Nitesh Tiwari's Bawaal has released straight on OTT (Prime Video) to mixed reviews and some very polarising reactions. Starring Varun Dhawan and Janhvi Kapoor in the lead, the romantic drama is about a married couple, on the verge of a split, taking a tour across historical places related to World War II in Europe and how those places make the husband a better person and a better history teacher. When you read the synopsis of Bawaal like this, the movie promises to be a good coming-of-age drama that is sensitive and sensible. Bawaal Dialogues: Janhvi Kapoor-Varun Dhawan's Film Trolled for Lines Like ‘Every Relationship Goes Through Their Auschwitz’ and ‘We are All Little Like Hitler’.

Well, a coming-of-age drama it is, but people are quite divided over the fact that if Bawaal is sensitive and even sensible. But for the sake of this feature, let's just talk about the 'sensitive' part, the 'sensible' part has already been covered in our review here.

Bawaal has been criticised for its exploration of marital misogyny. But even more, it has been slammed for using one of 20th century's biggest tragedy as a parallel to a broken marriage.

So What're The Controversial Scenes?

There's this dialogue...

And of course, this gem...

So if you have not seen the film - then you are going to read some SPOILERS ahead - here's some context. At one point, there is a reference that every person has an Adolf Hitler in them, which makes them act selfish and egoistic. In another scene, while listening to the story of a Holocaust survivor, there comes the dialogue that every person goes through their own Auschwitz. What's more, the lead couple imagines themselves as Holocaust prisoners and even find themselves in a gas chamber!

A Brief Overview of the Holocaust

Some of you may be asking - so what's the big deal? They are just comparisons and this is merely a film, right? If you think so, you really don't understand the gravity of the situation, how insensitive those parallels are, or how terrible the whole Holocaust was.

You might have read in your history books, how Adolf Hitler, the former head of Nazi Germany, is considered as one of the worst dictators the world has ever seen. The Holocaust was a genocide during World War II in which Nazi Germany, under the orders of Hitler, systematically murdered six million European Jews, around two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe, between 1941 and 1945. Mostly Jews were targeted for extermination, but Nazis also persecuted and murdered other groups, including Slavs (chiefly ethnic Poles, Soviet citizens, and Soviet prisoners of war), the Roma, the "incurably sick", political and religious dissenters such as communists and Jehovah's Witnesses, rebel journalists and gay men.

Taking into account all the victims of Nazi persecution, the death toll rises to over 17 million. Even though nearly more than nine decades have passed, the scars of the Holocaust continue to haunt the world even now. And with the rise of neo-Nazism in many parts of the world including those who deny Holocaust ever happened, it is even more important for the world to realise the gravity of what happened when Hitler rose to power and decimated millions of lives for what he believed to be for Aryan supremacy and the 'greater good'. So any depiction of the Nazi Germany and the Holocaust is seen by the West with minute scrutiny, and callous representation of the same always gets called out.

Still Why Should The Parallels in Bawaal Feel Wrong?

Just because the characters in Bawaal acknowledge a tragedy has happened and was empathetic about it, doesn't mean the depiction of the same was right.

Watch the Trailer of Bawaal:

Okay, if you still don't know what's so wrong here, let me explain this in a different context using examples closer home. Imagine instead of the Holocaust, the film used Jallianwala Bagh or the partition riots, or Babri Masjid riots or the Kashmiri Pandit massacre as parallels, how would you feel then? Imagine if instead of Adolf Hitler, Janhvi has said there is a 'Dawood Ibrahim' or a 'Chota Rajan' or a 'General Dyer' or an 'Osama Bin Laden' within us. Would that have worked for you? Do you mind being compared to an underworld don, a mass-murderer, a terrorist or a genocide-enabler? Now you get what is being criticised here?

How Bawaal Should Have Tackled The Narrative

Look, I am not saying the inclusion of Holocaust in the plot was a wrong one, but the makers could have taken a more sensitive route to use it in the narration. The film can use the events of World War II and Nazi atrocities as lessons to shape up the male lead character to be a better person, but it should have avoided all the verbal and visual parallels to hammer its point. The writing should have been sharper, smarter and more sensitive.

An example that comes to my mind that does this past-present parallel better in comparison (even though it also had flaws) was Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's Rang De Basanti, where real-life historical events involving Bhagat Singh and his comrades were used to make the present-day protagonists to be better people, but without making it very on-the-nose. However, even Rang De Basanti was criticised then for comparing the death of their Air Force pilot friend with the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, acting as a trigger point for the protagonists. Bawaal: Human Rights NGO Asks Prime Video to Take Down Varun Dhawan-Janhvi Kapoor’s Film for Insensitive Portrayal of Nazi Holocaust.

How The Cast Defended The Parallels

Instead of acknowledging and maybe apologising for the depictions in the film, Bawaal's lead cast and the director took a more unapologetic stand, where the blame even fell on the audience accused of being over-sensitive or being hypocritical. Varun Dhawan said in an interview to Pinkvilla, "Some people got triggered or sensitive about this. But I don’t understand where that sensitivity or trigger go when they watch, suppose an English film, I’m saying for example. They’re allowed to do everything there, they’re allowed to take leaps and they’re allowed to show things in a certain way, but you’ll find that correct."

Director Nitesh Tiwari also had a similar stand as he said, "You can question the creative process, you can question the creatives, but please do not question the intent. The moment you start questioning the intent, it becomes hurtful. It puts a question on your credibility, which has taken so many years of hard work to build. That is something that I think should be avoided. I’m all for criticism, but it should be a conversation."

Janhvi Kapoor had a far more interesting defense, where she claims a descendant of a Holocaust survivor actually liked their movie. She had said, "I know someone, he’s a professor at an Ivy League university, and he’s an Israeli. He had ancestors that unfortunately did not survive the Holocaust. He saw the film, and was very moved by it. He understood everything that we set out to do with the film, and never once in the conversation did he ever allude to being offended by anything. It depends on people’s views. The intention has always been pure, and always to acknowledge the turmoil, the devastation and the monstrosity of what happened."

Jews Rights NGO Now Asking For Its Ban

For all Janhvi's defense that Bawaal is being liked by people affected by the Holocaust, the truth is not exactly that. Simon Wiesenthal Centre, an NGO for Holocaust survivors, took to Twitter to slam the film for what it claims to be an insensitive portrayal of the genocide, even calling the producers 'shameless'.

They also wrote an open letter asking Amazon Prime Video to take down the film for trivialising the sufferings of the Holocaust victims.

Even the Israeli embassy in India put out a tweet criticising the movie.

Bawaal was put on OTT directly, which as per the makers, was to give the film maximum global reach for its subject. Looks like this is not the kind of international reactions they expected for their film. Sadly, all the outrage has been their own making, and they have no one to blame for this.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Jul 28, 2023 10:59 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website