[This is an article I have been itching to write ever since I first saw this film]..
This is the Wikipedia version of the story of Sohrab Modi’s famous 1939 film “Pukar”: “Set at the court of the harsh Mughal Emperor Jehangir (Chandra Mohan), the film tells two separate love stories: the first of Mangal Singh (Ali) and Kanwar (Sheela) amid the violent feud raging between their families, and the second, the famous one of Jehangir and Nurjehan (Banu). Mangal kills the brother and father of his lover. His father, the loyal Rajput chieftain Sangram Singh (Modi), captures his son and Jehangir passes the death sentence. Jehangir's claim that the law knows no class distinction is put on the test when a washerwoman (Akhtar) accuses Queen Nurjehan of having inadvertently killed her husband during a hunt. Jehangir offers his own life but the washerwoman magnanimously forgives him.”
Is there one single iota of truth in this description of the story of this film, either in respect of the contours of the plot or of the depiction of the different characters in the film? Does this film really show Jehangir as a person who passes the alleged test of his claim that the law knows no class distinction? Does this film show justice being done? Or does it give the most gross, blatant and brazen depiction of the insolence of the rich and powerful who twist and turn laws to their personal advantage, who use the poor and helpless as pawns to achieve their own ends in the most callous and ruthless ways possible, and then add insult to injury by contemptuously expecting those exploited poor to be cringingly grateful for having been exploited and crushed?
It may be noted at the outset that it can be nobody’s claim that the events depicted in the film actually took place at all or took place in the manner depicted in the film, much less that the dialogues in the film are historical records of the exact words spoken by the historical characters concerned. Therefore, no indictment of the story of this film, or the characters in this film, can be taken as an actual indictment of the historical Jehangir or of Sangram Singh (if, indeed, such a person existed at all, and is not a creation of this film). But it certainly is a very strong indictment of Sohrab Modi’s sense of ethics and of his intellect, and I would say even of his sanity, if it is true that he intended this film to show Jehangir’s Justice or Justice in general. Or was this film a tongue-in-cheek attempt by Sohrab Modi to show Jehangir and the Rajput chieftains of the period as cold-blooded tyrants and shameless hypocrites?
An analysis will require a detailed (and to many readers, a long and boring) narration of the story of the film. This will be followed by a short expression of my own views on the larger issues behind the kind of warped mentality demonstrated by such perverted concepts of "Justice" and Virtue:
I. "Justice" in the Film "Pukar".
II. Virtuousness as depicted in Indian family TV serials and family films.
I. "Justice" in the Film "Pukar"
The film starts with the sound of bells ringing loudly. A washerwoman (Rani), a central character in the film, is heard telling someone: "There is a chain at the royal gates. The Emperor has made arrangements that when anybody in the kingdom suffers injustice, they go and pull the chain and the bells ring. The Emperor Jehangir himself (appears at his balcony) and hears the complaint and dispenses Justice there and then. No distinction is made between tiger and goat when dispensing Justice. Rarely does a subject of this kingdom require to pull the bell!"
Jehangir comes out on the balcony on hearing the bells ring. The petitioner is holding the dead body of a person. The accused (who killed the dead person) also stands beside him, apart from a crowd of common people. On hearing the complaint, the Emperor declares: "Whoever kills a subject of my kingdom insults my kingdom's honor. The only punishment for this crime is the death sentence prescribed by our Law".
The accused begs for mercy and cites the bleak future of his children if he is executed. His wife pleads that her husband is not at fault: he is a boatman, and the death occurs as an accident when the boat capsizes at sea. But Jehangir declares: "Even an accidental death must be attributed to the boatman's mistake. Jaan ke badle jaan hi Jehangir ka insaaf hai: A life for a life is Jehangir's Justice". The accused is sentenced to death, and the crowd disperses chanting the praises of Jehangir.
B. The Main Story:
A group of soldiers are discussing the romance of Mangal Singh ( an eminent archer, son of the court chieftain Sangram Singh) and Kanwar (daughter of a rival court chieftain Uday Singh). The girl's brother Ranjit Singh hears and is furious, and immediately goes riding off to check and to confront his sister. Mangal Singh and Kanwar are discussing the family enmity between their fathers which will act an obstacle to their union. On hearing Ranjit Singh coming, Mangal Singh rides off, but he is chased by Ranjit Singh who is immediately followed by Uday Singh as well. Mangal Singh is forced to fight them against his will and kill both of them in self-defence. There are no witnesses and Mangal Singh rides home, injured. He tells his mother about it. His father Sangram Singh hears about it from his wife, and he tells his son: "Although they died at your hands, you are not guilty (because you fought in self-defence). I have faith in the Law. You will not be punished".
