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'Bawaal' Uses Holocaust as a Plot Device – Only to Make a Mockery of the Tragedy

Nitesh Tiwari's 'Bawaal' blurs the line between artistic expression and exploiting a real-life tragedy.

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There's a lot happening in Nitesh Tiwari's Bawaal. It is a story about a self-absorbed, image-obsessed Ajay (Varun Dhawan), a pleasant but ignorant Nisha (Janhvi Kapoor), and their tumultuous marriage that is saved by, believe it or not, a trip to Europe, precisely the World War II locations.

The entire film is an attempt to draw life lessons from the war, but the problem is that they are all the wrong lessons – and that makes it irredeemable. The Holocaust has been compared to the 'internal war' that Ajay battles, Hitler is equated with human greed, and the entire World War is being used as a plot device for the two characters to reflect on their flaws.

While the first half is somewhat bearable, as the film progressed, I grew increasingly uncomfortable, frustrated, and utterly disappointed with its insensitivity. By the end, I was only left with disbelief.

Let's take a look at all the things that are wrong with the Nitesh Tiwari movie.

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World War Used as a Plot Device

Early on in the film Ajay says, "Mahol aisa banao ki logon ko mahol yaad rahe result nahi (Create such a situation that people forget about the outcome)". By this point it is clear that he is a self-obsessed, selfish, and image-conscious individual, dissatisfied with both his personal and professional life.

Nitesh Tiwari's 'Bawaal' blurs the line between artistic expression and exploiting a real-life tragedy.

Janhvi Kapoor and Varun Dhawan in a still from Bawaal.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Later, he repeats this dialogue while planning a visit to Europe and the World War sites after facing a setback at his school, where he is a teacher. It becomes evident that Ajay's intention is not to educate his students about history, but to salvage his own image. This is when the film begins to lose its integrity.

Using World War II as a mere 'plot' device to serve the character's superficial desires is rather disturbing. Then, of course, the cause of war is blamed on just 'greed' and 'passion', with there being no mentions of the historical context and the reasons that actually led to one of the darkest chapters of human history.

The oversimplification of the war to fit the narrative of 'self-reflection' that ultimately saves their drowning marriage and restores Ajay's dented image is an injustice to history.

Holocaust Being Used To Dish Out Basic Lessons

As the movie progresses, Ajay and Nisha visit more monuments and sites to know about the War, but their journey towards self-realisations and the quest to find happiness in their relationship is grossly misguided. The way the makers have tried to put these characters into the shoes of victims is nothing but making a mockery of the tragedy. 

Take, for example, their visit to Anne Frank's house, that serves as a glaring example of insensitivity. After learning about Frank, Ajay asks Nisha how she would spend her last day. To which she replies that she wants to dress up, sit in a cafe, and drink beer. 

Nitesh Tiwari's 'Bawaal' blurs the line between artistic expression and exploiting a real-life tragedy.
I understand the temptation of evoking feelings of ‘carpe diem’ and ‘living everyday as if it's your last’, but all I’d ask was some respect and awareness about the context in which it's set.
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Then comes even more problematic instances where incidents from the war are actually recreated, placing the characters in those situations but completely removing them from the historical context.

Before visiting Auschwitz, Janhvi remarks, "World War to khatam ho gayi magar andar ki war kab khatam hogi, koi nahi janta (The World War is over but no one knows when our internal battles will end)". Let me point this out again – neither Ajay nor Nisha are victims of a tragedy equivalent to the Holocaust or facing a life-and-death situation. How did the filmmakers equate the grotesque violence, suffering and atrocities to internal conflicts?

In another incident, a 'Holocaust survivor' speaks about his separation from his wife during the Auschwitz camp. ‘‘Every relationship goes through their Auschwitz," the person says. A tumultuous and unhappy relationship being directly compared to the tragedy of Auschwitz where more than 6 million Jews were killed is not just irresponsible or tone-deaf, but extremely offensive.
Nitesh Tiwari's 'Bawaal' blurs the line between artistic expression and exploiting a real-life tragedy.

Trivialising and Whitewashing Hitler

Forget the movie for a few seconds, let’s talk about Hitler. If I, or anyone for that matter, were to describe him, we’d probably use terms like fascist, dictator or tyrant, whose anti-Semitic and violent actions led to the murder of millions of Jews. But in this film Hitler is being painted as a ‘selfish‘ and ‘greedy’ individual whose ‘junoon’ drove him to do what he did.

Nitesh Tiwari's 'Bawaal' blurs the line between artistic expression and exploiting a real-life tragedy.

The references to Hitler don't stop there. Nisha says, "Hum sab bhi thode bahut Hitler jaise hi hain na (We are all a little bit like Hitler, aren't we?)," when talking about our greed and selfishness.

Comparing a dictator with the masses is, at the very least, grossly unfair and highly irresponsible. It whitewashes the atrocities done by Hitler and is a huge disservice to the victims and survivors of the tragedy.

This disturbing trend of humanising Hitler is not unique to Bawaal. Recently, Ranveer Allahbadia, also known as Beerbiceps, remarked in his podcast, "Hitler was an evil man, but who isn’t?"

These gross attempts of humanising Hitler contribute to the acceptance of extremist ideologies.

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Disturbing Recreations of The Concentration Camp

In Bawaal, there are countless disturbing recreations of visuals from the Holocaust and the largest concentration camp in Auschwitz. These visuals are merely there to evoke feelings of 'empathy' for Ajay, who is struggling to dissociate himself from his 'evils' and 'horrors'. There is a dumbfounding scene that actually tries to depict what happened in the gas chambers, and it's baffling to say the least.

Nitesh Tiwari's 'Bawaal' blurs the line between artistic expression and exploiting a real-life tragedy.
It is shameful and disconcerting to see the suffering of victims be so grossly exploited for shock value.
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Honestly, I could go on and on about the problems in the film, but I would like to stop here and pose a question – what is the moral responsibility of a filmmaker who has chosen a World War as the backdrop?

In his interviews, director Nitesh Tiwari spoke about why he chose World War II. He said, "Rather than him (Ajay) teaching World War 2 in school, he could have been teaching any of our historical stuff. My biggest thing was to bring something fresh, which I always crave to offer to my audience, both in terms of the story and visually."

Was it necessary to use war as a tool to narrate a love story?

Nitesh Tiwari's 'Bawaal' blurs the line between artistic expression and exploiting a real-life tragedy.

Secondly, while recreating historical moments, it is essential and obligatory to stay true to its context. Normalising Hitler and calling him 'greedy' without actually delving into the deeper issues of his personality, pose a great risk of eroding historical memory and collective understanding of the atrocities committed during his regime.

While artistic freedom is essential, there is a need for introspection and the implications of such portrayals.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Bawaal   Varun Dhawan   Hitler 

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