakistani board of film certification.

The writer is a scholar of classical Arabic and Islamic Sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies. (Courtesy: Firstpost)


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