Just then there is a knock on the door. A bleeding Uday Singh, dying but apparently still alive, comes and asks for Mangal Singh's head. Sangram Singh tells him to approach the Emperor for Justice, and promises to accept the Emperor's judgment. But just then, hearing them, Mangal Singh escapes from the back door. Seeing this, Uday Singh taunts Sangram Singh and goes off (to approach the Emperor), while Sangram Singh berates his wife for allowing their son to escape.
Uday Singh rings the Emperor's bell to ask for Justice for his son's death, but falls dead before he can tell the Emperor his complaint. The Emperor summons Uday Singh's daughter Kanwar to uncover the truth, but she denies any knowledge. Just then, Sangram Singh himself comes forward and reveals that his own son Mangal Singh killed them, and then escaped because of his wife's (Mangal Singh's mother's) perfidy.
The Emperor assures Kanwar that the killer of her father and brother will be brought to Justice, and puts her (as she is now orphaned) under the care and protection of Sangram Singh.
Mangal Singh meanwhile has taken refuge (in some far-off place) with his friend Haider Ali. He sends a messenger to assure his parents that he is well and will go somewhere far away. He tells the messenger to go to Agra, and give the message to Rani Dhoban (the washerwoman at the washermen's bay - on the banks of the river - near his house) who will convey the message home. Rani Dhoban conveys the message to Sangram Singh. On hearing of his son's whereabouts, Sangram Singh sets out all the way to Haider Ali's house (two days' journey away), "arrests" his son and brings him back before he goes even further, and presents him in the royal court before the Emperor Jehangir and Empress Nurjehan.
C. Jehangir's Justice 1:
Jehangir asks Mangal Singh what he has to say in his defence. He relates that he was forced to kill Ranjit Singh and Uday Singh in self-defence. When Jehangir asks him why he ran away if he were innocent, he says because he was apprehensive of Jehangir's rule of "a life for a life". The Emperor is furious, and goes back to his palace leaving judgement pending.
Sangram Singh seeks private audience with Jehangir to plead for his son's life.
The following is an almost verbatim translation of the dialogue between a sycophantic and opportunistic court chieftain who has "brought his son to justice" only out of confidence that his special position in the court will secure the exoneration and release of his son, and an arrogant and smirking Emperor who tauntingly plays with this sycophant as a cat plays with a mouse:
J: What brings you here?
SS: Before sentence is passed, I have come to plead for royal Mercy, in expectation that my plea (pukar) will not be rejected.
SS: I have come to beg (bhikh mangne) the Emperor for that very lifelong savings of mine (i.e. my son) that I had brought to be sacrificed at your feet.
J: I see! But something given in sacrifice is not meant to be asked back, nor to be returned!
SS: I have not come as Sardar (court chieftain) Sangram Singh, but as a father. Sangram Singh loved his duty, and so brought his son to Justice. The father loves his son and has come to plead for his life.
J: If you have come not as the Sardar Sangram Singh but as a father, then I am also not the Emperor but only Jehangir. So I have no power over royal Law and Justice!
SS: Jehangir is all-powerful! I am not a petitioner come to seek royal Justice but a father come to seek royal Mercy. I am expecting that royal Justice will heed the voice of royal Mercy. Oh Annadata (=Provider of Food), you may not command royal Justice but you can command royal Mercy. Sangram Singh has done his duty, Justice has done its duty, but Mercy has yet to do its duty!
J: I accept that Sangram Singh holds his duty dear, and a father holds his son dear, Jehangir holds Mercy dear and the Emperor holds Justice dear. No-one likes to see harm done to what is dear to him. How will the Emperor like to see Jehangir's Mercy shedding the blood of his Justice?
J: Sangram Singh, I sympathize with you. But you are asking for something not in my power.
[Now a change of tone]
SS: Many generations of my family have spent their lives in the service of the (Mughal) Emperors. Think of their service and unstinting loyalty, and grant my plea!
J: I know many generations of your family have spent their lives in our service! But you forget that you have not come as my court chieftain Sangram Singh, and I am not before you as the Emperor.
SS: Annadata! Mangal's life is my life! I who have shed drops of my blood in the Imperial service, placed my neck against a sea of swords, and routed countless enemies of the Emperor! The bones of my ancestors, who fed the Imperial throne with their blood, are buried in the ramparts of the royal palace! Their dead bodies formed the foundation of the Empire! They did their duty against terrible odds, and remained loyal!
J: (angrily) Sangram Singh!! Don't cross the limits! Past services cannot be honored by insulting royal Justice! Justice has been done! These are my final words!
