Indian Films named after Hitler
By Sarah Siddiqui
From calling someone a “grammar Nazi”, on the internet, in a lighter vein to actual neo-Nazi groups flourishing even in today’s ‘progressive’ world, the name Hitler refuses to dissolve into the past. But when it comes to the connotations this name holds in Indian popular culture, it turns out as slightly bizarre and mostly ignorant. Particularly, when looking at films with the name Hitler in Indian cinema across languages, a theme presents itself that is an indication of the lack of our knowledge of the Holocaust and its haunting details. The Indian populace at large was never taught about the Holocaust in school, except a little side note on Hitler in a highly summarized version of the Second World War. Furthermore, education about the Holocaust is vastly missing in the country, while, as ironic as it may sound, Mein Kampf is available in most Indian languages.
When it comes to Indian cinema, it has always shied away from depictions of even remotely controversial historical events even when they were about Indian history, let alone International. High budget grandiose films continue to be centered on fictional characters or storylines which glide over real events without much to say on it. One of the highest grossing, historical films in recent times, Jodha Akbar, was a film about the relationship between Mughal Emperor, Akbar, and his Rajput wife, Jodha Bai. While the romantic aspect (fictional depiction, of course) remains centre-stage, assassination attempts and wars during the Emperor’s reign serve as the rich background of the film, alongside the intricate costumes and set design. Opting for stories that far in history makes for attractive visuals and easy to minimize historical accuracy. Although when it comes to more recent depictions, films on the Partition of India, an episode in Indian history considered as dreadful as the Holocaust, by some, come by scarcely and riddled with protests by the general public, political parties, and activist bodies alike.
The name Hitler itself, devoid of any public knowledge which is so strongly held in the Western world, is used in a distorted manner in Indian films in most instances. A Malayalam-language film named, Hitler, released in 1996, where the protagonist earned the title of “Hitler” due to his fiercely protective nature towards his sisters, was a hit. He beats up every guy on the street who catcalls his sisters and is given this name by those men of his village. This stern and aggressive nature extends to his home, where he behaves the same way with his family and, by the end of the film, he is ‘reformed’, but in the last scene you see him chasing goons showing he couldn’t resist his natural “Hitler”-ish behaviour. Furthermore a year later, this film was remade into a much bigger film industry known for its commercially viable big budget films – the Telugu film industry, otherwise known as Tollywood. In this version, the protagonist is the epitome of an alpha male as his all guns blazing character prides himself on his stern, aggressive nature; in the end, his sisters apologise to him for ‘misunderstanding’ his protectiveness (as opposed to him mellowing down in the Malayalee version). The film was a critical and commercial hit, while the actor portraying the character (a superstar in his time) became popular again. In addition, the film was dubbed in Tamil (another fanatically commercial film industry) and the name given to it in the language was ‘Tiger’. This in itself is an indication of the perception of Hitler in Indian cinematic sensibilities, where his name is interchangeable with the word Tiger, a word usually used to pump up the larger than life alpha male characters in Indian films.
This use of Hitler to describe a stern, aggressive alpha male is somewhat indicative of the distorted and minimal facts regarding Adolph Hitler that are a part of popular culture in India. Also to be kept in mind is the fact that this discussion is in regards to cinema in India, which in itself has primarily been reduced to a means of escapist, flashy entertainment. So, the expectations of a proper representation that would do justice to and educate the consumers about the subject matter are futile for the most part. Going further back to the 1980s, a Tamil film named, Hitler Umanath, was released in 1982. This is a story about a man, Umanath, who was made fun of by his colleagues for his resemblance to Hitler, due to his hair and short mustache, and how he turns it around in his favour when he transforms into a favoured leader at his workplace. The film threads the line between portraying this comparison to Hitler as a positive or negative thing, leaving us to deduce whether he is inspired to act because of being ridiculed for his resemblance to Hitler.
