Controversial Film ‘Hamare Baraah’ Sparks Outcry Over Anti-Muslim Stereotypes

Samah Qundeel,

New Delhi: In sync with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s inflammatory rhetoric labelling Muslims as “people who have more children”, the upcoming Hindi movie ‘Hamare Baraah’ has ignited a firestorm of controversy. Originally titled ‘Hum Do, Hamare Baraah’, the film addresses themes of Muslim family dynamics and women’s lack of agency — mirroring divisive narratives in contemporary politics.

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The film has drawn significant backlash on social media, with critics arguing that it perpetuates harmful stereotypes. By depicting Muslims as chauvinists and sex addicts and misusing Quranic verses, the film has been accused of reinforcing Islamophobic tropes. Hashtags like #BoycottHamareBaraah and #BoycottZeeMusicCompany are trending on microblogging site X (formerly Twitter).

Misrepresentation of Quranic Verses

The movie’s narrative aligns with the growing trend of anti-Muslim rhetoric in India. Its synopsis states, “A woman takes her father to court to allow her mother, who is in the middle of a risky pregnancy, the right to terminate the pregnancy in order to save her life.”

The film’s central antagonist, portrayed by Annu Kapoor, is depicted as a Muslim man who is both a chauvinist and a sex addict. This portrayal reinforces long-standing stereotypes, which unfairly malign Muslim men — contributing to harmful tropes and Islamophobia. When such stereotypes are repeated often enough, it begins to be perceived as facts.

Numerous studies highlight the profound impact of movies on shaping young people’s attitudes. According to research published by the National Library of Medicine, USA, “Movies can significantly impact gender and ethnic stereotypes, alter attitudes towards certain groups of people and lead to newly formed opinions on various issues.”

Scholars have noted the film cherry-picks and distorts Quranic verses to paint an unfavorable picture of Islam.

Dr Tawheeda Fazili, a microbiologist and Islamic scholar, remarked, “The verses cited in the film are grossly misinterpreted and taken out of context. The Holy Quran must be understood in its entirety, considering historical and cultural contexts. This film presents a skewed version of its teachings.”

She explains that the Quranic verses mentioned in the movie are misrepresented. “The verses actually discuss lawful sexual conduct, prohibiting sodomy and having children only with your wife. The teachings also advise against engaging in sexual activities when the wife is unwell or menstruating.”

Regarding the status and rights of women, Dr Fazili adds, “Islam highly encourages the education of women, as being educated fosters confidence, self-esteem and self-respect. Women need to be aware of the challenges in the outside world. Education empowers them to work, be self-sufficient and fulfill the needs of the community. Islam explicitly prohibits a man from hitting a woman. If someone misinterprets the verses, it is entirely their fault.”

Reinforcement of Harmful Tropes

The portrayal of the film’s antagonist — a Muslim man depicted as a chauvinist and sex addict — has sparked outrage. Dr Fazili noted, “In Islam, men are supposed to be leaders in a servant capacity, not dictators. In fact the blessed Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) reiterated this by saying, ‘The best among you is the best to your family and I am the best to mine.’ Any misrepresentation is a fault of individual interpretation, not Islamic teachings.”

Growing Anti-Muslim Sentiment in Cinema

Filmmaker Ehraz Zaman, known for his acclaimed documentary, ‘In A Dissent Manner’, criticized the movie, stating, “The trailer was absurd to the point of being funny. The image of a Muslim man parading with multiple wives and harming them is just how the right-wing describes us. This film materializes a popular, yet damaging, narrative.”

“In recent years, there has been a disturbing increase in the number of Islamophobic films coming out of Bollywood, seemingly designed to provoke those already influenced by bigotry. ‘Hamare Baraah’ is just the latest addition to these films,” he says.

Some of its recent examples, according to him, are ‘The Kerala Story’, ‘Article 370’ and ‘The Kashmir Files’. All of it aligns with this trend of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in the country, where political and social discourse often targets the community.

Zaman continues, “If you watch any film, which claims to reveal the ‘truth’ about Indian Muslims, you will notice striking similarities. These movies often rely on dubious research and claim to be ‘based on a true story’. They capture the anxieties of extremists with the sole motive of vilifying a community.”

As a filmmaker, he believes that responsible filmmakers would not rush to create sensationalist movies about any religion or community.

“Many great filmmakers like Satyajit Ray or Syed Akhtar Mirza have made thoughtful films about religious practices, biases and dogmatism. Their work comes from genuine observation and a commitment to exploring societal layers. Any subject requires thorough research, a balanced perspective and an intentional distancing from stereotypes. Films like ‘Hamare Baraah’ only serve to reinforce existing stereotypes about a community, which is harmful and dehumanizing. To create nuanced films, filmmakers need to conduct proper research and collaborate with members of the community they portray to avoid stereotypes and present authentic realities,” he concludes.

Impact on Society 

Many feel that the portrayal of Muslims in ‘Hamare Baraah’ goes beyond artistic expression and has real-world implications. They say misrepresentation and stereotyping can incite discrimination and violence against the Muslim community.

Advocate Faiqah Reshu emphasizes, “Harmful stereotypes in the media can lead to real-world consequences, influencing public opinion and justifying discriminatory policies. Filmmakers need to understand the impact of their work on society.”

Calls for Responsible Filmmaking

The controversy surrounding the movie underscores the need for more responsible filmmaking.

Vansh Sharma, a filmmaking student at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia, advocates for filmmakers to strive for nuanced and accurate portrayals of minority communities, promoting understanding rather than division.

He emphasizes that the Indian film industry has a rich history of diverse storytelling and urges today’s filmmakers to uphold this legacy with integrity and empathy, rather than succumbing to hate-mongering and propagandist agendas.

In conclusion, such movies epitomize a troubling trend in Indian cinema where Muslims are frequently depicted in a negative light — contributing to a broader narrative of discrimination and prejudice.