[Sangram Singh goes away sadly, lamenting to himself].
Jehangir issues a public decree announcing the death sentence for Mangal Singh, son of Sangram Singh: but "as the holy month of Ramzan starts the very next day, the execution will take place two days after the month of Ramzan ends".
Sangram Singh returns home and reveals what happened. His wife bewails her fate and taunts him for having proved himself a loyal servant and a brave father: he has no answer.
D. The Machievellian Strategy:
[Scenes of singing and dancing by the washermen and washerwomen at the washermen's bay (dhobi ghat)].
Kanwar arrives in her carriage to meet the Empress Nurjehan to appeal for Mercy for Mangal Singh.
At the moment, the Empress is on the terrace of the palace demonstrating her archery skills to her maids by shooting down a distant branch. She comes down to meet Kanwar and listens sympathetically to her appeal (which includes the following statement: "You must be aware that every Hindu lady becomes sati and burns herself on her husband's funeral pyre. My turn has come now, since I have long accepted Mangal Singh as my husband"), but expresses her helplessness to interfere in matters concerning the Emperor's Justice. But after Kanwar leaves, she sends a maid to summon her husband to speak to him about it anyway.
Just then, a maid comes in and points out a new target for demonstrating the Empress' archery skills: a bird on a tree. Nurjehan comes out on the terrace and shoots an arrow, but it hits Ramu Dhobi on the dhobi ghat, and kills him instantly. Unaware of this, Nurjehan goes in on being told that the Emperor has arrived.
Meanwhile, Kanwar, returning home in her carriage, hears the commotion at the dhobi ghat., and on investigating finds out that Ramu Dhobi has been killed by an arrow which came from the direction of the palace. She remembers the bow-and-arrow she had seen in Nurjehan's hands, and realizes what has happened. She gleefully hastens home and tells Sangram Singh to go to the palace and ask for Justice for Ramu Dhobi. As she tells him: "The Emperor will never sentence his wife. So he will be compelled to pardon Mangal Singh as well". Sangram Singh also gleefully races to the dhobi ghat, and instigates the washermen, and particularly Rani Dhoban (the now grief-stricken and wailing wife of Ramu Dhobi) to accompany him to the palace to ask for Justice.
Meanwhile, all unaware of this, Jehangir, talking to Nurjehan, declines to pardon Mangal Singh, and playfully declares: "Justice is blind. It doesn't see the criminal's face when it grabs his neck. Why pardon Mangal Singh just because he is the son of a loyal chieftain?... If even you put a finger in a snake's mouth, it will bite you. Don't think that being a queen will save you from the consequences of Nature. God forbid that you ever have to face Justice, I will stand by Justice!"
Just then, the bell starts ringing. Sangram Singh, Rani Dhoban, and a crowd of washermen and others have arrived to ask for Justice. Sangram Singh instigates the confused Rani Dhoban with full vigor. The ensuing dialogue verbatim:
SS: Pull (the bell-rope)! Pull harder!! Today royal Justice will face the test! I accepted that my forefathers' loyalty should not affect the course of Justice! Let us see how Justice functions today!.
J: (arriving on the balcony) Who has come to ask for Justice?
Rani: My husband has been killed. [But she hesitates to say the name of the accused]
SS: She is afraid to say the name.
J: Do not fear! You are standing in the presence of the Law. The Law does not fear even me! To receive Justice you must name the person (who has killed your husband). You will get Justice under any circumstance! I will give Justice! Say the name without fear even if it is I myself!
Rani: The Empress.
J: Fariyadi (=petitioner)! Are you accusing the Empress of killing your husband? Do you have proof?
Rani: Yes your majesty!
J: Produce it!
Rani: (holding it aloft) The Empress' arrow!
[The Emperor is stunned and stands silent. Sangram Singh starts taunting the Emperor}
SS: Today there will be no Judgment! Today the chain of Justice has become tangled. We will have to wait for an answer to see what happens now!
[The crowd starts calling out to the Empress for Justice. On being told about this, Nurjehan comes out on the balcony. When she is told what has happened, she gives them her firm assurance that Justice will be done under any circumstance.
Then follows a long scene where Nurjehan confronts Jehangir in his private room and urges him to give Justice to the petitioner even at the cost of sacrificing his Love for her. This scene is obviously entirely fictitious, since no-one can have been privy to the private conversation between the Emperor and Empress in his bedroom, and her subsequent behavior in court (except for admitting to the crime) does not fit in with such saintliness. However, it may be accepted as part of the story. Nurjehan ends her plea with the clinching question: "Do you want me to be cursed by all the people, and blamed for ever, and accused of destroying your reputation for Justice?"
