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ATimes: Scorn for Bollywood ban
By Kalinga Seneviratne

28/3/2001 11:59 am Wed

[Cerita Bollywood telah ditayang terlalu berlebih-lebihan sehingga kehormatan hari raya dan bulan puasa turut tercemar.

Umumnya cerita Bollywood berkisar kepada kisah hidup yang memerlukan dua 'nyawa' yang dirasakan segala-galanya:

1) Cinta kepada seseorang yang menjadi impian dan

2) Hiburan menjadi penghias kehidupan yang tidak dapat dipisahkan.

Baik atau tidak cerita Bollywood dapat dipastikan dengan melihat gelagat anak muda yang menonton berjam-jam. Mereka menjadi rindu kepada seseorang sehingga lupa sesuatu yang terpegang. Padahal ada satu lagi cinta lain yang lebih agung dari segala-galanya. Cinta kepada tuhan walaupun Dia tidak dapat dipandang tetapi hati merasa senang dan tenteram dimana hiburan dunia pun tidak akan mampu merangsang.
- Editor

Asia Times
27th March 2001

Scorn greets Malaysian clerics' call for Bollywood ban

By Kalinga Seneviratne

KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian government is moving to counter what it says is the negative influence of popular Indian movies on the majority Malay population, including the possibility of importing Arabic movies for screening on television networks here.

A lively debate has been going on in the media here in recent weeks after the Malaysian Council of Islamic Jurists (Mufti) said in late February that Indian movies, which are hugely popular here, are having a corrupting influence on the majority Malay population. The council said their screening on local television should be restricted, a proposal that has been met with objection and scorn by commentators, analysts and followers of these films.

Council spokesman Harussani Zakaria said that these movies have a strong influence among poorer Malays, who have much spare time to watch television. This, he argued, exposed viewers to excessively passionate scenes available in Hindi movies, which lead to incidents of incest.

Ethnic Malays make up half of Malaysia's 22 million people. A quarter are ethnic Chinese, and 8 percent are ethnic Indians.

The government immediately announced a study into the social impact of Indian movies in Malaysia and persuaded television channels, which have been showing Bollywood movies almost every day, to limit the screenings from April. Likewise, the government says that it will import Arabic movies and ask the television networks to screen these to balance the Indian influence.

Information Minister Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob recently told a gathering of leaders of the ruling United Malays National Organization (Umno) party that these movies should be wecomed by Malaysia's Muslim viewers because they were produced by Muslim countries. The Muslim clerics were also upset by the almost non-stop screening of Indian movies by all the national television channels, particularly during the end of the fasting month Hari Raya (Ramadan) festive day in December.

But the Mufti's call to limit Indian movies have been greeted with much skepticism and scorn by Bollywood fans in Malaysia. Many media commentators have also condemned the call.

"The fact is Malaysians of all races love to watch Bollywood movies, whether for the soap opera storyline, the handsome actors or beautiful actresses, panoramic scenery or the catchy songs and dance routings," said the English-language daily Star in an editorial. "After being a source of popular entertainment for more than half a century, it is strange that questions are being asked whether Bollywood movies are a negative influence on Malaysian youth," it added.

Saying that more than 60 percent of Malaysians are fans of Bollywood, the Star said sarcastically: "At this rate, there must be quite a number of us with a bent toward violence and mayhem."

"How in the name of anything could Hindi movies be an immoral influence?" asked Tripat Narayanan, writing in the Sun newspaper. He argues that the real reason for the opposition lies in concerns about cultural influence due to the frenzied following Indian movies have here. "The glitz and glamor of Bollywood is indeed infectious," he pointed out. "Already the Malay baju [flowing traditional dress] is aligned along the lines of the salwar-kameez-dupatta [Indian] fashion. The local music industry is all but overtaken by Bollywood and its influence."

Opposition politician and Islamic scholar Dr Chandra Muzaffar argues that it is wrong to blame Bollywood movies for the social ills of the Malays. "I don't think the movies generally bring negative values," he said. "Very often, it's the triumph of good over evil."

The Mufti members are also believed to be concerned about the statues, images and idols of Hindus in Indian films. But Chandra argues that just because viewers see these statues does not mean they are going to surrender their faith. "If that's the depth of one's belief, then I think the Muslim clerics have a lot to answer for," he added.

Bollywood stars like Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, who are extremely popular especially among Malay women, are Muslims. Chandra says one problem the Muslim clerics see may be that these actors' taking part in Hindu rituals in the films. But this should not be seen as a problem, he argues, because they are doing a job as actors, not representatives of a religion.

According to media reports, sources close to the Muslim clerics have said these clerics are also worried about what to them has been the increasing incidents of Malay girls marrying Bangladeshi migrant workers in the country - because they are seen as look-alikes of the Bollywood superstars.

Chandra dismisses these simplistic arguments. He points out that in factories in the countryside, Malay women and Bangladeshi men work side by side, while Malay men shun these jobs. This creates the environment for inter-ethnic romances, he says. "Malays and Indians have intermarried long before Bollywood or migrant workers came here," he said. "Malay history is full of interaction with Indian civilization. So I don't think we must make a big issue out of this."

The number of Malaysian women marrying Bangladeshis has already prompted the government to clamp down on the hiring of migrant workers from Bangladesh.

Many fans of Bollywood movies have asked why the government is not asking for restrictions on the screening of Hollywood and Chinese movies on local television, saying they perhaps show more sex and violence than Indian ones.

Even Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad recently said that Western rap music with vulgar, sexist and violent lyrics is a greater threat to Malay youth and culture. Yet, so far, there have been no moves to restrict its broadcasts in Malaysia. One reason may be that Hollywood and other Western products are popular mainly among the urban middle class, while Bollywood films are popular in the Malay heartland.

"It [Bollywood] is wrongly identified with another community in our midst - the people of Indian origin. Hollywood and western culture, we all know, has a strong influence, but it is not readily identified with a community in our midst," observed Chandra.

The Muslim clerics' call has also come at a rather awkward time for the Mahathir government, which has been strongly wooing the Bollywood film industry in recent months to entice it to use Malaysia as a location for shooting films. In fact, a few weeks before the clerics' outburst, leading Bollywood stars were filming their song and dance sequences for a new film opposite leading landmarks in the capital, such as the Federal Court building, the Petronas Twin Towers and the Merdeka Square.

The Malaysian government sees such collaboration as crucial to their plans to develop a multibillion dollar film production center here, as well as to tap into the increasing Indian tourist market. Thus, while the government is trying to please the Islamic clerics, it is also taking pains to ensure that this issue does not get out of hand.

"We have received complaints from some quarters about the influence of Bollywood movies, but, at the same time, we also received support for such movies, especially from women," said Khalil, while explaining the government's move to bring in Arabic movies. Added Khalil: "To be fair, we are looking at showing more Arab movies, besides continuing to show Bollywood movies."

(Inter Press Service)