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Controversy swirls around Bollywood romcom and use of Shoah references

“Amazon Prime should stop monetizing ‘Bawaal’ by removing this banal trivialization of the systematic murder of millions of victims of the Nazi Holocaust,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

A promo from the film “Bawaal.” Source: YouTube.

A new Bollywood film sparked controversy for its extensive comparisons between a romantic relationship and the Holocaust.

The plot of the 2023 romantic comedy “Bawaal” revolves around Ajay Dixit, a history teacher from India who embarks on a trip to Europe with his newlywed wife, navigating the complexities of their strained relationship.

The film repeatedly draws parallels between the couple’s relationship and the Holocaust. At one point, the two are told “every relationship goes through its Auschwitz” of the struggles that arise in partnerships, and in a pivotal scene, Dixit (Varun Dhawan) states, “We’re all a little like Hitler, aren’t we?”

Even more provocative, there is a fantasy scene in the film where the couple is trapped in a gas chamber alongside men dressed in striped clothing, resembling Holocaust victims being exposed to poison gas.

“Amazon Prime should stop monetizing ‘Bawaal’ by immediately removing this banal trivialization of the suffering and systematic murder of millions of victims of the Nazi Holocaust,” stated Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of global social action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

An official Israeli Foreign Ministry social-media handle, Israel in India, posted that the Israeli embassy “is disturbed by the trivialization of the significance of the Holocaust in the recent movie ‘Bawaal.’”

“There was a poor choice in the utilization of some terminology in the movie, and though we assume no malice was intended, we urge everyone who may not be fully aware of the horrors of the Holocaust to educate themselves about it,” it stated. “Our embassy is constantly working to propagate educational materials on this crucial subject, and we are open to engaging in conversations with all individuals to foster a better understanding of the universal lessons derived from the Holocaust.”

‘Film not shot on premises of Auschwitz-Birkenau’

Naor Gilon, the Israeli ambassador to India, Sri Lanka and Bhutan, posted that he has not and will not watch the film.

“From what I’ve read, there was a poor choice of terminology and symbolism. Trivialization of the Holocaust should disturb all,” he wrote. “I urge those who don’t know enough about the horrors of the Holocaust to educate themselves about it.”

Pakistani and Indian publications have claimed that the production obtained special permission to shoot at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

“I would like to stress that the film was not shot on the premises of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. They got no such approval,” Bartosz Bartyzel, a spokesman for the museum, told JNS.

“For many years, epic films are not allowed to be shot on the grounds of the memorial. The same was in this case,” he said. “According to my information, producers were using reconstructions and digital reconstructions. The museum has not received a film’s script.”

On Monday, Lyn Julius, co-founder of Harif, the association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa in the United Kingdom, became the latest in a string of community leaders to express concerns over the film.

“India was seemingly unaffected by the Holocaust. It is often praised for its absence of antisemitism, which allowed a 2,000-year-old Jewish community to survive,” Julius said. “But this is no excuse for this film to include scenes in poor taste which make crude and sensationalist comparisons with Hitler and gas chambers.”

Nitesh Tiwari, the film director, has stood by his work, telling an Indian audience last week that he was “disappointed” with some of the reactions to the film.

“I don’t understand where that sensitivity and that trigger goes when they watch, suppose, an English film,” he said. 

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