Later, in the year 1998, another film named, Hitler, was released, this time in the Hindi-language Film Industry (the largest film producers in India). Again, it is a story about a strict, disciplinarian cop, who acts in a stern and aloof manner at work and at home. In the end, he is shown to leave this stern manner behind and behave pleasantly with his family members, as far as going to dance to Michael Jackson songs; although that may just be the actor portraying the character, who is known as the “Disco Dancer” of the 1980s and 1990s. Another Malayalam-language film by the name of Hitler Brothers was released in 1997, in which the story revolved around the niece of four strict, over-protective and controlling brothers, who vow to take care of their sister’s only daughter. Yet again, Hitler’s name is used to portray characteristics far removed from reality and reduce the name to fit a caricature. Coming to more recent films, the Punjabi-language film, Hero Hitler in Love (2011), deals with the same theme. A man, who is of a calm and caring nature, turns aggressive in his fight for what he wants – a girl from Pakistan he fell in love with – and revenge against the people who sabotaged his car racing championship. Incongruously, with a title as Hitler, his crusade eases the communal tensions between the two warring nations of India and Pakistan. Once more, the term is emboldened by pre-fixing ‘Hero’ to strip away any negative connotations that could be associated with the name of probably the most hated man in history. In the same year, a Bollywood film, Dear Friend Hitler, was released in India. Before this it was released in international festivals in some countries where even the news of its development caused a furor in the western media. The Guardian posted an article questioning the motives of the filmmakers for naming a film so, and expressing concerns over a film glorifying Hitler reaching the public. Also, the Indian actor portraying the role of Hitler faced severe protests from the Indian Jewish community for being part of a film that would do so. The director vehemently refused such claims, after being quoted as agreeing to them earlier, adding that it was a film about letters written by Mahatma Gandhi to Adolph Hitler, which would depict the clash of ideologies between Gandhism and Nazism. The actor, Anupam Kher, left the project and the director replaced him with another actor; the film released in India with a different name, Gandhi to Hitler. The film failed critically and commercially. And in regards to the depiction of Hitler, it was a vague attempt to discuss complex historical figures at best and an attempt to humanize Hitler, and his Indian supporters during the War, at worst.
Throughout these films, the name Hitler primarily remains as an adjective to prop up the protagonist’s masculine personality. None of the characters in these films shows any kind of evil intent; on the contrary, they are the positive icons of the film. Yet they are termed Hitler who could not be limited to being a stern figure even in the softest terms. But in the realm of Indian cinema, he was introduced to the public as an authoritarian, alpha male, instead of a genocidal dictator. This image is now emboldened in an impressionable public mind with no other source of facts easily accessible and a certain faction of the society, the current wave of right wing fascism in the country, has started promoting his supremacist ideals.
With another Kannada-language film intermittently named, Prem Hitler, in the making, the trend of misrepresenting the name does not seem to be ready to leave Indian cinema as of now. Initially, the film was named, Hitler, but it got into trouble for the name, not because of the controversial title being offensive but for being registered as a preferred title by another Kannada language film producer. There is a high competition between producers to acquire the title, Hitler, for their films in this day and age. The latest news on the film was that the final title now has been decided to be Gandhigiri (a popular term attributed to Mahatma Gandhi and his principles of non-violence). Ironically, for these filmmakers, the names of Gandhi and Hitler seem interchangeable, while their principles definitely aren’t; although one cannot say much about what the film will actually be about. Yet another film, this time in Bhojpuri language, is slated to release in 2017 with the title Hitler. Being marketed as an “action, drama, romance” film, one can only hope it follows the norm and does not bear any resemblance to the actual man in the title. Other than that, neither Indian cinema nor its patrons seem to be making any effort to throw light on this strange trend.
Sarah Siddiqui recently graduated from the University of Strathclyde, where she completed her Masters in Human Resource Management. She runs a blog site on cinema by the name of Popcorn Loverz, which she routinely updates with the latest movie reviews.
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