Bawaal: Bollywood film accused of trivialising Holocaust

Varun Dhawan and Janhvi Kapoor in Bawaal
Image caption,Bawaal has been mired in controversy since its release last Friday

By Geeta Pandey and Cherylann Mollan

BBC News

A Jewish organisation has written to Amazon Prime asking the streaming service to remove Bollywood film Bawaal from its platform for its “insensitive portrayal” of the Holocaust.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center says the film trivialises the “suffering and systematic murder of millions”.

Many in India have also criticised the film for the way it has used the Holocaust in the romantic drama.

But the cast and director have called the criticism unwarranted.

Since the film released on Prime Video last Friday, cinema critics and viewers have criticised some scenes and dialogue that draw a parallel between the protagonists’ love story and the Holocaust.

The film includes a fantasy scene inside a gas chamber and uses Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and the Auschwitz death camp as metaphors.

It stars popular actors Varun Dhawan and Janhvi Kapoor in the lead roles as a recently-married couple, travelling in Europe.

He’s a history teacher and his aim is to make Instagram reels to teach World War Two to his students and she is hoping to make one last attempt to save their failing marriage.

Websites that track the performance of Bollywood films have declared Bawaal a commercial hit – they say it has already attracted between six and seven million views and, on Thursday, the Prime Video app showed it leading the “Top 10 in India” list.

But ever since its release, the film has been making news for the wrong reasons – it did not get many positive reviews, with critics pointing out that the use of the Holocaust imagery and dialogue was in bad taste.

In one scene, Hitler is used as a metaphor to describe human greed, with the character played by Kapoor saying, “We’re all a little like Hitler, aren’t we?”

In another instance, she says “every relationship goes through their Auschwitz” – a reference to Nazi Germany’s largest death camp where almost a million Jews were killed.

Bawaal controversy
Image caption,Some of Janhvi Kapoor’s dialogue in the film has been criticised

In a recreation of the horrors at the camp, the couple dressed in striped clothing are placed inside a gas chamber, where they are surrounded by people who are screaming and suffocating.

On Tuesday, Jewish human rights organisation Simon Wiesenthal Center also joined in the criticism – it said in a statement that Auschwitz should not be used as a metaphor as it’s a “quintessential example of man’s capacity for evil”.

“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,” the statement said.

“If the filmmaker’s goal was to gain PR [publicity] for their movie by reportedly filming a fantasy sequence at the Nazi death camp, he has succeeded,” it added.

The statement also asked Amazon Prime to “stop monetising” the film and immediately remove it from its platform.

Though the makers of the film have not responded to the statement yet, Dhawan had said in an earlier interview during the film’s promotional tour that people took offence at small things in Hindi films but tended to give more leeway to English films.

Director Nitesh Tiwari had said that films should not be viewed with a “magnifying glass” because then “you’ll find problems with every piece of work created”.

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