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Adipurush: Are Tacky VFX & Poor Acting Really the Only Villains Behind the Hate?

A week in, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re a left-leaning Hindu or a right-leaning one.

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About six months ago, the colour of Deepika Padukone’s bikini in Pathaan had a sizable part of the country up in arms. Lyrics of song 'Besharam Rang' and saffron clothes worn in the song needed to be corrected ‘or else,’ warned Madhya Pradesh home minister and BJP MP Narottam Mishra.

Soon #BoycottPathan was trending on Twitter, a petition filed in a court accusing the cast of hurting the sentiments of the Hindi community and there were multiple Prime Time debates across all major news channels. Mahant Paramhans Acharya of Tapasvi Chhavni was so enraged about Deepika’s swimsuit being saffron, a colour associated with Hinduism that he burnt a poster of… no, not Deepika; nor was it the film’s director, Siddharth Anand or producer, Aditya Chopra; but Shah Rukh Khan (go figure!).

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Criticism of Adipurush

In last week’s release Adipurush, Hanuman says ‘Kapda tere baap ka, aag tere baap ki, tel tere baap ka, jalegi bhi teri baap ki’. If you thought this tapori-esque language was some kind of an aberration, you’d be wrong because another character asks, ‘Yeh teri bua ka bageecha hai kya ki hawa khaane aa gaya’? Another warns, ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram bol aur apni jaan bacha le warna aaj khada hai kal leta hua milega’.

Until the film’s release when the criticism started rolling in, Adipurush had been sold to the masses as a re-telling of the Hindu mythological epic Ramayan (though the film’s writer Manoj Muntashir now insists it’s not). The film’s promotional events typically involved passionate chanting of Jai Shree Ram, and director Om Raut even requested a seat be set aside for Lord Hanuman at every screening in every theatre around the country.

Even if you make allowances for the film’s tacky VFX, perplexing creative choices and non-existing acting skills, there is no getting away from the fact that the film should have been a huge affront to the normally fragile Hindu sensibilities. Criticism, though, of Adipurush has been quite muted. While there have been some calls for boycotting the film, there have been no FIRs being filed against the film’s makers, their effigies aren’t being burnt and the film continues to be screened in theatres without police protection.

Why aren’t people offended by their favourite Gods being reduced to laughable caricatures on screen as they were by the colour of one bikini?

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Hate for the Film Has Been a Unifying Force

The difference between Adipurush and Pathaan, obviously, starts with the films’ titles. The former couldn’t get any more Indic and the latter more Abrahamic. And then, there are the BJP heavyweights like Yogi Adityanath, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Manohar Lal Khattar and Himanta Biswa Sarma who have been thanked for their support in the credits of Adipurush.

This means that even the fringe senas across the country who have worked overtime for the last nine years to protect Hinduism are on well-deserved vacations. Online, it would seem that the IT cell’s bot army were on #garmiyonkichhutti as well when the film dropped last Friday. Imagine the plight of regular Hindus like me, having to depend on leftist parody handles like @niiravmodi and @Cryptic_Miind to lead the battle for the honour of my religion.

A week in, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re a left-leaning Hindu or a right-leaning one. The online hate for the film seems to be India’s first unifying force since the freedom struggle.

Why then is the audience for whom Adipurush was made, hating on the film? Raut and Muntashir would have hoped that dialogues like ‘jo hamari behno ko haath lagayenge, unki lanka jala denge’ would be received with seetis and claps in every theatre. And, they aren’t even pretending otherwise.

Raut’s quote tweet from June 19th where he thanked a viewer who said ‘this film should have hurt jihadis and liberals but instead Hindus are upset’ has made his reason and hope for the film crystal clear for anyone who is interested. They must have thought that chants of Jai Shree Ram, invoking the bhagwa dhwaj (saffron flag) and giving Raavan Mughal undertones would be enough to make the box office go ka-ching. Only it wasn’t.

Remember how in 2021, the makers of Amazon Prime Video’s Taandav had to file for anticipatory bail because the religious sentiments of these same guardians of religion were hurt by a scene where actor Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub as Lord Shiva said something about ‘azaadi’. The makers of Taandav were accused of provoking communal tensions because of a dialogue in one scene. If this show’s makers had made a documentary on PM Modi’s Mann Ki Baat, much like Adipurush’s Muntashir, they obviously wouldn’t have had to worry. Religious sentiments, you see, only get hurt when the makers of a show or film aren’t from the right ecosystem.

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The 'Great Antagonist' is Missing

Right-leaning filmmakers though, haven’t always seen success with furthering their narrative. The earliest attempts of this kind focused on the innate sycophancy that seems to plague the breed, and the end products were typically political. A slew of films like Indu Sarkar (2017), The Tashkent Files (2019) and The Accidental Prime Minister (2019) sank without a trace. In the meantime, jingoistic films like Uri: The Surgical Strike (2019) and Manikarnika (2019) were doing pretty great business. Even a film like Padmaavat (2018) that drew the ire of the right wing ended up becoming a blockbuster.

The portrayal of its Muslim villain as an unwashed, sex-crazed savage seemingly struck a chord with audiences around the country, giving them exactly what they wanted to see.

It was beginning to dawn on these filmmakers that a great antagonist was as essential to the success of a film as a good protagonist and the semblance of a story. And what better villain to feature in one’s film than an entire community that’s anyway being vilified on a daily basis by television news anchors and on social media?

It’s a low-hanging fruit with the highest possible returns. The recent successes of films like The Kashmir Files (2022) and The Kerala Story (2023) bear witness to this phenomenon.

In Adipurush though, there’s no getting away from the fact that our antagonist is a Brahmin. Make him look like a Mughal but he’s still a Brahmin. This is probably where Om Raut and Manoj Muntashir missed a trick. If this isn’t based on the Ramayan as Muntashir claims and the tapori-speaking Bajrang isn’t Hanuman, they might as well have replaced Lankesh with Latif. The film might have broken the box office.

(The author is a film journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Adipurush 

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