Bollywood is known to take creative liberties with its content, but it’s curious how its creativity only seems to flow one way.
Newly-released movie Sherni, which is loosely based on the killing of tiger Avni in 2018, portrays the villain who eventually kills the tiger as Ranjan Rajhans aka Pintu Bhaiya. Ranjan Rajhans is shown to be Hindu in the movie — he wears the kalawa, or the sacred red thread that Hindus wear on their wrists. But the man who’d killed Avni the tiger wasn’t Hindu at all — his name was Ashgar Ali Khan.
The movie doesn’t seem to give a reason why the chief antagonist is shown to be a pious Hindu, while the person his character is based on is Muslim. But this isn’t the first time that Bollywood has sought to portray Hindus as villains — director Farah Khan has said that she’d taken a conscious decision to make sure that the terrorist in her movie Main Hoon Na was not a Muslim. The terror mastermind in the movie was one Raghavan, while his right-hand man was Muslim, who later realised he was being misled all along and ends up choosing his country over terrorism.
The Kalawa has also been previously used in a bid to demonize Hindus — when terrorist Ajmal Kasab had attacked Mumbai, he was wearing a Kalawa and was given a fake Hindu identity of “Samir Chaudhary”. It’s only because he was caught alive that it was determined that he was from Pakistan, and the Kalawa was a ruse to demonize Hindus for committing terrorist acts.
Sherni’s filmmakers seem to have decided to switch the religious identity of the person who kills the tiger, and made him wear a Hindu religious kalawa. It’s not as though they sought to hide other details — the similarities between the movie and real life events are such that Avni’s killer, Ashgar Ali Khan, has sent a notice to the filmmakers for portraying him in poor light. But while Ashgar Ali Khan has himself approached the courts over his portrayal as Ranjan Rajhans, it appears that Sherni’s filmmakers appear to have cleverly gotten away with demonizing Hindus by switching the religious identity of the tiger-killing villain.