The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Salman’s Ram is okay, fun is not

Mumbai, July 18: The Vishwa Hindu Parishad doesn’t mind Salman Khan playing Ram. The warning follows.

“Anyone can make a film on Ramayana or any other Hindu subject,” says VHP leader Ramesh Mehta. “But we warn them that they shouldn’t make fun of the Hindu gods,” he adds.

Salman Khan has deferred his home production based on Ramayana — in which he would appear as Ram and his brother Sohail Khan as Lakshman — to ’05 or ’06 following threats from a Hindutva outfit, reported to be Bajrang Dal, that Muslims had no right to play Hindu gods.

Perhaps the VHP would be reassured by shooting a casual glance at the rolls of the entertainment world. It reveals a glorious line-up of “cross-over” Muslims, who had not no problem taking on Hindu roles and no one had a problem with them either.

The biggest blockbuster in the DD days, the serial Mahabharata, was written by Urdu poet-writer Rahi Masoom Raza. In it, Arjun’s part was played by actor Feroz Khan and Kunti’s by Nazneen. No one bothered.

Mohammad Rafi, the redoubtable singer, sang bhajans to different gods of the Hindu pantheon. Early in his career he poured his heart out to Krishna with ‘mana tadapata hari darashan ko aaj’ in Baiju Bawra. The song was set to tune by Naushad, the music director of the film, who also couldn’t boast of Hindu credentials. No one minded.

The Malayali actor Prem Nazir acted as Ram in a 1962 film Sri Ram Pattabhishekam and got away without rubbing anybody the wrong way. Film critic Amrit Gangar points out that even earlier, Fatima Begum, mother of the now well-known actress Zubeida and one of the first women directors in Hindi films, if not the first one, acted as Arjun’s wife Subhadra in a 1922 film. No one remembers that.

A little more than a decade later, in 1936, the Fatehlal-Damle duo made the famous film Sant Tukaram. Fathelal’s full name was Shaikh Fatehlal.

A few years later appeared Mother India. Nargis played the eponymous heroine in the film directed by Mehboob Khan, delivering a powerhouse performance that symbolically equated motherhood and country (nationalism'). That, too, did not come up for criticism.

And much more recently, another “kafir”, Aamir Khan, wowed the world with Lagaan, where he had no compunction about appearing as a naughty Kanha in a song-and-dance sequence with his heroine. The metaphor was stretched till the end that had the English heroine, whose love he rejects, seeing herself as Radha. But she was Christian!

“This resentment over Muslim actors is quite new. The entertainment world was always thought to be above religious discrimination,” says Gangar. “There were so many Muslims in the past who took up ‘Hindu’ roles. It’s just that no one thought of them as Muslims,” he adds.

But the VHPs and the Shiv Senas are adamant. Mehta denies that the Bajrang Dal issued threats, but he is quite clear that the VHP has upped its ante over the film. “If the makers of the film make fun of us, then we will see to it that the film is not screened,” he says, echoing the callers who allegedly threatened the film’s co-producer Bunty Walia.

The Sena said it didn’t have problems with Muslims playing Hindu gods either, but its charity, too, was conditional. “If Muslims are playing Hindu gods, Hindus also should be allowed to play the prophet,” said Sena leader Subhas Desai. Perhaps they should watch more films.

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