Consequently Jehangir asks for the court to convene the next day, and orders the "arrest" of the Empress, followed by melodramatic scenes of her (that night) being given the same food as the other prisoners]
E. Jehangir's Justice 2:
Jehangir convenes a full court and asks the petitioners and commoners to be present, as also the accused to be summoned in court. The final classic court scene depicting Jehangir's Justice with the verbatim dialogues:
J; Rani, is it your accusation that the Empress has killed your husband with an arrow?
Rani: Yes annadata!
J: Empress, you have heard the accusation. Do you have any arguments in your defence?
Nurjehan: No, I have no defence!
J: Do you plead guilty?
J: The accusation stands proven beyond a doubt. Listen to the sentence…
[Courtiers interrupt and start a commotion pleading Mercy}
Courtier: Your majesty! A life for a life is Jehangir's principle. But this should not apply to the Empress! If the plaintiff agrees, she can be compensated financially. Islamic Law allows this!
J: I do not want to be accused of bending Justice for my own convenience!
Courtier: But all courtiers here present this plea for Mercy!
J: I refuse to accept this plea for Mercy! I do not want to be accused of using my power to turn the Law around. Before the Law, both King and Subject are equal. The Law will not discriminate! Let no-one interfere with (the process of) Justice!
[Sangram Singh looks nonplused at this turn of events. But not for long!]
J: (to courtier) Give a bow and arrow to Rani Dhoban. (to the Empress) Empress! Being the Empress does not give you the right to play with people's lives for your entertainment. Law does not give anyone this privilege! Justice is blind. My judgment is as follows: as you drowned this woman's husband in blood, so also now this woman will drown your husband in blood! I therefore condemn your husband to death at the hands of Rani Dhoban!
[Note: this is a new kind of "Justice"! In the Mangal Singh case, he not only does not tell Kanwar to kill Mangal Singh's father because Mangal Singh had killed her father (and brother, in self-defence), but he refuses to accede to Kanwar's own plea for Mercy in the case. Nor in the earlier case does he ask the petitioner to kill the boatman's family members because the boatman had (perhaps through no fault of his) inadvertently caused the death of the petitioner's family member! But here he now places the onus on Rani Dhoban! The following intimidating scene follows]
J: Rani! Shoot the arrow into my chest! A life for a life is Jehangir's code! On that basis, shed my blood! Drown me in my blood! Grind me in the jaws of my own Law! Sacrifice me to Justice! Place my corpse at the feet of Justice! Give my Justice eternal life!
[A terrified Rani hesitatingly raises the bow and arrow and stands uncertainly]
J: (in an increasingly louder and louder voice with a pause between each repitition) Obey my order!! Obey my order!! Obey my order!! Obey my order!! Obey my order!!
[Now starts the most unbelievable, disgusting and nauseating scene in the whole film. Sangram Singh, who has instigated her and brought her all the way to the Emperor's court to ask for Justice, now takes his cue and turns on the terrified woman]
SS: Rani Dhoban! To avenge your husband's death, you can deprive all the women of the world of their husbands, but NOT THE EMPRESS! Don't deprive the world of Justice for your own selfish sake! Renounce this right that the Law has given you! Sacrifice it! The world will thank you!
J: Sangram Singh, you are raising your voice against royal Justice and crossing your boundaries!
SS: Forgive me, annadata! But your life is too precious to all your subjects! The Emperor exists for his subjects and they have a right to speak!
[Immediately a chorus from the courtiers and the crowd, asking for Mercy]
A "subject": Yes, this is not the plea of one person, it is the plea of all the people in your kingdom!
[A chorus, like the chanting of the sheep in Orwell's Animal Farm: "Long live our annadata!" A smirking Sangram Singh steps forward to address Rani Dhoban]
SS: Your husband's blood has not been shed in vain! Had it not been shed, the world would never have witnessed this truth, that if Justice can sweep away huts it can sweep away palaces too! If stones are crushed in the mills of Justice, so are mountains! If wax melts in the furnace of Justice, so does iron! …, (turning sycophantically to the Emperor with folded hands) Today Sangram Singh has also learnt all this!
[Strangely enough, it never seems to have struck this sycophant that if he had allowed the Emperor to execute his (Sangram Singh's) own son, the world would have witnessed even more vividly the truth that if Justice could sweep away the households of poor boatmen, it could likewise sweep away the households of the Emperor's own powerful court chieftains!!]
[The Emperor smirks fully and openly. All is going according to plan!]
Rani: (laying down her bow and arrow and falling on her knees with folded hands and downcast eyes and head, as if she is the accused) I renounce my right.
