“With her limited screen time, Rashika leaves a profound impact on the film. Bajrangi Bhaijaan would have been a different film without her.”
Religion has been a controversial issue in Indian society since time immemorial, an issue reflected in Indian cinema since its birth. Through this artistic medium, religion, along with patriotism, has woven itself into the zeitgeist of the masses. While films like “LOC: Kargil” and “The Hero: Love story of Spy” play on patriotic spirit and trigger a revolutionary fume for the ‘other,’ films like “Veer-Zaara,” “My Name is Khan,” and “Deewani Mastani,” on the other hand, offer a sense of reconciliation between both nations and religions.
“Bajrangi Bhaijaan” (2015), directed by Kabir Khan, is one such film that depicts that love can transcend all borders. Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi, played by Salman Khan, is a devout Hanuman Bhakt who meets a lost six-year-old mute girl from Pakistan. Pawan’s honest and benevolent nature leads him to take care of the girl and set out on a daunting mission to return her to her home. Gradually, through the course of the film, the lost girl, Munni, played by Harshaali Malhotra, reveals her eating habits and religious practices, revealing that she is from a Muslim family from across the border.
Being a bhakt, Pawan’s tolerance gets blinded by his faith. Owing to his allegiance to his religion, when he sees Munni offering prayers in a Masjid, he feels betrayed and demeans her for eating chicken. At this juncture in the film, his fiancée, Rashika, played by Kareena Kapoor, spurs a significant change in his character. She helps trigger Pawan’s empathy and love to supersede the narrow shackles of religious discrimination.
While Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi symbolises the spirit of brotherhood between two nations, Rashika and her rational perspective are integral to the unfolding of this narrative. Bajrangi would have been a different film without her. Her trust in Pawan’s unbiased generosity fosters purpose and confidence in him, leaving his pious self behind. Thus, with her limited screen time, Rashika leaves a profound impact on the film.
Rashika exclaims, ‘paraye dharam, alag log, bakwas hai’ (which translates to ‘different religions, different people, it’s all nonsense’). She makes him realise that she loves him for his kind heart and that he shouldn’t allow his innocent, caring instincts to be overshadowed by regressive norms. Rashika subtly expresses her support by patting his shoulder when Munni, the little girl, comes running to hug him inside the Masjid. This scene is one of the most emotionally stirring, awakening moments in the entire film.
With the support and insistence of his fiancée, Bajrangi Bhaijan finds the courage to work beyond the ‘borders’ set by religion. Later in the film, Bajrangi confronts external struggles while trying to take Munni back, simultaneously dealing with his conflicting emotions — a conflict that Rashika helps him resolve.
Apart from transcending the boundaries of religion, this film also breaks free from the Manic Pixie Girl trope in Bollywood movies. In ‘Dil Toh Pagal Hai,’ we see Maya (Madhuri Dixit) serving as a muse for Rahul (Shahrukh Khan), even before meeting her. Similarly, in ‘Mohabbatein,’ Megha’s (Aishwarya Rai) wishes were not fulfilled, and she remained a muse for Raj Aryan Mal (Shahrukh Khan), who later becomes Gurukul’s most admired violin teacher after her death.
In contradiction, Rashika, being a school teacher, is an educated, intelligent woman who chooses Pawan as her life partner only because of his honesty, despite him being unemployed. She is not a muse for Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi, but she stops his piousness from affecting his benevolence. Her character has its own strong, independent sense of being. She boldly holds his hand in front of everyone and confronts her father, asserting that she wants to marry Pawan.
Similarly, when Rashika’s father asks Munni to leave home because she is from a country that ‘slaughtered Indians,’ Rashika asserts that it is not the fault of the helpless girl for being born in Pakistan – ‘Is mein Munnie ki kya galati hai!’ She also makes Pawan realise that it is the intention that needs to be honest. She tells him that in the Mahabharata, Lord Krishna said to Arjuna that only the heart needs to be honest – ‘sirf dil sacha hona chahiye.’
Breaking free from religious-based diversity using the power of humanity is the prime motif of this film. In its pursuit, the film incorporates Rashika’s feminine perspective, often subordinated in male-driven films. The belief systems of conservatives can unapologetically discriminate against those they consider different. It is through persuasion, explanation, and compassion that they can be encouraged to be equally generous toward every human. This film follows the path of compassion, gentle reprimands, and persuasion, leading to the dismantling of rigid beliefs and one’s inner borders. This is what sets it apart from other films of the same genre.
Arunima Das is a postgraduate student who deeply empathizes with the injustices that homosexuals have to endure. Growing up, she had the opportunity to live in close proximity to ‘hijras,’ which made her realize that they are not harmful but are often harmed by society. Arunima is dedicated to helping them become self-sufficient and take pride in their livelihoods. She has previously published a short story about lesbian love titled “Cycle to the Sky.” Given the chance, she aspires to write more about the queer community, believing that the world will become a better place for them only when they are no longer subjected to ridicule.