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Devastating tragedy as romance metaphor: The Backlash surrounding “Bawaal”

Bawaal, starring Varun Dhawan and Jahnvi Kapoor, has kicked up a nightmare. Jewish organisations and the Jewish embassy have not been kind to the trivialisation of the Holocaust as portrayed in the film. Read more here.

Bawaal runs into trouble for trivialisation of Jewish genocide
Sourced from Ex Bulletin

Bawaal, directed by Nitesh Tiwari, and playing on Prime Video, has lived up to its name. The film’s use of the Holocaust as a romance metaphor has stirred up a series of complaints. Know more here!

Bawaal has landed itself in deep trouble. The film, directed by Nitesh Tiwari, and based on a story by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, has generated quite a backlash recently.

What is Bawaal about?

Bawaal is about a middle-class History teacher from Lucknow who is more interested in fantasy cricket than taking history lessons at his school. We see a man-child from the very beginning of the movie. In fact, Varun Dhawan has perfected the man-child trope in Bollywood in recent times. His celebrated hits like Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania and even Sui-Dhaaga have played with the same characterization.

We see his character going on a trip to Europe to document World War II for the students of his school. His wife, a tired Jahnvi Kapoor, follows him. While on the school trip (honeymoon?), the couple discovers the horrors of the Holocaust and realizes (an incredulous moment) that “Every relationship goes through their Auschwitz”. Imagine comparing the state-sponsored extermination of 6 million Jews with the trouble afflicting a relationship.

Why did Bawaal draw so much flak?

Bawaal has been criticized by the audience, the critics, and even Jewish organizations. All have pointed out the ‘banal trivialisation’ portrayed by the director while dealing with a major tragedy. Trivedi has included dialogues in the movie such as “Every relationship goes through their Auschwitz” and “We are all a little like Hitler”. The Holocaust was a genocide that killed 6 million hapless Jews, gypsies, and the crippled. It was a gross disgrace to humanity and is still a sensitive topic across the world. Using it as a metaphor for a crumbling relationship takes away the spotlight from the terrifying ordeal that it was. To shoot a fantasy scene in the middle of a gas chamber and direct the spotlight away from the grotesque killing of hapless Jewish prisoners to Jahnvi Kapoor fainting is a gross misuse of thematic and cinematic liberties.

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The backlash

Israel’s ambassador to India, Naor Gilon tweeted on Friday, July 28, 2023, that:

I did not and will not watch the film Bawaal but from what I’ve read, there was a poor choice of terminology and symbolism. Trivialisation of the Holocaust should disturb all. I urge those who don’t know enough about the horrors of the #Holocaust to educate themselves about it Naor Gilon

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has called for a ban on Bawaal and asked Prime Video to withdraw it from their catalog. Their statement is as follows:

By having the protagonist in this movie declare that ‘Every relationship goes through their Auschwitz’, Nitesh Tiwari [the director], trivialises and demeans the memory of six million murdered Jews and millions of others who suffered at the hands of Hitler’s genocidal regime Simon Wiesenthal Center

Even Israel in India has spoken up about the gross trivialization of the Holocaust in Bawaal and asked about the measures to be taken to educate people about the genocide. They have however been more gracious towards the film and believe that there was no malice in the portrayal of the Holocaust.

What are the stars saying?

Bawaal is a star-studded affair. The leads are played by the likes of Varun Dhawan and Jahnvi Kapoor. Although Jahnvi Kapoor has not yet commented or shared her views regarding the criticisms received by the film, Varun Dhawan has. He has defended the film and declared on his social media profile that all the criticism is reserved for Bollywood movies. Hollywood movies like Nolan’s latest Oppenheimer got away scot-free even after including the Bhagavad Gita during a sex scene.

The director of Bawaal, Nitesh Tiwari wrote that if works of art are seen using magnifying glasses, then the mistakes become glorified and more visible. He has asked people to go easy on the film.

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What are your opinions?

Written By

Meghamala Ghosh is a post-graduate from the Department of English Literature at Presidency University, Kolkata. Her interests include films, music, books, and researching obscure historical facts in and around the City of Joy. She is particularly drawn to architectural, social, and entertainment-based journalism, although her passions also extend to academic research on political and cultural issues. In her spare time, she engages in Indian classical music and brushes up on her Shakespeare. Her aspiration is to be a writer who communicates not only through words but also through photography and performance.

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