[And now the final humiliation in the name and game of Justice]
SS: No!! Don't renounce your right! It will mean that you have done a favor on the Empress by forgiving her! You will be humiliating and humbling her! Making her bow down her head before an ordinary subject is a great impertinence on your part! Don't grant a favor to the Empress! This kind of behavior does not behove you (tumhen shobha nahin deta)!! Take the price of blood. That is Justice!
Rani: (on her knees with folded hands) I accept.
[The crowd starts chanting: "Long live the Empress! Long live the Emperor!". Sangram Singh gives a triumphant look all around. The Emperor gives a smirking look all around and then calls out: "Long live Sardar Sangram Singh!" Sangram Singh bows to Jehangir, and both exchange smirking looks: only the wink and the thumbs-up sign are missing].
And so Justice remains enthroned and indeed becomes immortal!
1. The Empress requests the Emperor to "celebrate this day" by releasing all prisoners. Jehangir readily agrees, and all the prisoners pour out of the prisons: Mangal Singh most prominent among them. To celebrate, and justify, the Empress' exoneration, all the prisoners - doubtless including hundreds of dangerous convicts, gangsters and dacoits, murderers and rapists - are let out.
2. Rani Dhoban and her son are shown gathering up the gold, ornaments and money thrown at them, and even trying out the ornaments with happy smiles.
3. Kanwar's doli (wedding palanquin) is carried in a procession along the road. From the interior of the palanquin we hear Kanwar prattling away: "What a great man our Emperor is! For his one joy, he gave happiness to the whole world! The Empress is also a good woman! Rani Dhoban is a very good washerwoman! And Ramu Dhobi was the best washerman of all!" (because he sacrificed his useless life so Kanwar could marry Mangal Singh?).
4. The triumphant trio (Sangram Singh with the bride and groom) enters the palace grounds. The Emperor and Empress give them their blessings from the balcony. Gold coins are showered in all directions.
II. Virtuousness as depicted in Indian family TV serials and family films
The extreme injustice shown in this film is compounded by the fact that it is actually intended that it should be treated by us as a supreme case of Justice! From the very first time that I saw this film, in my college days in the late seventies, on Doordarshan, the injustice depicted in this film literally made my blood boil, and I had always intended some day to write an article on it. But it is not an isolated issue of one film. To my mind, this is an indicator of a much larger malaise in India. And I will take this chance to say a few words on the subject.
There is no doubt that injustice takes place all over the world as much as it does in India, or, in many places, even more. But there is a special quality to the kind of attitude towards Truth and Injustice which is found in present-day Modern India, which to my mind is the key to understanding the answer to a fundamental question: what is it that makes Indians so susceptible to self-destructive or inherently perverted ideas of Truth and Justice, to the extent that Hindu society has been meekly accepting grossly unjust treatment from all its enemies, while it has always been ready to be hostile to those who would be their friends and saviors and at the same time to be grossly unjust towards unfortunate and helpless sections of its own society. Is it just the fall-out of centuries of political slavery or is there some kind of invisible indoctrination going on all the time?
In my opinion, the three basic tenets of any social philosophy, or of any ideology or system of morals or ethics, should be Truth, Justice and Humanitarianism.
That humanitarianism has no place in public debate in India is a given. See my blog article "Rapists, Child Rights, Left and Right": the only persons who have human rights and who deserve humanitarian consideration and treatment in India, if one is to believe the "Human Rights" activists, are gangsters and mafiosi, terrorists, rapists, mass-murderers and the ultra-rich (including not only various categories of Indians but also foreign missionary organizations and multinationals) - the more heinous their acts and activities, the more they become eligible for special human-rights: their victims just simply don't matter except as incidental fodder. That such a situation can prevail in India is because of the fundamental perversion of ideas of Truth and Justice.
From the Hindu point of view, the extent of this perversion can be seen, just to take one example, in the leftist propaganda on the Ayodhya issue. As I put it in my blog article "Parameters for the Writing of Indian History": "Just one example of the omnipotence of this propaganda machine will suffice: the demolition of one mosque structure in Ayodhya on the 6th of December 1992. This, probably the first non-Hindu religious structure deliberately demolished by Hindus in the whole of historical memory in order to make way for a Hindu temple, is today branded as one of the most atrocious and momentous acts in human history, easily comparable with the holocaust of Jews in Nazi Germany. This single demolition followed the 1400-year old long deliberate destruction and demolition of literally hundreds of thousands of temples all over India and their replacement by mosques (including in the last seven decades itself, countless temples in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kashmir; and including in fact the very Hindu temple, as the Indian judiciary itself has now confirmed, which originally stood on the very spot occupied by the mosque-structure demolished on 6/12/1992), recorded in ruthless and gleeful detail by the Islamic historians themselves. And yet, this demolition of a single mosque structure was treated as something more cataclysmic than the explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki: from the day the demolition took place, it has been the subject of truly countless and endless newspaper headlines, books, articles, speeches, intellectual discussions, demonstrations and rallies (including maatam rallies), and endless rhetoric."
