If Salman Khan the superstar discov- ered Kabir Khan the competent director in Ek Tha Tiger, Kabir Khan the able director has brought out the actor in Salman Khan in Bajrangi
This film is certainly not the usual
Salman stuff where you have a few unbelievable fight scenes and the inevitable
baring of his chest, something that we are
used to seeing when we watch a Salman
film. One can hardly disagree with Kabir
Khan when he says that he has tried to
show the good values of helping each
other on screen through Bajrangi
Kabir Khan’s films have always touched
political issues intelligently. His treatment
of some international themes, especially
those touching the lives of Muslims in the
contemporary world, has been very sensitive. Kabul Express presented a perspective on Taliban. New York treated the post
The most important aspect of Bajrangi
Bhaijaan is the use of humor to touch
some sensitive and potentially explosive
political-religious and cultural subjects
that touch the lives of Indian and
Pakistanis. The film contains a lot of ideology, but it distances itself from that ideology through its deft use of humor. It
uses a lot of cultural stereotypes and popularly accepted motifs, but subverts them
all to create humorous situations.
In the process it stays away from
Pakistan bashing and an easy categorization of people on the basis of caste, color,
creed and food habits. It presents identity
as always in the process, a complex entity,
not easily reducible to some fixed concepts.
Thus, the easy identification of vegetar-
ianism with Hindus and purity and non-
vegetarianism with the image of fiery and
impure Muslims is touched with very
genial humor to suggest that this binary
does not rest on sound wisdom and con-
crete evidence. Food is definitely one of
the markers of identity, but identity is cer-
tainly not reducible to one’s food habits.
Pavan Kumar Chaturvedi’s vegetarianism
does not translate into any negative feelings for the little girl when he discovers her
gorging on chicken drumsticks even
though he could throw up at the sight.
What should be the least expected
description of identity that a person with
a Hindu right-wing background will
bestow on somebody he loves and cares
for? Most people will point to a meat-eating Muslim. And an even more apt reply
would be a meat-eating Pakistani Muslim.
Son of a father who organized shakhas
(branches of a right-wing organization,
Pavan Kumar Chaturvedi (Salman) tries
to lessen the enormity of his discovery by
rationalizing that Kshatriyas are also traditionally meat-eating people. When
faced with the real situation he happily
takes the little Muslim girl to a non-vege-tarian restaurant.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan makes the point that
neither the identity of a person with a
Hindu right-wing background nor that of
a Pakistani, whether be she a little girl or
a seasoned journalist, can be reduced to
their food habits. Both can overcome their
cultural baggage and discover a different
aspect of themselves if faced with a new
In the same way an imam of a Pakistani
mosque can be very open-hearted and a
humanist to the core, not harboring any
feeling of enmity for anyone.
Or, to take another example from the
film, Brahmins are not the only Indians to
have a light skin.
And since the source of humor often lies
in incongruity, the film makes these
points humorously, interestingly and
without any malice towards anyone. The
difference between what is expected and
what actually turns out throws many
interesting situations in the film. The situational humor is a major strength
of Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan culls out interesting
situations from many current discourses.
There is little doubt that cricket is fol-
lowed like a religion in both India and
Pakistan. There is an unwritten law in
both countries that ‘thou shalt not lose to
each other.’ Supporting the ‘wrong’ player,
In the 1990s innumerable films, many
featuring Sunny Deol, presented a one-
dimensional view of Pakistan. But there
have been quite a few films like Main
Hoon Na and Veer Zara, which showed
the people of Pakistan rather than
Pakistan as synonymous with the
Pakistani State. Bajrangi Bhaijaan joins
this short list.
But where Bajrangi Bhaijaan really
scores is in showing the beautiful locations in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, probably a first of its kind in a big Hindi film.
The picture of the beautiful mountains of
Switzerland in a calendar that Shahida
mistakes for her region is not without
some meaning. Kashmir has traditionally
been called the Switzerland of the East.
What is unsaid here is even more
important. The establishing shot of the
film focuses on the beautiful, snowcapped mountains suggesting peace, purity and tranquility. It is really a tragedy
that the Switzerland of the East has
become what it is even though its common people are like the common people
of any other part in India: Full of love and
It is to Kabir Khan’s credit that he treats
potentially explosive subjects touching
ordinary lives of the people in the subcon-
tinent in a light-hearted manner. As Mark
Twain said: ‘The secret source of humor
itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no
humor in heaven.’
Khans’s rich humor speaks through the
six-year-old mute child who belongs to
‘the paradise on earth.’ n
Mohammad Asim Siddiqui teaches English at Aligarh Muslim University.
Mohammad Asim Siddiqui looks at the importance of being Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
Scenes from Bajrangi Bhaijan.
THROUGH THE BIOSCOPE
India Abroad August 7, 2015
M5 THE MAGAZINE