Priyadarshan's Akshay Kumar starrer, BHOOL BHULAIYA, revives questions on the eternal debate between science and superstition as presented in mainstream Indian cinema. Which is interesting when juxtaposed against the deeply superstitious stars, directors and producers who inhabit the world of Indian cinema and television. Shoma A Chatterji takes a look at similar films and what they point at.
Ekta Kapoor's blind faith in the letter 'K' for the titles of her serials is one example of how tinsel people are guided by astrology. The other is that of the Bachchan family getting Aishwarya to marry a tree and so on before she could finally tie the knot with Abhishek. A star changing the spelling of his screen name is another example. Consulting astrologers to begin the muhurt of a film, or time the release of another film or even to choose the casting for the film is yet another phobia tinsel people suffer from. Against this backdrop, when a noted director chooses to make a film that could raise a debate between reason and belief should have proved a starting point to establish the credibility of science against the speculative worth of superstition. Superstition is not backed by proof other than your astrologer / numerologist / tantrik Guru's word for it. Will BHOOL BHULAIYA set a trend that decries superstition and holds up science?
?I am extremely excited about this film project. From a filmic perspective, I feel we have done a wonderful job of drawing audiences interested in seeing how the film opens the floodgates to a whole new dimension of thought and rationale about the human condition and psyche. The film brings into question society's perceptions of faith, superstition, science and reasoning," Akshay Kumar recently said in an interview before the release of BHOOL BHULAIYA.
"BHOOL BHULAIYAA is sure to spark debate and controversy, as it argues that there is no such thing as spirit possession, but rather that this is a manifestation of schizophrenia within the human psyche," said another promotional preview. But does the film really live up to this challenging promise? On the contrary, at the penultimate moment, Priyadarshan shies away from decrying the power of faith, religious rituals and superstitious beliefs and to uphold the validity and importance of a scientific temper. Ironically, he actually celebrates Hindu astrology, rituals and tantra by raising it to a global platform with the Tantric scholar invited to present papers at international seminars! Through BHOOL BHULAIYA, Priyadarshan tries to unite science and superstition in one of the unhappiest and incredible marriages of celluloid ideology till date. The film makes a reference to parapsychology that has no scientific proof yet to prove its veracity.
It is no use blaming Priyadarshan. If one traces the role superstition has played within Indian cinema, it has been more to perpetuate belief in superstition, in ghosts, in astrological predictions, than to reinforce the value of science in everyday life. GEHRAYEE (1980), directed jointly by Aruna and Vikas Desai, dealt with the subject of Uma, a young girl, (Padmini Kolhapure) who is suddenly 'possessed' by the 'spirit' of a dead woman. Despite objections from a rational father (Sreeram Lagu), her brother Nandu (Anant Nag) is desperate to surrender to any cure, including the occult, for his sister's malady. The film totally backs the occult and nullifies the reason that science prides in.
Article 51-A(h) of the Indian Constitution states that "it shall be the duty of every citizen of India... to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform." Sadly, this is never taken into account by the Central Board of Film Certification while clearing a film for its national release. No one blinks an eye when Indian cinema keeps harping on the triumph of superstition, ghosts, astrological predictions against the credibility and rationale that science offers. "The current popularity of Vastu Shastra has little to do with learning from indigenous traditions of architecture for contemporary needs. It has far more to do with various superstitions about the influence of various directions and how buildings are built in relation to these," says T Jayaraman, a rationalist. He goes on to add that public life in urban India has witnessed an enlargement of the space accorded to obscurantism in recent times. Proponents of obscurantism and superstition are aggressive about those who try to propagate a scientific temper, and even to those who simply wish to popularize science.
The best film till date to have strongly critiqued the predominance of astrological predictions over reality is ANKAHEE (1984), a film directed by Amol Palekar. Basically, it begins with a famous astrologer father's (Sreeram Lagu) conflict with his only son (Amol Palekar) over the girl (Devika Mukherjee) he wants to marry. The father is against the marriage because his authoritative predictions tell him that the son will get married twice because his first wife will die within nine months, probably at child-birth. Much against the wishes of his girlfriend, the son agrees to marry the slightly mentally retarded daughter (Deepti Naval) of his father's childhood friend with the faith that when this girl dies, he will be free to marry his girlfriend, a scientist who scoffs at all these astrological predictions. But the bride regains normality when she gets married and the girlfriend is unwilling to continue the relationship with a married man. The husband rapes his wife one night in desperation to make her pregnant. Does she die? No, she does not. Instead, the scientist girlfriend jumps to her death from a multi-storied building. She leaves a note saying that she died to prove that astrology has no claim over a person's life or death and that with her self-willed death, she asserted her right to die as, how and when she wanted to.
It was an understated and moving film with a brilliant musical score composed along semi-classical lines. Unfortunately, it flopped miserably at the box office.
One real-life example of how superstition has little value in real life goes like this. In February 2004, two important films, namely, Buddhadeb Dasgupta's SWAPNER DIN produced by Jhamu Sugandh and Anjan Das' EBONG SRIKANTA produced by Deepak Bajaj, began shooting to coincide with Shivratri. SWAPNER DIN has not been released yet while EBONG SRIKANTA was a miserable flop.