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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Netflix’s Lucifer vs. India’s Religious Insecurity

Hold up. I know the title is already too threatening for some of you. Proves my point a bit better.

Many of you must have stumbled across Netflix’s Lucifer, a witty crime thriller where Biblical drama plays out on the small screen. Eve and the Original Sin? Check. Rivalries over God’s love? Double-check. Parental abandonment issues between angels and the Devil? Triple check.

First a quick background on Lucifer. Lucifer Morningstar is God’s son, one of his shining angels. A rebel by nature, he leads a rebellion against “dear old Dad”, and the furious father banishes his son to Hell to rule over the souls of the damned.

After running hell for eons, Lucifer comes to Los Angeles, cuts off his wings, and starts anew – the second rebellion of sorts. He opens a multi-storeyed deluxe bar and happens to meet honest homicide detective Chloe Decker, who is as self-righteous as a character can get. He partners with her as a civilian consultant and his romantic inclinations towards the mortal detective is the main running storyline of the show.

Throughout the show, you will catch yourself laughing at Lucifer’s non-sarcastic narcissistic comments. The show tries to show its viewers the perspective of ‘evil’ from the Biblical stories. The homicide-solving and romance aside, the show gives us Lucifer’s side of the story of him being banished. Rejected and humiliated by his own parents, people often forget that he was an angel whose only crime was to question his Dad’s ways. The show also shows Cain’s side of the story, who according to the Bible is Earth’s first murderer, who killed his own brother Abel. It also depicts Eve’s side of the Original Sin story.

All through the show, Lucifer is shown cursing his Dad on various occasions. Be it conversations with his therapist or conversations with the detective, he keeps making sarcastic comments about how his Dad is the worst for abandoning his own son, banishing him from the Silver City, and never looking back.

Now that you’ve gotten a picture of what the show is about, let’s talk about the Indian scenario. Imagine a show in India where, for example, a religious villain gets to share his side of the story against a Hindu god, where the said villain curses him/her for the fate they wound up facing.

This is not to say that said story would mean that the villain is ‘justified’ or ‘right’ – just as the same does not apply to Lucifer. The point here is that Lucifer’s side of the story got a chance to be portrayed in Hollywood – and there have been many movies in the past which have portrayed the devil beyond the usual stereotypes – and that it ran for five seasons while being produced by mega-companies like DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Television. That alone says a lot. The fact that even after cursing God in nearly every episode, the show ran successfully for five seasons and is now filming its sixth is unimaginable in India.

Watching a movie/show that openly talks about the Devil, attempts to justify him, and curses God for unfairly punishing his son, needs an audience which understands the concept of ‘artistic license’ and where to draw a line as to what constitutes a ‘threat’ to a religion.

This is something I was discussing with a friend who is also a fan of the show. She too saw the bigger picture. Let alone God, she reminded me of the large-scale protests by Rajputs and fringe outfits like the Karni Sena over the release of the movie Padmaavat, and the violence that followed where filmmaker  was slapped and pushed around by a protesting crowd on the set. There was even a bounty announced over actor Deepika Padukone’s nose.

There were rallies in the country over the release of Bajrangi Bhaijaan as well because of the usage of ‘bajrangi’ beside the word ‘bhaijaan’. More recently, a line from a centuries-old Bengali folk song from the Netflix movie Bulbbul received heavy for allegedly going against Hindu sentiments.

When I spoke to my father regarding this, showing disdain and hopelessness for the little religious tolerance towards art and fiction in this country, he reminded me of Michael Madhusudan Dutta, the father of modern Bengali poetry and his religious satires. When I decided to read the same, I came across an excerpt from Meghnadbadh Kabya. It instantly caught my attention because of his boldness in choosing his hero. He was not Ram, not Lakshmana, but Meghnad, son of Ravana, who we consider evil and burn on the Ramleela grounds every year. He speaks about the righteousness of Meghnad, fighting a tragic hero’s ground and dying due to the manipulation of war rules by none other than Ram, who almost the whole of India prays to as the Almighty.

I also happened to come across another such masterpiece. Lakshmaner Shaktishel is a play written by Sukumar Ray, father of Satyajit Ray, in the early 1900s. Here, he turned that epic, Ramayana, into a hilarious spoof. The play was largely based on one specific chapter, the Lankakanda, where Lakshmana is fatally injured by Ravana’s wonder-weapon. The story begins where Lakshman collapses after being hit with the shaktishel, and Ravana picks his pocket and runs away. Shaktishel turned these deadly serious events into remarkably wonderful comic vignettes.

I wonder what kind of protests it would have faced, had the masterpieces been written in this decade! How did such a tolerant nation, suddenly become so insecure about their ‘beliefs’? And, I’d love to talk about the outrage in France regarding a cartoon, but my title says insecurity in India, so I’ll stick to that for now.

So, you see, maybe it is this generation, this century, or this decade, that has shown massive intolerance towards art and literature. Be it criticism to alleged “anti-Hindu” songs, movies, or literature, intolerance has been unapologetically rampant in this generation. Maybe my nation has not always been insecure about its proud culture or religion, that a show, a movie, a song, or even a book, can threaten. Maybe someday my people will learn to draw a line as to what can constitute a ‘threat’ to their religion. With only ‘maybe’s’ and no ‘yes, sure’s’, I can only hope for a better generation to follow.

Srishti Ray
Srishti Ray
Law Student at National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam. Writing about law and constitution. Contributor to The Eastern Herald.

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