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‘“The British left [India] but they left their offspring behind”, this is what we used to hear from the time we were children, but now the saying has been changed to “Mughals left but they left their Jehad [terrorism for them] behind.”’ – Advocate Santosh [the public prosecutor] in Mulk

These times when the media – be it newspapers, TV debates, social media – has an important role in creating our perception of the reality around us, like a deadly drug, it is absorbing countless audiences: rendering people addicts. The discriminated judgments on Muslims also are responsible for the shaping of acts like lynching, the beef ban, terrorising minorities, and more. Anti-Muslim bias rears its ugly head everywhere: a recent court trial of a 24 year-old Muslim, a computer engineer who was killed in the streets by a group of radical Hindus of Pune while returning home from the mosque, the judge reflected that ‘the fault of the deceased was only that he belonged to another religion. I consider this factor in favour of the applicants/accused.’ These few years we’ve seen the rise of nationalism in India, which runs parallel with Islamophobia. There is a desperate need to counter these types of embedded perceptions of Muslims and bring to forth the reality of media-fed clogged minds. Anubhav Sinha, director of Mulk, has tried to present how growing Islamophobia shapes our perceptions about a particular community, which, in effect, has ruined and divided our society into “us” and “them”.

Released on 3rd August, 2018, the film revolves around a Muslim family based in a Hindu-dominated locality of Banaras, India. Murad Ali Mohammad [played by Rishi Kapoor], a retired advocate and a devoted Muslim lives with his family – his wife, younger brother Bilal Mohammad and his wife, a nephew and a niece; his own son and daughter-in-law live in London. As the movie unfolds we see Murad Ali’s daughter-in-law return to live for some time with her in-laws in India, and the issues with her husband over what their unborn children would be Hindu or Muslim.

We understand how Murad Ali celebrates with his Hindu friends and how even close friends turn against Muslims. For example, Chaubey Ji, who is a vegetarian by faith eats secretly non-veg food at the anniversary-celebration of Murad Ali, and taunts his son for getting involved in some political party. He was apparently angry at his son’s remark, ‘They kill us in our own home [land], and you’re eating [with them] in their houses [attending the party at Murad’s house]’. Very soon, we see how his regard and love for Murad Ali [and his family] turns into hatred.

There is a breakdown in the family of Murad Ali when his nephew Shahid [played by Prateik Babbar] is suspected to be a terrorist, after he was accused of a bomb blast of a bus in which 16 people died, three among them being Muslims. Chaubey, on watching that the accused is Shahid, his neighbour, felt that his son, a radical Hindu, was right about Muslims, he goes to the police station to inform them that Shahid lives in their locality. Soon Murad Ali also arrives. Chaubey shocks Murad Ali at the police station when he shouts: ‘what made you [Muslims] stay here [in India]? Did we ask you to stay? You should’ve left for Pakistan…’ Meanwhile Shahid refused to surrender and gets killed in an encounter by Anti-Terrorist Squad official Danish Javed [played by Rajat Kapoor], who is prejudiced against Muslims, his own community – he could have arrested Shahid instead of killing him.

Murad Ali's younger brother and Shahid's father Bilal Mohammad [played by Manoj Pahwa], are arrested on charges of being accomplices to terrorist activities. The tag on Bilal Mohammad’s scooter – Don’t worry, be happy – drove against him; his elder brother Murad Ali hasn’t been talking to him, thinking that Bilal is careless. Murad Ali represents his brother in court before he is also lugged into the case as an accused by the prosecution lawyer Santosh [played Ashutosh Rana] and Murad Ali appeals to his daughter-in-law Aarti Mohammad, a Hindu [played by Taapsee Pannu] to defend their case. 

Even when the family refuses to accept the dead body of Shahid, declaring that they don’t support terrorism, they are unable to save themselves from wrath. With the social boycott, harassment, attack and the words inscribed on their wall ‘Go to Pakistan’ they’re made to feel strangers in their own country. Murad Ali tries to file an FIR at the police station, but the policeman refused it, saying, ‘it’s not any big issue, you can get your wall painted and none of your family members were killed or severely injured’. Before Murad Ali leaves the police station he expresses, ‘Terrorism is not only killing people, threatening people to try to make them sit in the corner is also terrorism.’ Sounekar, a Hindu friend of Murad Ali, felt what the people are doing with Murad Ali’s family isn’t right. By this Anubhav Sinha was successful in presenting that there are the people in the society who could easily understand that there are injustices done to the minority, but they feel threatened and prefer to remain silent.

