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Monday, January 30, 2023

Ill-informed Saif is less delusional than a liberal intellectual like Shekhar Gupta

Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan is in the news for dubious comments made during an interview after his recent hit film Tanhaji: The Unsung Hero.

The interviewer Anupama Chopra, wife of director Vidhu Vinod Chopra, asks him whether acting in a movie with ‘questionable politics’ bothers him. Saif replies, “It might bother me as an Indian…..maybe next time I would (take a stand against acting in such movies), I was just so excited about the role…..but when people say this is history, this is how it is, I don’t think this is history….I don’t think there was a concept of India till perhaps the British gave it one.

Knowledgable netizens promptly schooled the self-professed history buff on why the ‘concept of Bharat/India’ is an ancient one, with references in scripture and itihasa. Even if we look at recorded history, the idea of Bharat as a consolidated civilizational state found expression over 2300 years back in the Mauryan empire founded by Chandragupta Maurya under the guidance of Acharya Chanakya – an achievement spurred in so small part by the desire to free the sub-continent from marauding Greek invaders brought by Alexander.

This tweet by Tarek Fatah adroitly captures the ignorance & absurdity of Saif’s comments –

In the interview, Saif went on to say that the movie Tanhaji had moulded history to fit a certain kind of belief, an idea he found ‘dangerous’, and that he was saddened at artists and intelligentsia taking such a ‘populist’ approach. He says that if we discuss such history internationally, we will be corrected. He also adds that elites look at USA as the bedrock of free speech and democracy, but not every country can be like that.

It’s not clear what exactly Saif found un-historical about Tanhaji? The core of the film’s plot is absolutely authentic – a battle for the Kondhana fort did take place in 1670 between a Maratha army led by Tanhaji Malusare and Mughal army led by Udaybhan Singh Rathore. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, founder of the Maratha empire, did fight for Swarajya (self-rule) to free his people and the whole of Bharat from foreign rule of Mughals and other Islamic dynasties in south. Hindus across the land were being brutally persecuted under the tyrant Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who ruled at the time events depicted in the movie took place.

Is Saif saying that showing true history in movies is dangerous?

Is he seriously claiming that Bollywood has taken a ‘populist’ turn just recently? An industry that for decades has churned out a mind-numbing assembly line of crass movies catering to basest desires, objectified women in the now mainstream ‘item songs’, normalized stalking, glorified underworld criminals – he wants us to believe that this industry has turned ‘populist’ just in last few years? Is the industry ‘populist’ when movie after movie takes digs at Hindus and Hindu Dharma? But one movie which strays from the sanitized leftist version of history and shows real events, and Bollywood’s liberal-secular cocoon is shattered!

Saif’s comments about Bharat not living up to American standards is typical Westernized elite groupthink reeking of a colonial consciousness that chooses to ignore un-convenient realities about present-day USA and its history. But that would be a topic for another article on its own.

People like Saif are products of the system that has created them – the scion of a royal Muslim family, educated in the West, conditioned by the Nehruvian colonial state, disconnected from Bharatiya ethos, and part of a profession where projecting a liberal-secular vibe is mandatory for access to the “in club”.

To his credit, he does exhibit flashes of honesty in the interview – for saying that once Pakistan was formed, what is happening today was inevitable; that it was probably unrealistic to hold on to the idea of an ‘India that embraced secularism and all the various ideas people talk about’ (another way of saying that India has been the laboratory of all sorts of wooly-headed liberal ideas that find no traction elsewhere in the world); that personally his life was great and that sometimes it’s best to stay apolitical (a tacit admission that hyperbole created by liberals about freedom of speech being under unprecedented attack doesn’t resonate with lived experience of most people).

Shekhar Gupta vs. Saif Ali Khan

Saif has not unsurprisingly swallowed some of the usual ideas prevalent in secular-liberal echo-chambers. But his mind is still open to considering other possibilities. And what demonstrates this is not the interview discussed above, but another interview he gave to Rediff in November, 2014. Here we reproduce the relevant bits which exhibit a refreshingly bold & honest outlook –

You said that Islam needs to modernise. How?

People tried to modernise Judaism and many other religions, so why not Islam?

People have died in the process. I guess you need someone like a Jesus Christ; a martyr who will be taken seriously.

I guess someone will have to say that God has spoken to them and these rules no longer apply and it’s okay do certain things which were not allowed earlier. I am sure he will be killed because he’ll say certain things against Islam. But later, his following will catch up as a religion called modernised Islam.

But the Quran is said to be the word of God. How can you differentiate between what is modern and traditional?

Exactly. You cannot challenge it. So someone will have to die before he is taken seriously.

My point is that it’s not a great sign when a country reverts to Sharia law and it’s not a good sign for a country to be ruled by religion. Do I want to live under Sharia law? No.

I wish there was one law for everyone in India.

You are talking about a uniform civil code (one law for all Indians). Do you think it’s possible?

People feel it’s not possible because it’s idealistic and that the minorities will suffer. But I feel it is achievable. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for.

If it is not possible, don’t expect everyone to think alike. We say we are one nation but there are different laws for different religions. But the law should be separate from religion.

If we were to place the entire might of the left-liberal intelligentsia in Bharat – the Ram Guhas, Romila Thapars, Pratap Bhanu Mehtas, Shekhar Guptas etc – none of them would have the integrity or gumption to say what Saif has said above, despite the obvious truth of his words.

Let’s contrast Saif’s refreshing outlook on need for reform within Islam to something tweeted 4 years ago by Shekhar Gupta, arguably the most influential journalist in Lutyens’ Delhi  –

This is why a left-liberal-secular intellectual in Bharat today is far-far more delusional, and dangerous for society because of the influence they wield on our polity, than an ill-informed yet honest celebrity like Saif Ali Khan.

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