I was in New Delhi on the day the Babri-masjid structure was demolished, for the editing and checking of the draft of my first book. The next day, the front-page headlines on TV and in the Delhi newspapers showed maniacally screaming hordes of leftist activists outside VHP and government buildings, holding placards with slogans like "sharm se kaho ham Hindu hain" (say with shame we are Hindus)! The same people who deny, defend, condone or justify the deliberate destruction of countless lakhs of major Hindu temples by Muslims, and want Muslims to feel proud to say they are Muslims and Hindus to respect the Islam that sanctions these acts, still expect Hindus to be eternally ashamed for their reclamation of one spot, considered by Hindus to be one of their holiest places, from the occupation of a non-Hindu religious structure which had been built on the deliberately demolished body of a Hindu temple! The same sense of perversion is visible in the works of innumerable "academic scholars", as for example westerners like Audrey Truschke, who strive to whitewash the thousands of massive, detailedly documented and recorded, historical crimes of people like Aurangzeb while venting their venom in castigating a handful of mythically recorded sins of Hindu characters (most of these sins being recorded in sections regarded by most scholars as interpolations in the texts concerned).
But the discussion here is not of "Hindu" issues or leftist venom, it is of general issues of ethics and morality widely prevalent in the Indian psyche and pertaining to extremely perverted ideas of Truth and Justice. Just as my blood boiled on seeing Injustice glorified in Sohrab Modi's film Pukar, my blood always boils with fury on seeing the endless glorification of Falsehood and Injustice regularly being indoctrinated into the Indian psyche through films and serials. Pedestrian though the issue may seem to many, it is nevertheless very important.
India's motto is supposed to be "Satyameva Jayate" (Truth Always Prevails). I do not accept the validity of this dictum - what we see around us in this world rarely if ever shows the prevalence of Truth. I believe in the ideal of "Let Truth Prevail": Truth is something to strive for, and not to be expected as a naturally occurring phenomenon. But the motto pushed in Indian films and serials is "Truth Should Never be Allowed to Prevail".
[By films and serials, I generally exclude, of course, those of specific genres like crime, horror, comedy, etc., and even more the ultra-modern varieties featuring political events, ultra-westernized youth, NRIs and science-fiction themes, and I refer primarily to social films and serials supposedly catering to the Indian Family as a whole and supposed to be espousing moral and ethical "family" values].
It will be noticed that the most consistent activity of all the "good" people in these films and serials is telling lies to other "good" people and hiding the truth from them. In fact, the "good"-er the character, the more determinedly and firmly and persistently will he or she lie through his or her teeth and hide things. There are umpteen saintly reasons for telling lies and hiding the truth, a primary one being that the person (who is being lied to or is having the truth hidden from him or her) will "feel bad" on finding out the truth, or will have his or her opinion of someone else (usually a villain/vamp or dubious character) "spoiled"! That this results in countless unfortunate and destructive things happening in the lives of all the "good" people (who are being kept in the dark about things going on around them, or the true character of people or events) and all kinds of complicated misunderstandings, problems and troubles, is of no consequence: Lying is a Supreme Virtue to be promoted as an end in itself!
One very weird and grotesque, and regular, device by which people, both "good" and "bad", in these films and serials, can actually "compel" other people, though only the "good" ones, to tell lies or to hide the truth or indeed to do or not do whatever is wanted from them, is the "oath": kasam in (Urduized) Hindi and shapath in Marathi: I don't know what equivalent words would be used in other Indian languages. I do not think such a concept may even be known outside India, but in Indian films and serials, it is an extremely common device. It is natural in any culture to swear to do or to not do something: "I swear or take oath that I will do this" or "I swear or take oath that I will not do this", but I greatly doubt if any other people in the world can put oaths on other people: "I place an oath on you that you will do this" or "I place an oath on you that you will not do this". It starts with "tumhe meri kasam" and can even go on to "tumhe tumhare maa/bacche/bhai/xyz ki kasam", and the person so "oathed" is compelled to do or not do whatever he or she is told! Needless to say, no "good" person ever seems to think of putting such oaths, or counter-oaths, on the "bad" people!
[At this rate, wouldn't it be easy for some resourceful person to catch a billionaire on the street and tell him: "Give me one crore rupees: tumhe tumhari maa/beti ki kasam"? A failure to fulfill this "oath" would certainly result in something bad happening to the billionaire's mother or daughter as the case may be, so one assumes he would hasten to hand over the one crore rupees!]
