The following article appeared in an issue of Khilafah Magazine a few years ago however it is still relevant today.
The Bollywood film industry is a multi billion dollar machine. India makes more films each year than any other country making Bollywood, not Hollywood, the largest film industry in the world. Over fourteen million Indian people go to the cinema everyday and Indians commonly go to see a movie ten to fifteen times a year. Bollywood churns out 800 films a year, twice as many as Hollywood. Film production budgets have also soared in recent years. Devdas, the first Hindi film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival cost $13 million to make. Such lavish productions have ensured Bollywood's success globally. Outside of India, Bollywood's appeal reaches audiences in Russia, China, the Middle East, the Far East, parts of Africa and Europe. The actors and actresses have become household names the world over. In Mumbai (Bombay) - the capital of Bollywood - actresses such as Ashwariya Rai and Madhuri Dixit adorn billboards and posters. Their names are synonymous with success, wealth and beauty. They command salaries which the indigenous population can only dream of. They promote an image that is part Eastern and part Western and they appeal to boys and girls dreaming of a movie lifestyle. Bollywood stars endorse over 1000 products from Pepsi to Palmolive.
Since its birth Indian cinema has developed its own set of conventions. Sticking to a tried and tested formula of boy meets girl, they fall in love, endure family opposition and in the end struggle through with their love intact. Bollywood films were careful to steer clear of nudity and explicit material. Films such as Mother India, Pakeeza and Sholay explored themes of honour, loyalty, sacrifice and family values. Critics have described these films as timeless classics and the stars still remain icons. For example, Amitabh Bachchan was voted the star of the millennium in a BBC online poll.
Despite focusing on relationships the films of the past were careful not to offend. Actors were careful about their clothing and proximity to the opposite sex. Sensitive subjects or explicit scenes were never shown on film and the camera would pan out to images of lush fields and stunning waterfalls to convey risqué material.
Bollywood films now mirror Western films
Nowadays this approach has been replaced by a more bold and daring stance. The actresses wear less and ever more revealing costumes, the scenes are far more graphic than before leaving little to the imagination. Directors, in response to the demands of the audience have produced blockbusters that deal with subjects such as infidelity, rape and even homosexuality. Younger generations find the traditional storylines predictable and boring and so scriptwriters have tried to solve the problem by changing storylines to reflect real life. ‘Jism’, a film based on a Hollywood movie called ‘Body Heat’, has attracted controversy for its use of storylines based on fornication and the glamorisation of adultery as dangerous and exciting.
Keen to follow in Western footsteps, Bollywood in recent times has produced films that both shock and woo audiences the world over. Tastes and norms have changed and what was considered immoral and perverse a few years ago is now regularly reflected on the big screen. Bollywood leading lady Priyanka Chopra was quoted as saying "In Indian films, kissing is becoming more acceptable and I wouldn't give it a second thought." This shift in film content is not surprising. It is argued that as times change, so do the demands of audiences and thus the explicit and graphic storylines are part of the attraction to viewers. Bollywood seeks to be seen as a credible player in the world of film production and aims to rival Hollywood. Gone are the days where Sri Devi and Rekha would infer their feelings through song. Now an actress is expected to yield to pressures to strip, dance provocatively and go as far as the director demands. Ten years ago the career of any actress would have been ruined if she dared to bare all, now it is a prerequisite if she is to do well.
Previous Bollywood films steered clear of open relationships between men and women and observed religious boundaries with their characters. This has also changed. Films such as Kuche Kuche Hota He and Devdas have attracted a huge fan base amongst the youth. They provide a world of glitz and glamour, where familiarity with the opposite sex is the key. The heroes and heroines speak Hindi and wear Shalwar Kameez but imitate Western storylines in all other respects. Religious boundaries are ignored, as Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims are shown to overcome differences by love alone.
An influx of MTV, Western icons and a fascination for all things Western has resulted in an injection of Western values into the Asian subcontinent that has affected millions of people, Muslims included. This has resulted in cinema-goers no longer being satisfied with big budget dance numbers and songs alone. Rather, audiences now crave graphic sex scenes, explicit language and all manners of depravity to keep up with their Western counterparts. Bollywood producers and film-makers have seen the potential in these storylines and have been quick to make movies that reflect and accommodate these changing tastes and values.
