This week, we’ll be discussing Hindi cinema’s take on Muslims in relation to ideas of the nation. We will do so by focusing on the 1994 film Roja (originally released in Tamil, subsequently released in Hindi).

You will have a prompt for Thursday, not Tuesday, but do post discussion questions. In particular, think about the questions that these readings raise for you and how they might apply to the movie. Mark up the readings (manually or digitally) by highlighting, circling, and annotating anything you find confusing or want to discuss in more depth.


Viewing: Here is a link to a subtitled YouTube version of Roja (Hindi):

If you find another version, please let me know. Here is the Wikipedia overview of the film:

I’m looking forward to seeing many of you at tonight’s concert! Here’s a lovely interview with Zakir Hussain in today’s Cornell Sun


  • Divya Sriram

    1) Are Muslim characters always “otherized” in Hindi films? While they certainly are in Roja, I can also think of many films where a Muslim is a lead role or a sympathetic figure (Veer Zara, Bombay).

    2) Even though Muslims are often “otherized,” it is interesting to think that many of the major actors in Bollywood are Muslim (Shah Rukh Kahn, Saif li Kahn, Salman Kahn, AR Rahman, Amir Khan, etc) and those actors often play Hindu actors. Does the presence of Muslim figures in the film industry mitigate the problems raised by “otherizing?”

    • Salem Argaw

      That’s a very interesting point you made, Divya. I would expect the presence of Muslim actors to mitigate the problem, but I wonder if the issue persists because they continue to play Hindu characters. Does Bollywood push for Hindu characters because it better fits the mass consumers of these films? How well are movies with lead Muslim characters received?

    • Sayma Parhana

      Both questions you raise were things I thought about. Growing up, my understanding of Bollywood has always been that they are embracing of Muslims due to the fact that their most famous figures are Muslim, as well as the plethora of Muslim roles Bollywood films always has, hence reading these texts was a bit surprising for me. However, perhaps things have been quite different since we’ve been alive.

    • Nuha

      My Name Is Khan was also a great movie in which there were majority Muslim characters. However, it is rare to see a woman in hijab or niqqab on the Bollywood screen, although this might relate to gender norms on the Bollywood screen as a whole.

  • Salem Argaw

    1) When Roja first meets the general and pleads her case, he yells and points to all the Indian military men who have lost their lives in this war. In this scene, can it be said that he is questioning her loyalty to India? And if so, how does this fit to what Pandey states on page 611 (“the test of loyalty is in fact required only of those who are not ‘real,’ ‘natural’ citizens) and the fact that Roja is an Indian citizen?
    2) I have been searching for an explanation for the killing of the 16 young men who were headed to train in Pakistan in the movie. Looking through the readings, has anyone been able to make some connections?
    3) Who are the intended audience members of this film? How was this made clear in the film?

  • Sayma Parhana

    1) Where does Bollywood fascination with Muslim “exoticism” draw from? What cultural influences that are generally tied to Islam can be seen often in the Bollywood films?

    2) How did public attitude towards Muslims, or other identities in general, shape the depictions of Muslims in Bollywood films during those times?

    3) What are some films we’ve seen that explore Muslims, and how does the time period they were made correspond to the characterization of their Muslims in the film? I.e think of when Amar Akbar Anthony was made and where Muslims fit during that time in the “exoticism-demonism-secular” theme.

  • Naomi Raymond

    1) Is there any distinction between the way Muslim vs. Hindu actors/singers are respected? For example, A.R. Rahman converted to Islam, which seems to have been choosing the harder route in life; however, he is clearly a talented, respected, and well-loved music director. Did his talent have to be enough to overcome the fact that he was a Muslim Indian? Do you think the knowledge of this perception of Muslim Indians changes the way A.R. Rahman writes music, by trying to appeal to a certain audience to prove his nationalism?

    2) How do you think Bollywood has managed to escape the religious problems in India? Films often reflect the issues that are going on in a country, implicitly if not explicitly (such as Zootopia). Do you think the fact that Bollywood has typical themes for its stories might have contributed to its continuity as a universal form of entertainment?

    3) Given the country’s attitude toward Muslim Indians in the latter half of the 20th century, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Muslims in Bollywood split off and created their own version of film. How did Bollywood remain largely immune to these problems without “otherizing” Muslim actors or other film staff?

