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Bollywood film ‘Bawaal’ accused of trivializing Holocaust and demeaning victims


By Rhea Mogul, CNN

New Delhi (CNN) — A Bollywood film has been accused of trivializing the murder of millions during the Holocaust with flippant dialogue and a storyline that uses the Nazi’s death camps as a metaphor for relationship woes, prompting a prominent Jewish rights group to call for its removal from streaming platforms.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) on Tuesday urged Amazon Prime to take down “Bawaal” from its platform because of the “outlandish abuse of the Nazi Holocaust as a plot device.”

The film, which is directed by Indian filmmaker Nitesh Tiwari and stars well-known actors Janhvi Kapoor and Varun Dhawan, tells the story of a narcissistic history professor who is embarrassed by his wife’s epilepsy. They travel to Europe to prominent World War II sites, where their love for one another deepens. Scenes from the past and present are intertwined in the film.

Multiple critics of the film, including inside India, have called it out for using the murder of around 6 million Jewish people and five million others as a backdrop for the couple’s relationship difficulties.

The trailer of “Bawaal,” which uses the tagline “Every love story has its own war,” features a fantasy scene where Kapoor and Dhawan’s characters are trapped in a gas chamber.

“We’re all a little bit like Hitler, aren’t we?” Kapoor’s character says at one point in the trailer. “We’re not happy with what we have. And we want what others have.”

In another scene in the film, she says: “Every relationship goes through their Auschwitz”.

The Auschwitz concentration camp was one of many locations where Adolf Hilter’s Nazi regime brought Jews and others from all over Europe to be starved, humiliated, terrorized and murdered in gas chambers.

The dialogue and plot has sparked outrage with the SWC calling on the Amazon Prime to stop monetizing the film.

“Auschwitz is not a metaphor. It is the quintessential example of Man’s capacity for Evil,” SWC Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, said in a statement.

“Nitesh Tiwari, trivializes and demeans the memory of 6 million murdered Jews and millions of others who suffered at the hands of Hitler’s genocidal regime.”

CNN has reached out to Amazon for comment.

The movie has not been received well in India, with many critics giving it poor reviews.

One of India’s leading English-language newspapers, The Hindustan Times, called it “the most insensitive film of the year so far.”

Film critic Shantanu Das wrote: “There’s a lot to register and process in the absolute mess that is Nitesh Tiwari’s Bawaal, but let’s start with something that strikes immediately: the audacity.”

He described the scene where Kapoor and Dhawan’s characters enter the gas chamber as among the worst ones, calling it “an excruciatingly horrible and shameful depiction” of the Holocaust.

Tiwari, Kapoor and Dhawan have not publicly addressed the SWC statement. But they did speak about the building controversy in an interview this week.

Speaking at a press junket, Tiwari said they made “Bawaal” with a lot of “love, care and good intentions.”

He added: “I’m a bit disappointed with the way some people have comprehended it. That was never the intention. It would never be my intention to be insensitive.”

Kapoor claimed an Israeli professor she knows, whose family members died during the Holocaust, praised the film and was not offended by the scenes. “The intention has always been pure,” she said.

Dhawan said he respected everyone’s opinion, adding that critics are harder on Hindi movies and give more leeway to Western films.

“Some people got triggered about this,” he said. “But where does that sensitivity go when they watch an English film?”

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