Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Movie review: Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat’ is anomaly in Bollywood

image via IMDB

Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat is Anurag Kashyap’s recent movie which flew under the radar and didn’t find box office success. Like every other Kashyap film, it also tries to reflect the social-political churning of today’s India. The movie delves into and discovers multiple socio-cultural aspects of contemporary India through its intriguing picturization.

The film runs two parallel themes one is located in Dalhousie (Himachal Pradesh), and the other is in London(UK). One is rural, and the other is in a metropolitan city. In Dalhousie, Yaqub (played by Karan Mehta), a young man, and Amrita (played by Alaya F), a schoolgirl, fall in love.

In London, a wealthy Pakistani woman, Ayesha (played by Alaya F), develops feelings for Harmeet (played by Mehta), a young DJ. Kashyap brilliantly situates two love stories, in the first, rural location, the boy (Yakub) approaches the girl, while in the second, the metropolitan girl (Ayesha) falls for the boy(Harmeet). But the only connection between these two parallel stories is DJ Mohabbat (played by Vicky Kaushal), who not only hosts a popular podcast on love but has also captured the hearts of both Amrita and Harmeet as loyal followers. This exciting plot twist challenges the typical genre of the movie and leaves viewers with many questions. The film is a modern romantic drama that defies categorization, much like contemporary relationships. But, It is more of suits as a socio-political movie than a romantic genre.

Kashyap uses the love story of two young individuals from different religions in Dalhousie to comment on the present political situation in the country. In the movie, Amrita’s family becomes distraught when they learn that she has been friends with Yakub (the boy protagonist from Dalhousie) and that the two of them have plans to attend a local DJ Mohabbat concert.

They forbid her from leaving the house, lock her in a room, and tell her that she is not required to go to school. During this back-and-forth conversation about Yakub, Amrita’s mother tells her, ‘Pahle mohabbat dikhate hai, phir Jannat’ (first, they seduce you with fairy tales, then lock you in veil). She meant this in the satirical sense, where Muslim boys first make flowery promises and then try to convert to Islam. It is a hint of Kashyap toward ‘love Jihad’.

Despite the lockdown, the two protagonists/lovers decided to leave their homes and kept their promise to return on the day of Holi after seeing a concert by Dj Mohabbat. After a few days of fleeing, they realized the police were chasing them down. Here Kashyap shows through the naiveties of both or unawareness of both what happens if a Hindu girl runs with a Muslim boy. Then the girl realized they were now labelled ‘love Jihad’ but could not understand that she only wanted to go to the concert with her friend(Yakub).

She realized that her family members, including her much-loved father, were also against her. Later she sees that video of her father on TV crying and accusing the Muslim boy (Yakub) of kidnapping her. After seeing the video of her father crying, she decided to return home. Yakub warned her that it was just an appearance, but she returned home, and Yakub was chased down by police and shot dead by Amrita’s brother taking a police gun, where the police were mere spectators. 

In a trend of Bollywood films, “Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat” stands out as an anomaly since it attempts to buck the current trend of Islamophobia. The depiction of the most significant minority of India, Muslims, in Bollywood, has been obscure and debatable. The Muslim characterization in Bollywood has been very reducible to the binary of either positive or negative, which is often the case. Some would trace such negative depiction from the partition of India based on religion and war with the neighbouring Muslim-dominated country Pakistan.

Earlier disposition on Muslims revolved around depicting them more as a traitor or Pakistani Spy who wore Pathani suits and used Surma in their eyes. Most films of Sunny Deol involving India in war with Pakistan fall in the same category. But several movies of that period also reflected and picturized Muslims in positive, natural, and everyday life, struggling with the same socio-economic problems as their Hindu counterparts. “Khakee”(2004) present the narrative of how an innocent Muslim man is falsely accused of terrorism, and it touches on related themes like media trials, mob justice, and Islamophobia. Another movie with a terrorist subject is “Black Friday”(2004), in which Anurag Kashyap depicts the horrors of the 1992 Mumbai attacks. “My Name Is Khan”(2010) also belongs to this genre of films and deviates from the custom of portraying Muslims in oppositional frames. “Haider”( 2014), “Article 15” (2019), and other similar films do some justice in challenging the traditional stereotypical presentation of Muslim characters in Bollywood films. 

In recent years, Bollywood has plunged towards a more vile picturization of Muslims, especially by negatively depicting Medieval and Mughal Muslim rulers. The locus has changed. Earlier Muslim characters have resembled more in pro-Pakistani fervour, and now, they are presented as belonging to cruel, oppressive, and fundamentalist community. Now they exist among ourselves and are not coming from outside(Pakistan). This narration has the capability of tormenting Indian society and the state in inconceivable ways. There is a large number of films in recent years that falls into this category.

Movies like “Padmaavat”(2018), “Kesari”(2019), “Panipat”(2019), and “Tanhaji” (2020) are prominent examples which had box office success, except Panipat. A large number of people view such movies and make colossal box office success, somewhere, this does reflect the changing fabrics of Indian society. Films like “Sooryavanshi” (2021) even go further in pictural subjugation of Muslims by trying to strengthen the conspiracy of ‘love Jihaad’, which indicates luring Hindu women into love by Muslim men and converting them to Islam. Similar claims can be made about very controversial films like “The Kashmir Files”(2022) and “The Kerala Story” (2023), where Muslims were antagonized as Anti-Hindu, Anti-India and involved in terrorist activities. And it is astonishing and sad to see that big and famous actors are actively making and siding with these movies.

Here movies like “Almost Pyaa with DJ Mohabbat” affirm its importance and forces its viewer to think in a positive and just direction. Bollywood is sliding back in its content, quality and in holding up the ethos of “India”. The success of Bollywood in this self-defeating endeavour contributes to the climate of Hate and discrimination that Muslims in this country face daily. Bollywood is in urgent need of a cure.

Chhotelal Kumar is a PhD Scholar at the Centre for Political Studies, JNU, New Delhi.

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