Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

Films and Religion: An Analysis of Aamir Khan's PK

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

Films and Religion: An Analysis of Aamir Khan's PK

Article excerpt

Indian Film Industry and screen narratives on religion

The Indian film industry is the biggest in the world when it comes to number of films produced every year and has for many years been the world's largest film producing country, with an output in different languages. India also figures at the top position for ticket sales as a vast and growing urban filmgoing public in India supports film culture and circulation (Wadia, 2008).

This speaks about the fervor around films in this country. Film production in India began almost simultaneously with other filmmaking countries, beginning in 1896 (Mazumdar, 2007). In the years after independence, Indian Cinema circulated outside the country to audiences in Russia, The Middle East, and Latin America.

Bombay cinema, popularly known as 'Bollywood' is the largest in India, followed by Tamil and Telugu cinema. Films are typically woven around love and romance, set in the backdrop of social, political, religious or economic crises. Religion is an essential aspect of the narrative as the characters, locations, plot, dialogues, social norms, weddings, rituals, social institutions of marriage, education, etc. represent religious codes and themes, on which the film is generally based. Religion plays such a large role in today's society that it is not surprising that it finds its way into films (Barton, 2010).

India is home to multiple religions, Hinduism being practiced by the majority, about 78.35% according to the 2011 census.1 Thus, the main religion depicted or most discourses from religious prisms come from Hinduism. The plots of most of the early films, as of plays on the dramatic stage of that time, were religious and mythological. Outstanding among films of the silent era was 'Satyawadi Raja Harishchandra', made in 1913 by Dadasaheb Phalke (Rao & Raghavan, 1996). Based on a story from the Mahabharata, it was a stirring film concerned with honour, sacrifice, and mighty deeds. From then on, many "mythologicals" were made and took India by storm (Wadia, 2008). Hindu themes are common in films from and about India; however, the attitude to Hinduism expressed in these films varies. On the one hand, there are numerous examples of films that seek to affirm what are perceived to be traditional Hindu values; they typically contain little critique. For instance, there is a long history of Indian devotional and mythological films that have little place for challenges to Hindu norms (Burton, 2013). However, on the other side, a prolonged and consistent religious architecture of films does not make a society completely tolerant of cinematic portrayals of faith and religion.

Religious Sensitivities in India and controversies on films about religion

Religion forms a very sensitive issue in India as there is a low threshold for 'religious sensibilities being hurt' and 'intolerance' as has been witnessed in the form of communal hostilities leading to deaths of hundreds of thousands during various physical realities and happenings.2 Consequently, media portrayals about religion and religious identities are often cautiously carried out whether that is in any genre; news, advertising or cinema. India has had a history of outrageous responses and intolerant behaviour against 'controversial' cinematic projections of religions, of which PK (Peekay), released in December 2014, is the latest case.

PK is probably the most discussed movie in such controversies, but it is not the only movie which faced such threats in India in the recent past.3 There are various other films, mostly Hindi that have faced hostilities from different religious organisations, groups and communities for being 'controversial' and 'hurtful' towards religions, religious symbols, rituals and practices ("Amir Khan's PK," Times of India, 2014).

For its depiction of communal riots, huge controversy surrounded Bombay (1995), while Deepa Mehta's Fire (1996) talked about a taboo issue of 'homosexuality' at a time when it was not even discussed in the public sphere and it was considered as anti-Hindu and violating Hindu religion by Shiv Sena 4, a Hindu Parochial party (Bhatia, 2010). …

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