But the biggest casualty of all this compulsive and inveterate lying is the concept of Justice. Actually, "a person who tolerates Injustice is as guilty as the person committing it". But in these films and serials, the ultimate demonstration of saintliness and virtue is encouraging people to behave unjustly. The "good" person will not only tolerate Injustice with a saintly smile or a faintly suffering look of acceptance, but will strain every fibre to see to it that the person committing this Injustice meets with no opposition from anyone else and in fact is encouraged, if not instigated, to do more and more and more of the same. Anyone who tries to interfere in support of this saint will be severely discouraged. This is for example a regular feature in the ubiquitous Indian saas-bahu serials, where the bahu (daughter-in-law) meekly, and with a saintlier-than-thou expression on her face, submits to insults, harassment, spiteful instructions and even physical abuse from her in-laws. In the rare case, it is the saas (mother-in-law) who is the saint and tolerates everything from a waspish and vampish daughter-in-law. The central point is that whoever is facing Injustice must accept it as his or her fate (maybe as just punishment for sins in a previous life?) and not only quietly take it, but encourage the tormentors to go on with it. The supreme virtue of Lying also enters into play when the saint, by lying through his or her teeth, prevents other good people from coming to the rescue by hiding from them the fact that anything is wrong. And if they do find out anyway, then it is time to gently (and if that does not work, more strongly) discourage, forbid or prevent them from coming to the rescue.
Incidentally, "good" people not only do not themselves object to Injustice being done to themselves, and in fact encourage and instigate the perpetrators to keep it up or intensify the same, but sometimes they are also quite indignant when they see other good people trying to resist Injustice to themselves instead of continuing to accepting it with saintly resignation and fortitude. As we are on films and serials, a typical example of this is a scene from the famous film "Ram Aur Shyam" (later remade with a female protagonist as "Seeta Aur Geeta"). In the film, Ram has been kept terrorized and under psychological pressure since childhood, and his vast property is being controlled by his villainous and sadistic brother-in-law (sister's husband) who regularly whips him whenever he is in a foul mood. But, unknown to everyone, Ram has suddenly and accidentally been substituted by his long-lost twin brother Shyam who is anything but a meek simpleton. When the villain picks up his whip and tries to carry out the usual routine, he is horrified to find the whip snatched from him and himself placed at the receiving end. But the noteworthy thing is the behavior of his wife (the sister of Ram and Shyam): the saintly lady, who is always shown standing at a safe distance shedding copious tears for her brother when her husband is doing the whipping, suddenly jumps into the fray and gives a resounding slap to her brother and saves her husband from further humiliation: of course, she sobs bitterly out of sorrow for having slapped her brother, but she achieves her saintly aim nevertheless. The same theme is shown in the remake "Seeta Aur Geeta", and is even more incredible. In the first film, the villain is at least the saint's husband. In the second film, the villain is the brother of the heroine's uncle's wife (!), and the saint who comes to his rescue is the heroine's own grandmother who is not even related to the villain! "Saintliness" and "goodness" is above relationships!
But, to return to the main point, why is it that tolerating and encouraging and even instigating Injustice on oneself (and on other "good" people) is so constantly depicted as a Supreme Virtue and a sign of Saintliness, Virtuousness and Goodness? One can understand tolerating under strong duress: a person who is helpless and powerless against strong oppressors and has no-one to help him/her will naturally be in no position to resist; but when a person tolerates injustice just out of "saintliness", there is just no excuse and such behavior is unforgivable and unjustifiable. The English word for such behavior would be Masochism or Self-flagellation (and Sadism). But perhaps the ostensible Indian practitioners of this perverted mentality, depicted in the films and serials as the "good" people, actually have a secret purpose behind this determination to tolerate, encourage and instigate nasty and unjust behavior in the "bad" people? Perhaps they believe strongly in the Law of Karma, and they want the "bad" people to behave as badly as they want and can, so that they will get the full punishment for it in their next life? Perhaps they believe in the same logic as the "injured dog" in the grotesque story in the Uttara Kāṇḍa of the Ramayana?
