The new Bollywood film Raees is on track to be one of the year’s biggest films in India. According to the Times of India, it is the third-biggest film of the year. However, it will not be playing in Pakistan, where the government has banned it for “not showing the real face of Islam.”
Pakistan’s Central Censor Board slammed the movie for its “inappropriate depiction of Muslims” and said it focused on “a sect of Muslims as bad” when blocking its release last Sunday, per CNN.
This came as a surprise to the filmmakers, especially star Shah Rukh Khan, who is one of the biggest stars in India, enormously popular in Pakistan, and a Muslim himself.
His co-star is Pakistani television star, Mahira Khan. She was almost prevented from appearing in the film when the Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association imposed a ban on Pakistani talent due to border clashes between India and Pakistan last year. She was unable to visit India to promote the film and had to settle for appearing alongside her co-stars by satellite link.
Khan has yet to make a public comment about the situation, but CNN quotes director Rahul Dholakia declaring himself “outraged” and “dumbfounded.” Pakistani cinema owners are also likely to be displeased as Indian films account for 60 to 70 percent of their earnings. Mahira Khan, already unhappy that she could not visit India to promote the movie, will doubtlessly be crushed that her big break cannot be screened in Pakistan. Just a few days ago, she said in an interview that she was “constantly on tenterhooks” waiting for Raees to be released in her country and would be “very happy” when it happened.
The problem, as FirstPost explains, is that Raees tells the true story of a Muslim in the 1980s who “indulges in the trade of liquor.” The movie was deemed insulting to Islam because “it subtly portrays Muslims as criminals, violent terrorists, wanted men, and gangsters.”
In other words, it is an action film about a bootlegger who was a Muslim. The real-life individual who inspired the film became a Robin Hood-style folk hero and grew influential in politics. That history might have had something to do with Pakistan’s decision to censor the movie.
The sect of Muslims portrayed in a negative light during the film are Shiites from Uttar Pradesh, who found one particular scene in Raees — involving Shah Rukh Khan “jumping over a religious structure” — so offensive that they boycotted the movie in India before Pakistan banned it. As FirstPost describes it, Khan’s character jumps over a procession carrying the A’lam Mubarak, a religious structure with historic significance, during a chase scene.
A few seconds of the scene in the movie’s trailer was enough to prompt the Shiite community to file a police report against the filmmakers as well as write a letter of protest to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They have demanded an apology from the production company along with the removal of the offending scene. Modi, incidentally, is a great fan of the film, declaring it a “must watch.”
To throw a non-religious controversy on top of all that, the son of the real-life gangster the movie is based on filed suit against the production for “misrepresenting facts about his father.”