Year 2013 saw the catastrophic fury of nature when the state of Uttarakhand was devastated and destroyed due to floods. One of the holiest shrines of Hindu Dharma, Kedarnath was completely destroyed – it has since been rebuilt. A town called Rambara, that used to serve as the midway to the pilgrims walking upto Kedarnath, was totally wiped out of existence. 1000s of people lost their lives, lakhs of pilgrims and tourists were left stranded and later rescued by heroic efforts of our armed forces.
As of 16 July 2013, according to figures provided by the Government of Uttarakhand, more than 5,700 people were “presumed dead.” This total included 934 local residents. Destruction of bridges and roads left about 300,000 pilgrims and tourists trapped in the valleys leading to three of the four Hindu Chota Char Dham pilgrimage sites. The Indian Air Force, the Indian Army, and paramilitary troops evacuated more than 110,000 people from the flood ravaged area. (Source: Wikipedia)
So deep was the pain & suffering of the people of Uttarakhand that the emotional scars are yet to heal. And 5 years after the diaster, Bollywood comes up with a movie, Kedarnath, that looks like a masala love story in the backdrop of these tragic floods. As per the film’s promos, it appears to be the usual love story of two social opposites – a poor porter (pitthu) and a middle-class girl who is a pilgrim.
This is how the lead actress Sara Ali Khan captioned the movie’s promo on her Instagram account:
‘No tragedy, no wrath of nature, no act of God can defeat the power of love’…..‘Love is a pilgrimage’ are the taglines of the movie.
So, was God trying to defeat the power of love through the Kedarnath flash floods? Were the thousands who lost their lives in this tragedy just collateral damage, a side-story to this ‘all-important’ love story? Guess we will have to ask the director Abhishek Kapoor and producer Ronnie Screwvala about that.
There must have been hundreds of real-life human interest stories – of heroic bravery, miraculous rescues and tragic loss – from the Kedarnath disaster. Any of those could easily have been woven into a riveting narrative which conveys the magnitude of the disaster in this holy, scenic setting. But for mainstream Bollywood, the real story is never enough – they have to give central place to the idea of romantic love. So the very real tragedy at this holiest of Hindu shrines was pushed to the background, a mere prop in the face of ‘all-conquering’ love….love which knows no boundaries.
But just milking the Kedarnath tragedy to sell a movie was not enough for Bollywood. Every love story needs a twist, and in keeping with today’s liberal mores, this time around the heroine belongs to a practising/orthodox Hindu family (faithfully depicted with a strict, tilak bearing father who is seen in the trailer trying to purify(?) his daughter in the Mandakini river) while the hero is a simple Muslim porter who happily clicks selfies with his Hindu pilgrim clients and even participates in community aartis in the temple town where the besotted girl makes coquettish advances at him.
In fact, going by the trailer, the girl’s father forbids his daughter’s relation with the Muslim porter saying ‘Nahin hoga yeh sangam, phir chahe pralay hi kyon na aaye’ (this union will not happen, even if this causes cosmic destruction). In time-honoured filmy tradition, the heart-broken girl then vows to do jaap (prayer through chanting) to invoke pralay – and lo and behold, her prayers are answered and a horrific flash flood eviscerates the temple town and everything in its path. See, such is the power of a true lover’s bhakti that even God is forced to unleash his wrath to punish all of humanity for failing to protect that love!
Of course, after one has piggy-backed on a tragedy, debased the profound holiness of a holy site and regurgitated standard Bollywood stereotypes of Hindus and Muslims, it doesn’t take much to play fast & loose with facts as well. Those who have been to Kedarnath say that porters there are mostly Nepali or local Hindus, while it’s the militarily-protected Amarnath yatra that employs Muslim porters. As an aside, why the Amarnath yatra came to the stage where it required massive security deployment, is a topic that Bollywood would prefer not to broach.
The movie Kedarnath also turns on it head the nature of many Hindu girl-Muslim man relationships seen in Uttarakhand and adjacent Western UP these days. Locals categorize these relations under the catch-all, colloquial term ‘Love Jihad‘. Such is the abhorrence of our liberal artistes to this term that its very utterance drives them into apoplectic rage or hoots of denial.
But far away from the distorted depiction of reality in Bollywood and newspaper editorials, ‘Love Jihad’ is all too real. It’s a phenomenon which is gnawing away at the vitals of our society, and movies like Kedarnath are adding to the dissonance by suppressing a reality which will one day blow up in our collective faces.
On a finishing note, here is an idea for a Bollywood film – the real-life story of national-level rifle shooter Tara Shahdeo, which has a strong social message along with all the elements a successful movie needs: love, betrayal, suspense, horror and a happy ending.
Anyone game enough to make this movie? Or if this is considered too ‘controversial’, a love story between a Muslim girl-Hindu boy set in the backdrop of the Cheraman Perumal mosque and this year’s devastating Kerala floods, perhaps?
Did you find this article useful? We’re a non-profit. Make a donation and help pay for our journalism.