Accused Bilal Mohammad, a heart patient, sees no hope for his survival when the charges against him and his family get stronger – phone calls from Pakistan, and selling of Shahid in return for some money from Pakistan, wireless connection at their home…. He breaks in the court, saying, “It’s all my fault, Shahid was my son. Please don’t involve my brother, he has nothing to do with it” when his elder brother was also dragged into the case, he couldn’t tolerate this. He pleads Aarti, the lawyer, to save his elder brother. The repetition of the words, “Shahid was a terrorist, and I’m his father” speaks about the mental condition of the ones who suffer in false accusations. The prejudiced SSP Danish Iqbal started feeling otherwise when he listened the conversation of Aarti and Bilal, where Aarti wanted to inquire about the phone calls and money he received from Pakistan, which were those of Bilal’s cousins in Pakistan and he had asked them to send him some money on loan for his operation, which the prosecutor considered the payment for his sons’ Jehad. Bilal Mohammad dies. Amidst all that the family faces, Murad Ali is afflicted with the most important question that the common Indian Muslim face today: How to prove that they are as loyal and as patriotic as anybody else in the country.  

The dramatic courtroom scenes, that arrests the minds of the audiences compels one to think about the issue of Islamophobia, which is growing more and more in our world. In the courtroom trials it seems only one Hindu who doesn’t differentiate between Hindu and Muslim is the Aarti herself. Even the expressions of the Hindu judge declare his hatred for Muslims. So does the giggling of the people in the courtroom [or the audiences who watch the movie] whenever the prosecutor Santosh makes fun of Muslims – for their many children, backwardness, low education, terrorism, many marriages, Muslim names and the like.

There is also the mention of Kashmir at some places. When Shahid’s cousin Rashid narrates how they were introduced to Mehfouz Alam. He says that they received a message on their WhatsApp group to collect money for Kashmir, when there were floods in Kashmir and they collected some money and gave it to Mehfouz Alam. Mehfouz Alam told them that he is an engineer from Mumbai and he left everything when he felt that his people, Muslims, need him. Then Mehfouz would sometimes directly call them to collect money. Also, the upset Mehfouz Alam outbursts: “If we help Kashmiris, people call us Pakistanis, there’s surveillance on us, and they trap our phones and then get after the ones we call…”

In this movie Sinha created many scenes to depict the anguishes of Muslims in India. Murad Ali’s powerful speech in the courtroom, ‘Who has given him [the prosecutor] right to welcome me in my own home [country], this is my home as well as you think it’s yours … and if you’re unable to differentiate between my beard and Osama Bin Laden’s beard, I still have all the rights to follow my Sunnah [religion].’

In an attempt to portray growing injustices and the othering of Muslims in India this movie raises pertinent questions about terrorism, and questions why is it only or usually associated with Muslims. Muslims are portrayed fearlessly. Aarti Mohammad’s emotional concluding speech about targeting Muslims as Others is powserful. Aarti asks how could there be justice in India when we wear the glasses of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. Also, her questioning of SSP Danish Javed makes it clear to the court, and to Danish himself, that he is prejudiced against Muslims – which he accepts, overcome with remorse.

I was impressed by the play of words ‘Khuda’ and ‘Juda’ by a teacher, followed by the representation of pluralism in India, at the opening of the movie, I thought of it as a preface to something related to the existence of God, or religion [which it is], but I couldn’t see its relation to the plot which the movie portrays.

We need such films to challenge our discriminatory minds. And yes, remember the concluding lines of the judge that there are political origins of the conflict and whenever you witness anything like ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘look at the calendar and spot the upcoming election schedule’. Also, there is a beautiful message for the people like Danish Javed: seek love and you’ll be loved. 

Muddasir Ramzan is an aspiring writer and a PhD candidate at the Aligarh Muslim University [Department of English]. He can be reached at [email protected].