    • Nuha

      I think that by being an entertainment industry, Bollywood has been able to remain secular even while the Indian government and other structures might not be.

  • Sonali Tolani

    Discussion Questions:

    1. Recently, because of the attacks and tension in Kashmir, Indians put a ban on Pakistani actors and they were made to leave the country. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (a new Karan Johar movie), releasing later this month, stars Fawad Khan (a popular Pakistani actor) has been banned from being screened in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Goa. Do you think that attacking Bollywood is the right way to retaliate to the conflicts in Kashmir?

    2. Do you think that movies with Muslims in the lead are representative of the communal society, and do the changes between Hindu and Muslims affect the portrays of this relationship in films?

  • Alya Mistry

    1. Do we see other religions also being “otherized” in Bollywood movies and if so, is it as rampant as the article claims “otherizing” of Muslims is?

    2. What would you say is the overarching theme in the movie Roja? Would you say there is more than one?

  • Brandon Nolasco

    By practicing Islam in India, one could either be a nationalist Muslim or merely a “Muslim.” However, if one were to contribute the same extent to their country but instead practice Hinduism, they would be Hindu nationalists or secular nationalists. Interestingly enough, the first binary presents the individual as foremost Muslim while the latter presents the individual as foremost nationalist. How has this explicit assumption and preservation of a good/bad power relationship hindered India’s potential for reform in other area’s post Independence?

    With Gyanendra Pandey’s discussion of “minority” and “majority” tackling an understanding of such beyond quantitative description, under what circumstances is it possible for a “majority” purely numerically to overcome/change/resolve their identity as a “minority” by social norms/consensus? Could these circumstances carry into the context of India’s Muslim/Hindu counterparts? If it is possible, how so?

  • Nuha

    1. It’s interesting to consider the “othering” of Muslims in India because of the historical presence of Muslims in India. For example, during the Mughal empire, most of India was Muslim. I was wondering what structural factors might have contributed to the othering of Muslims from their once prominent place in society to today?

    2. The movie Roja reminded me of a more recent movie, “Fanaa”, which also addresses Indian nationalism. Both of these movies present women as quintessentially Indian, drawing back to what was discussed in “Mother India” where women are always seen as the nation. How does the idea of nationalism differ between genders?

    3. The readings draw an eerie comparison to the status of Muslims in America today where they have to always show a performative nationalism. For example, in the debate last week, both candidates repeatedly stated that there was a difference between “American” Muslims and other Muslims, and that it was a responsibility for Muslims to report other Muslims.

  • Dylan Manley

    Does the proposed harmony of communalism, in which a society can function optimally based on a prevailing ideology, outweigh the intrinsic value of diversity within a broader society?

    What dangers are associated with homogenized societies in terms of isolation? What are the pros and cons of such isolation?

    How has foreign intervention played a role in the escalation of tensions with regards to cultural homogenization and hegemonies in India, especially with regards to hindu-muslim conflicts?

  • Masoom Chainani

    Discussion Question:

    1. What is India’s perspective on America? In the movie, when they say they speak English what the subtitle reads is that they are intelligent? How does India see America?

    2. In the Pandey reading, we learn about India’s reaction to Muslim’s in India immediately before and during Partition. With an overall initial negative sentiment, what caused a shift in emotions towards Muslims in India? What about other religious groups in India?

    3. Is it odd getting Indian actors to play the villains in this movie, villains who want to separate from India and create an independent state?

    4. The wikipedia page says this movie was re-released in light of terrorist attacks, can it be argued that there is some aspect of propaganda in this movie? Inciting a spiriting of patriotism?

  • Morgan Judge-Tyson

    1) I am confused about why muslim characters are so prominent when most of India is Hindu. Is that accurate? I understand that muslim culture had a large impact on hindi cinema, but I don’t really understand why they don’t have more main characters that practice hinduism if thats a majority of their audience.
    2) It would be interesting to compare the Kashmir conflict to todays issues with communalism and ideologies. I feel like most conflict I hear today is based off of a people across the world disagreeing, but the Kashmir conflict was mostly an issue of people being separated and then frustrated with their previous situation, and taking it out on each other. (i have a lot of questions about it and feel as though i’m not grasping all the issues that were present, but I am sure it’ll be cleared up in class)

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