The changing nature of Bollywood and the society it represents has also been influenced by the Western obsession with all things Eastern. The recent trend for the adoration of anything Eastern from mehendi to Indian cuisine has aided the crossover from East to West and has further compounded the change in values and norms that Bollywood is now portraying. Selfridges, the department store, completed a 'Festival of Bollywood' selling some of the outfits worn by the stars. Bombay Dreams and Bend it like Beckham have received rave reviews from critics. The latest offering promises Bollywood star Ashwariya Rai, a former Miss World, as the leading lady in the new James Bond film. Western recognition is the proof that Bollywood is as good as Hollywood, if not better.
The result of all this is a new set of norms, tastes and values that are unrecognisable from the Indian film industry of a few years ago and are a million miles away from the beliefs of Muslims and Islam. In today's Bollywood modesty is outdated, family values are shunned, respect for parents is ignored and marriage is made a mockery of. The old values have been replaced by freedom, promiscuity and lewdness.
The actors are a reflection of the times
The movie stars are increasingly becoming a symbol of the new Bollywood culture that represents a shift in morals and attitudes. Their personal and professional lives indicate standards of behaviour that would not have been accepted or tolerated by the stars of yesteryear. A flick through any of the showbiz magazines reveals stories of Bollywood stars involved in shocking behaviour; public brawls and fights, affairs, infidelity, drug taking and divorce are now commonplace. For example, Aamir Khan hit the headlines for fathering an illegitimate child and Fardeen Khan, son of 70's actor Feroz Khan, was arrested for possession of cocaine.
Furthermore, the once innocent image of the Bollywood film industry has been shattered with police investigations into scandals of money laundering and organised crime. Tax evasion hit the news last year when a huge police operation resulted in the raiding of homes and businesses belonging to a variety of Bollywood stars. Urmilla Matondkhar, Amrish Puri and Rajesh Khanna were all questioned in relation to their earnings and financial assets.
Western and Eastern values are not permanent
The changing nature of the Bollywood film industry to portray a different set of norms, traditions and values is due to the non-permanent and ever-changing nature of both Eastern and Western values. Within both East and West, there are no inherent truths, morals or acceptable standards of behaviour. Right and wrong and good and bad are not fixed but evolve with the change of times and with the differing beliefs and values held by the people. Thus, previous limits and boundaries have gradually become eroded over the years such that all manner of subjects and taboos have been removed.
This fickle and transient basis of values and beliefs results in a complete loss of any moral stability or decency within society. Where once it was understood that Eastern values represented conservatism, respect, obedience and modesty, this no longer stands true. This basis of accepting values, simply on the basis of people's tastes, whims and desires, will inevitably lead to the most despicable actions and behaviours being tolerated and then becoming the normal pattern of behaviour. Therefore, Bollywood is now very similar to Hollywood and it will only be a matter of time before new forms of depravity are depicted upon the cinema screen on the basis of entertainment and a changing of the times.
Islam has permanent values that are different to Bollywood and Hollywood
For the many Muslims who watch Bollywood movies, it is inevitable that they will become influenced by the more graphic and explicit content that the industry now shows. Islam rejects the idea that right and wrong, good and bad are merely subjective values that reflect a particular time and place. Morals, values and beliefs in Islam are determined by Allah (subhanahu wa ta'aala) and are not subject to the influences of human beings or their wishes and desires.
What is haram (prohibited) one day does not become halal (permitted) the next simply because society deems it so. A Muslim never has to re-evaluate his values according to societal changes, so it doesn't matter that it is now the norm to commit adultery, take drugs and mix with the opposite sex. The Islamic viewpoint on these things and other matters has been fixed by Allah (subhanahu wa ta'aala) till the day of judgement. Islam came to cater for all realities and for all times. Allah (subhanahu wa ta'aala) tells us in the Quran;
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوَاْ إِن تُطِيعُواْ فَرِيقًا مِّنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ الْكِتَابَ يَرُدُّوكُم بَعْدَ إِيمَانِكُمْ كَافِرِينَ
"O you who believe! If you listen to a faction among the People of the Book who were given the Scripture (Jews and Christians), they would indeed render you disbelievers after you have believed." [TMQ Ale-Imran: 100]
Islamic values do not need to be changed or compromised so as to fit the 'modern' image and values of Hollywood or Bollywood. Rather, the fact that they are permanent and from the creator of man leads to a feeling of stability, comfort and tranquillity for the Muslim. The duty upon the Muslims is to expose the false ideas and beliefs of the West and East and their disastrous consequences for society.
