Category Archives: Islam

Themes of Honor and Shame in Bollywood Movies

Two huge Bollywood blockbusters just hit theaters in the last two weeks across the world. Both are selling out as crowds flock and millions of dollars have been made so far.

On the surface both films look quite different.

Padmaavat is an epic drama about two warring kingdoms, staged in the 13th century. It capitalizes on the glamor of the royal life in the prime of Rajput glory. It has clear protagonist (Queen Padmaavati and King Maharawal Ratan Singh) and antagonist (Sultan Alaudin Khilji). The basic thrust is that Sultan Khilji becomes obsessed with Queen Padmaavat and conquers her kingdom so that he can take her for himself. Spoiler alert- in the end, upon defeat of the Rajput army, the entire clan of Rajput women burn themselves alive to prevent capture by the conquering army, thus maintaining the honor of the community.

Pad Man, is staged in dusty streets of North Indian Varanasi, in modern times. The protagonist is real life inventor, Arunachalam Muruganantham and the antagonist is society itself. He is a simple man fighting against societal norms to create low cost sanitary pads for women. The thrust of the film has created a movement across India to openly discuss menstrual health of women, a topic which has been taboo for millennia in the Indian subcontinent. He faces many obstacles, the biggest one being the sheer shame put on him from the community, accusing him of being a pervert, an adulterer and mentally ill.

However different these two films may appear, a common thread ties through both of the films – defending honor and avoiding shame.

In understanding the underlying motivations of societies, there are three worldviews:

  1. Guilt-innocence cultures are individualistic societies (mostly Western), where people who break the laws are guilty and seek justice or forgiveness to rectify a wrong.
  2. Shame-honor cultures describe collectivistic cultures (common in the East), where people are shamed for not fulfilling group expectations and seek to restore their honor before the community.
  3. Fear-power cultures refer to animistic contexts (typically tribal), where people afraid of evil and harm pursue power over the spirit world through magical rituals.

These differing worldviews are what propel a number of our East/West conflicts and misunderstandings. Grasping the shame and honor context is one of the most critical pieces to understanding modern India, as we know it today.

Most of the Bollywood films have some sort of shame/honor theme. If you watch closely, even the most seemingly glitzy and modern Bollywood films carry this theme underneath the skimpy dancing and flashy cars.

Amidst the glamor of Padmaavat and the simplicity of Pad Man, these films show how critical these motivations are to Indians. However modern, anglicized and forward India may be on the world stage, lets not confuse the true underlying motivations of shame and honor that lay in the modern Indian heart.

 

Credit to Author, J. Georges, for definition of three worldviews.

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Desh Hai Mera Jaisa Desh Hai Tera

The other evening as I went about my routine of making dinner.

I ran out of rice, so I went to the pantry to refill my container. I had two bags that were partially used up. One from India. One from Pakistan.

As I sat they side by side, I realized…  “These look the same. They smell the same. I bet they even taste the same.”

Something profound hit me when I poured the remained of the rice into my rice cooker. When I put them in the same pot, I could not tell the difference. They mixed in together as one. I saw no border, no color difference, no distinguishable difference.

Profound, or a coincidence?

America, Let’s Not Celebrate Yet…

As I watched videos of my fellow Americans dancing in the street in Times Square last night I had very mixed emotions.  We’ve all been affected and many of us have lost friends and family members due to the  ‘War on Terror’. The tragedies of 9/11 were unspeakable and we must never forget the lives lost. However, I believe to understand the full picture, we need to keep a global perspective.  Americans are not the only ones who have suffered.

While terrorism is never justifiable, we need to examine what else might be going on in the larger picture.

We as Americans have been directly and indirectly involved in the suffering of many other nations Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, need I go on?  Have we been just in our treatment of Muslim nations? What are the consequences of our relentless presence in Arab nations?

Followers of Radical Islam look at our actions as a reason to be upset. Bin Laden himself quoted many past American actions for cause of his anger. But are we listening?

Some Americans have seen 9/11 as the BEGINNING of the story. This is far from the truth. The attack on 9/11 is one small piece of the larger picture.

Even though Obama says “America is not against Islam.” It is hard for those who have suffered as a result of our military to understand our words when our actions have contradicted this statement.

When I asked my Pakistani friend what she thought of this statement, she shared with me:

The statement is making it on the waves but there are people who are so devastated after losing their friends and families in drone attacks in past decades and their minds are kinda shelled to make any sense of it. They just want to know why it took so long to set forward this operation while the public BELIEVES that all the agencies knew all along where Bin Laden’s hiding. We are a nation of very accomplished and educated people but some of us have fallen for the Jihadi propaganda and news channels that come up with more conspiracy theories than real news. Many refuse to see the truth because it does not fit into our anti US/ West narrative that kinda redeveloped after the failure of Bin Laden’s capture hence resulting innocent killings all over the world and mainly in Pak/Afghan. I just hope that the “America is not against Islam” statement makes its mark and get through those minds the way it is meant and not make them retaliate in a negative way.

The picture of Americans dancing and rejoicing has now been spread around the world. What kind of reaction can we predict from radicals who will see these images?

We as Americans need to individually engage and educate ourselves on what is causing this anti-Westernism. The stakes are too high to make assumptions. We need to look at the big picture of what we have done, and reevaluate our personal positions to ensure that we are not fueling an unnecessary fire.