Cinematic Representation of Muslims in Indian Cinema

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Since its inception in the early twentieth century, popular Indian cinema has become a global commodity that has both changed and been changed by the world it represents. This evolution is borne out particularly well by cinematic representations of India’s ethnic minority groups, Muslims in particular, who went from depicting the aristocracy in earlier films to embodying the figure of terrorist in recent films. Why does Muslim cinematic representation matter? Its shifting nature gives us a pulse of the nation; it offers us a view of what matters to the nation by way of its popular imagination, and it also helps us to understand what forces are at work when something that mattered at one time in the nation’s history ceases to matter at another time. In this paper I maintain that the exclusion of Muslim subjects from Indian cinema has not been altogether successful. The “not quite not Indian” Muslim terrorist, while cast out of the national narrative as the parasite feeding on the body politic, returns in cinematic form to call attention to the ambivalent and incomplete script of liberal modernity. We should read the figure of the Muslim terrorist as symptomatic of the modern nation-state’s inability to resolve its own ambivalence vis-à-vis minority groups. Its foundational doctrines, derived in part from European liberal philosophy, speak of people as a unified collectivity, yet this collectivity is not commensurate with the actual diversity, differences, and hierarchies among its citizenry.


Presented at the British Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies Annual Conference, Savannah, GA.