When accountability and obedience to the wishes of the Creator becomes the yardstick, a person's actions are not governed by the practices of wider society. Halal and Haram replace the criteria of benefit and enjoyment.
"Whoever can guarantee what is between his two jaw-bones and what is between his two legs, I guarantee Paradise for him." [Sahih Bukhari]
The Muslim applies the Islamic values and tastes in all aspects of his life from personal worship to how be buys, sells, marries, raises his children and so on. Secularism has no place in the Islamic personality. There is only one reference point; not a mish-mash that resembles the Sikh and Hindu cultures. The Quran Al-Karim contains all that a human being needs to function and a Muslim is careful to find the guidance on all issues that he faces.
أَفَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِبَعْضِ الْكِتَابِ وَتَكْفُرُونَ بِبَعْضٍ فَمَا جَزَاء مَن يَفْعَلُ ذَلِكَ مِنكُمْ إِلاَّ خِزْيٌ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَيَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ يُرَدُّونَ إِلَى أَشَدِّ الْعَذَابِ
“So do you believe in some part of the Book and disbelieve in some? The penalty awaiting thoe who do this is nothing but humiliation in this life and the severest punishment on the Day of Judgment." [TMQ Al-Baqarah: 85].
A believer has nothing in common with a mushrik simply because they speak the same language or eat the same food; these are not what define a person, rather it is the values that he carries. No matter what popular culture dictates, the Muslim does not succumb to current fads and passing trends especially when it comes to how he views his life. So even if the West seems to celebrate Asian culture, this is not a celebration of Islam but of kufr, so it holds no weight for us.
It is clear that a Muslim should look to Bollywood with the same disgust as he would look at Hollywood; both are industries which promote values completely alien to Islam, promoting a lifestyle, which is based on falsehood. Such a way of life can only lead to misery in this life and the hereafter. Looking at Western and Eastern society, we can witness the effects of the corrupt way of life and degenerate morals and behaviours that are portrayed on film. While the Muslims are flooded with Western and Eastern films and programmes, we should be mindful that this is a deliberate attempt to distance us from Islam.
وَمَا كَانَ لِمُؤْمِنٍ وَلَا مُؤْمِنَةٍ إِذَا قَضَى اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَمْرًا أَن يَكُونَ لَهُمُ الْخِيَرَةُ مِنْ أَمْرِهِمْ وَمَن يَعْصِ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلَالًا مُّبِينًا
“It is not fitting for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter, to have any option about their decision. If anyone disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong path." [TMQ Al-Ahzab: 36]
And for He (subhanahu wa ta'aala) says:
فَلاَ وَرَبِّكَ لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ حَتَّىَ يُحَكِّمُوكَ فِيمَا شَجَرَ بَيْنَهُمْ ثُمَّ لاَ يَجِدُواْ فِي أَنفُسِهِمْ حَرَجًا مِّمَّا قَضَيْتَ وَيُسَلِّمُواْ تَسْلِيمًا
"But no by the Lord, they shall not be believers, until they make you judge in all disputes between them, and find in their souls no resistance against your decisions, but accept them with the fullest conviction." [TMQ An-Nisa: 65]
Whether we look to the East or the West, what we see is the overwhelming darkness of kufr. The Bollywood dream is in fact a myth, a myth that is beamed into our homes and used to further remove us from the truth. Just as the West has tried to influence Muslims worldwide, the East and the culture it represents is 'a wolf in sheep's clothing'.
We do not need to turn to any culture other than the Islamic culture to solve our problems and to define who we are. Allah (subhanahu wa ta'aala) sets the parameters for our life and they are not subject to flux and change like the fickle values of the Western and Eastern way of life.