As per this story in the Valmiki Ramayana (Uttara Kāṇḍa, chapter 69), a dog, sleeping peacefully on the road has his head crushed by a nasty brahmin who is frustrated at not having received any alms throughout the day and vents his frustration on the sleeping dog by flinging a stone at his head and injuring him fatally. The dying dog crawls to the door of Rama's palace and wails for justice. On consulting the "scriptures", Rama's ministers (brahmins themselves) tell him that a brahmin cannot be punished by law!! Rama then asks the dog himself how he should punish the brahmin. The dog tells him that the head priest of a very eminent and respected monastery in Ayodhya has just died and his successor has not yet been appointed. He suggests that this brahmin be appointed the head priest. all are stunned and ask the dog how giving him this great and coveted honor will amount to punishing him. The dog reveals that in his last life he had been the head of that monastery. He had been an extremely pious and saintly person. One of his duties had been to extend hospitality to all the brahmins from all over the land, and from other lands, who visited Ayodhya and stayed in the monastery. In this also he had been painstakingly meticulous in giving full and unstinting service to the visiting brahmins. But - doubtless, without knowing it, and due to circumstances beyond his understanding and control, there may have been some inevitable shortcomings at various times in satisfying the visiting brahmins. For those unknown and unintended sins, he was reborn as a dog in this life. The dog's logic is that this particular brahmin was by nature a nasty and bad-tempered person, and he would be daily committing sins in his bad behavior towards visiting brahmins. The Law of Karma would then make him take birth as a dog for hundreds of lives, and he would get all his just punishments!!
I personally do not believe in the Law of Karma - the gross injustice prevailing everywhere in society, where more often than not the evil flourish and the good and innocent suffer, does not seem to me to be testifying to the truth of this alleged Law. What is the logic by which we must assume that the evil person flourishing now is flourishing because he was extremely good in his last life and the good and innocent person suffering now is suffering because he was extremely evil in his last life? If the other person in the last life was so different by nature from the person in this life, then they are two totally different people. Why should anyone get the fruits of the good deeds, or suffer the punishments for the evil deeds, of some totally unknown and totally different person?
One must do good things and not do bad things simply because that is the only way to make the world we are living in a better place, and not because there are rewards and punishments in store for us. The motto should be: "Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, sarve santu nirāmayāh, sarve bhadrāṇi paśyantu, mā kaścit dukkha bhāgbhavet - om śhantih śhantih śhantih" ("May all be happy, may all be free of illnesses, may all see auspicious things, may none suffer; Peace, Peace, Peace") Even Charvaka, the ancient Indian philosopher who advocated a full-fledged "nāstika" and materialistic philosophy (denying any existence after death, believing that existence starts with birth and ends with death, etc.) and said that the only two aims in life should be to maximize pleasures and minimize pains was not fully wrong in this. The aim (whether or not he intended it that way) should not be only to maximize one's own pleasures and minimize one's own pains, but to maximize pleasures and minimize pains for everyone around us and for the world in general. Then only will there be real Justice and Peace.
The above example from the Ramayana brings up one more very important point: ideas of Truth and Justice cannot be based on things written in "holy" books and "scriptures". No God comes to write or dictate books, the writers are all human beings with their own biases and vested interests. The above story from the Ramayana, for example, was obviously inserted by some brahmin interpolator who wanted to stress two principles: 1) A brahmin cannot be punished by Law. 2) When doing service (sewa) to a brahmin, see to it that there is not even the smallest shortcoming in it or anything which leaves him less than fully satisfied, or you will have t pay for this lapse. The point is, Hinduism is the most broad-minded Philosophy in the world: and/but everything written in the Sanskrit language long ago, or in a book from any period which is classified as a Hindu text, does not represent Hinduism. Hinduism is not a Religion of The Book (of any Book) unlike Christianity and Islam.
[Note added 14/11/2019: I am adding this note to pay tribute to an actress of the Marathi film industry who surprisingly showed sharp awareness of this phenomenon of degrading "saintliness" depicted in our films and serials. It was the period of the Shah Bano case (1984-86). I don't remember the exact date, but the Shiv Sena held a public rally at Nare Park in central Mumbai which was addressed by a range of leaders including the socialist union leader Sharad Rao and the Marathi film actress Asha Kale. Now this particular actress was popular in Marathi films and known for her extremely "sojwal" (i.e. saintly, goody-goody, suffering doormat, weepy) roles. In this rally, Asha Kale addressed the crowd and revealed her extreme repugnance to injustice and to the very saintliness she was compelled to play in films. She pointed out that often when she played these extremely "sojwal" roles, she actually felt very humiliated and depressed at having to depict "saintly" women who encouraged abuse and injustice by tolerating it in a doormat manner, and (or so she claimed) actually shed tears over this after returning home from the day's shoot. I was extremely touched by this rare sensitivity and common sense in a place where I had not expected to see it, and consequently, I have always had a high personal respect for this lady. I wish more people would realize that people who encourage bad behaviour in others and consider it saintliness to do so are greater sinners than the people who indulge in bad behaviour].