THE winds of hyper-nationalism are blowing across many parts of the world, but some of its funniest (for want of a better word) manifestations are reserved for our subcontinent.
The latest subject of the Indian hyper-nationalists’ fury is Indian film star Priyanka Chopra, who is playing the lead role in the US TV series Quantico. In the series, she starts off as an FBI trainee and later agent who works on a joint CIA-FBI task force to prevent the assassination of a ‘liberal’ woman president by hardliners in both the political and security establishments.
At one point, the fictional aspect of the series tests the patience of the viewer to the point where she shoots the attorney general of the US in a public place because he was conspiring to undermine democracy and is able to get away clean.
The latest subject of the Indian hyper-nationalists’ fury is Indian film star Priyanka Chopra, who is playing the lead role in the US TV series ‘Quantico’.
She goes on the run, is sacked from the FBI and then returns to clear her name and be reinstated. If I recall correctly, this was the first series. In the latest, Alex, the character played by Ms Chopra, is part of a ‘black ops’ team that works on US soil to thwart plots against the US.
Now you’d be wondering what here would incur the wrath of the hyper-nationalists. In the most recent episode, a New York professor at Hudson University disappears with weaponised uranium (10 kilos of uranium 235 whatever that means).
It is soon established that a group of ‘Pakistani Muslim’ terrorists have taken the husband and the diabetic son of the professor hostage and are forcing her to connect the uranium to a trigger with the aim of targeting a Pakistan-India peace summit over Kashmir in Manhattan with that nuclear device!
Of course, before any harm is done the black ops team raids the hideout of the terrorists and shoots all of them bar one. When one of her male colleagues is trying to interrogate the only remaining terrorist, Alex examines one of the dead terrorist’s corpse for clues.
And this is where Ms Chopra, or Alex, creates trouble for herself. She rises to her feet and says: ‘Rudrakhsha Mala’, a Hindu rosary. The last thing you’d find on a Pakistani Muslim … false flag operation … Indian nationalists trying to trap Pakistan with a mushroom cloud.
The aim, she adds, was not just to scuttle the peace talks … it’ll put America on India’s side forever. But the nuclear physicist, fearing for her family’s life, has other ideas. She picks up one of the guns dropped by a dead terrorist and forces everyone to head to the peace talks’ venue.
The episode ends after a sniper takes out all the bad guys, including the head of the Indian intel team who, it turns out, had no faith in his own government’s peace efforts and was leading the false flag operation.
In the final moments, the lone, injured terrorist who escapes with the weapon is cornered with the trigger in his hand by Alex and shot when he tries to press the button to unleash a mushroom cloud.
This was enough for hyper-nationalist Indians to take to the social media and attack Ms Chopra rather viciously and raise questions about her patriotism. To their credit, some of the serious sections of the Indian print media came to her rescue, pointing out this was fiction.
A piece in the ‘Wire’ also said that nowhere in the series is she presented as an Indian. In fact, even in this episode an Indian-born FBI colleague tells her, he had mixed feelings about the incident as he thought the Pakistanis were bad. What do you know. You were born in Oakland, he says to Alex.
I found all this frothing-at-the-mouth condemnation of Priyanka Chopra very funny to be honest as the fiction in the series has hardly any plausible element. It is fiction that often goes into over-the-top, utter-fantasy mode.
But, I guess, this hullabaloo over a few sentences delivered by an actor in a work of fiction demonstrates how insecure this hyper-nationalism has made so many of us. If you can’t tolerate even fiction, God help you when reality confronts you one of these days whatever it may be.
And please before some of you get upset, these thoughts are not about Indian hyper-nationalists exclusively. Wait till the episode is watched by their counterparts on our side of the border. I wish I could say with assurance their reaction would be different on what it said about Pakistan.
Also whilst the rogue Indian agents all appear in well-tailored suits, members of the Pakistani security delegation are attired in such sloppy uniforms that they look no more than caricatures of themselves. This took away any sense of reality.
Now either I cry blue murder at this or shake my head and look at it as a work of fiction designed to entertain and not offend. If I am seriously offended by the content nobody is holding a gun to my head to watch. I can always choose something more suited to my taste and sensibilities.
But we find it impossible to switch channels or just not read or hear what offends us. We have to be outraged and in a manner where someone’s patriotism and integrity is questioned at the drop of a hat. This, even if they were merely being a professional and doing their job.
The world we live in. Sigh.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2018