This past week many news channels predictably tweaked the title of the new cult Bollywood hit Love, Sex aur Dhokha to illustrate the Sania Mirza-Shoaib Malik-Ayesha Siddiqui love triangle. They also drew comparisons between golfer Tiger Woods and cricketer Malik. Both are sportsmen, both got into trouble because of a phone and both made a woman seriously angry. The two sportsmen coincidentally even gave press conferences 8 hours apart in their parts of the world.
Personally, Mirza reminds me of a cousin who can never identify the elusive Mister Right in the midst of all those men you shouldn’t marry. In such a situation, it’s usually the case that everyone except the woman in love can see the one she’s picked is Mister Wrong.
Personally, I also don’t understand why we continually pass moral judgements on the sex lives of our sports and film stars. If cricketer Yuvraj Singh wishes to leave his hotel room for a midnight rendezvous, more power to him. And if playing the field is more important to Singh than playing on the field, it’s his employer’s headache, not national news.
Prime time: Something positive actually came out of this news story. Mahesh Kumar A/AP
But the Sania-Shoaib-Ayesha case is interesting because it’s fun to watch India’s largely Hindu-run media’s awkward attempts to analyse Muslim personal law. “In Islam, there can only be a divorce if the nikah is valid,” Malik said at one point. On television, they lined up the mullahs to explain what’s what. Experts debated whether it was legal to get married on the phone (some said yes, some said not really. The first is correct). And can you even say nikahnama and dowry in the same breath? Why all the fuss if it’s not illegal for Muslims to have two wives? And is it a criminal offence if you don’t actually have the first wife’s consent before you marry the second?
“Why should they have different laws?” a younger colleague suddenly said, in the midst of a discussion about why we even care whether or not Malik consummated his first marriage. There was silence as four pairs of eyes looked accusingly at him to explain why he had used the word “they”.
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But how often does the modern Muslim’s way of life make it to our popular culture? Even though Muslims are extremely well represented in the Hindi film industry, the portrayal of the community rarely rises above stereotypes on the big screen.
This was underlined when Star News used the dated Salma Agha-starrer Nikaah to illustrate the mechanics of a Muslim marriage. Ironically, when this blockbuster released in 1982 it was bitterly criticized for its simplistic depiction of a Muslim divorce (you know you can’t just mutter talaq, talaq, talaq and walk out of a marriage, right?).
Much has been written about how Bollywood stereotypes our minorities. Christians are always alcoholics or floozies in our films, Muslims tawaifs and gangsters. Until very recently you never saw Bollywood’s four superstar Khans (I’m counting Saif too) even hint at their Muslim identity (on or off screen).
So when we publicly debate the intricacies of Muslim marriage (and the theology of the four schools of Islamic law), however poor the quality of that debate, we’re bound to end up with more knowledge than we previously had. And that, in my book, is the silver lining in the Sania-Shoaib-Ayesha mess.
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