CC ISSUE: MAR2010 Last updated: 2010-03-04 13:54:49
Pro-Muslim movie rakes in big money
Muslims the world over are praising the Indian movie, “My Name is Khan”, as it has tried to tell the story about Muslim Americans in a post-September 11 world in a more balanced way than any of its predecessors.
Bollywood movies are not a tiny market. This Indian film industry produces more than 1,000 movies annually with a worldwide audience of 3 billion. In contrast, Hollywood produces 500 films per year. Around 15 million Indians live in different parts of the world and account for over 65 percent of Bollywood’s earnings. Apparently, it is not just the two million Indian expats living in the United States that have seen the movie, but their friends, neighbors and co-workers have shelled out $10 at the local AMC theater too. “My Name is Khan” grossed $1.86 million at the box office in its first weekend and has broken the record for the largest opening weekend ever for a Hindi film in North America.
The movie’s stars rang the opening bell at the NASDAQ stock exchange and media from the New York Times to the BBC have all compared the movie to the astounding success of Slumdog Millionaire.
“My Name is Khan” jerks tears with ease, while teaching lessons about Islam and tolerance,” said the New York Times review.
So what is the hoopla around another three-hour Indian movie with singing and dancing? Is it how it shows a Muslim child being bullied in school because of his last name and how a Muslim with a form of Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, dispels myths about terrorism? Or is it how it helps put a face on the thousands of people interrogated at airports or looked at suspiciously by their neighbors?
Like Hollywood, Bollywood does not have a good track record when it comes to portraying Muslims in a positive –or even neutral- light. In the last year alone, “New York” and “Kurbaan” have both focused on the theme of Muslims and terrorism, but both movies defeat the purpose by showing how a Camry-driving, beard and hijab wearing family does have a bomb making facility in the basement of their suburban New York cookie cutter home.
Watching Indian movies is not just entertainment for the South Asian community, especially in America. The quality of the sub-titles has improved so much reflecting the varied audience. If the movie dialogs refer to Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar (Indian cricket and singing sensations respectively), the sub-titles will say Mohammed Ali and Michael Jackson to provide non-Hindi speaking viewers the context of the message.
Of course we know movie makers fund projects that will help their bottom line. As Will Smith once said, “The execs don’t care what color you are. They care about how much money you make. Hollywood is not black or white, it’s green.”
The fact that this move broke records for the largest opening weekend hopefully shows that you need not sling mud at Muslims to be a cinematic success.
I understand that movies need villains and if at one time all Russians were the bad guys and at another time, Germans bore the brunt, it is unfortunately time for the Muslims to be cast in negative roles. However, I hope that movie makers and movie goers advocate intelligent choices that while someone has to be the bad guy for the good guy to triumph, it should be just that: a person who has done a bad deed - not a bad nation, ethnicity or religion.
While we hope that, like with other groups in the past, this Islamophobic phase passes out, I would not want to see Islam handing over the baton to any other minority group. Just as we would never want to see Muslims generalized, we would not want any other faith or country to go through the same stigma ever again.