India’s Hitler Fetish

India’s Hitler Fetish
What the controversy around a proposed Bollywood film about the Fuhrer says about the country.

Even for an industry better known for its wardrobes and warbling than for its grasp of history, Bollywood’s latest project marks a new low. Earlier this month at a splashy kick-off in Bombay, novice director Rajeev Ranjan Kumar announced his forthcoming contribution to world cinema: a movie on the last 10 days of the Fuhrer’s life titled “Dear Friend Hitler.”

“It aims to take the viewer close to the enigmatic personality that Hitler was and give a glimpse into his insecurities, his charisma, his paranoia and his sheer genius,” said Mr. Kumar to reporters. “This is a film of ironies, of love unrealized, of betrayal from his most trusted ones and his denial of it.” The movie’s female lead, former Miss India Neha Dhupia, slated to play Hitler’s longtime lover Eva Braun, went a step further. “I’m a great fan of Hitler for sure,” gushed Ms. Dhupia to a television reporter. “And I’m a great fan now, after studying a lot about Eva Braun, I’m a great fan of hers as well.”
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12 Responses to “India’s Hitler Fetish”

  1. I think this piece overstates things. Don’t believe there’s any fascination with Hitler in India. The Sholay caricature probably represents Hitler for most people! A move which parallel’s Chaplin’s own in the Great Dictator where the monstrosity of Hitler is essentially reduced to comic caricature. One might question the politics in each instance but I think there is no real investment by Indians in Hitler, positive or negative. He is perhaps abstractly seen as a tyrannical figure.


  2. Re: I’m a great fan of Hitler for sure,” gushed Ms. Dhupia to a television reporter.

    Really? Cant imagine anyone saying something so stupid.


  3. I’ll have to hunt for the exact quote (which I may not be able to find), but SRK once said that the three people he admires most were Napolean, Genghis Khan, and Hitler. He may or may not have said that they were his “role models”. All this was quoted and discussed in a forum that may now be defunct, which is why the vagueness of the quote. He did however, describe all these three people as “great”, which is what touched off a storm of disturbed and rationalizing discussion at the forum, which viewed SRK the way this blog views Abhishek. 🙂


      • Thanks, Munna. That 2007 article gives the gist of it, but I was referring to an interview that took place earlier.

        In any case, all I meant to say was that people use words with different shades of meaning. If someone says Hitler was a “great leader”, well he was, in the sense of having a great impact on history. It does not necessarily mean that the impact was positive. I think I once read somewhere that Time Magazine did pick Hitler as their “Man of the Year” sometime during World War II, since he was the one that had the greatest impact on world events, and there were predictable howls of protest.

        In any case, I get tired of this kind of knee jerk closed mindedness. If someone feels that there are aspects of Hitler’s life or personality that are worth exploring, then they should be free to do so, without having to kowtow to other people’s demands that they must constantly chant, “Oh, he was a monster.” I dislike that kind of dehumanizing in any case. For one, Hitler wasn’t the only one that did heinous things, but, more importantly, the lesson to be learned from people like that is precisely to recognize that they *are* human — they are not from alien species. The question then becomes, what makes one kind of human being become a mass killer, and another not? And, in any case, why is Hitler any worse than Stalin, who was also responsible for the deaths of millions in the Ukraine, or Churchill who was responsible for the deaths of millions in India? And yet there is no criticism of Roosevelt allying himself with these two, so why is it so heinous that Bose tried to find allies in Germany and Japan?

        It is funny that all this happening shortly after the release of Raavan. Whatever be its merits or demerits (I have not yet seen it), the film does raise the very valid point that we cannot always be so sure who are the “good” guys and who are the “bad” guys. The labels do get changed around quite a bit depending on from whose perspective they are being viewed.


  4. I do think, however, that Dhupia’s quote above was probably taken out of context. The reaction to this announced film has been quite mindlessly visceral in the western media and among non-Indian members of online forums.


    “Dear Friend Hitler”

    on behalf of
    Amrapali Media Vision

    Nalin Singh
    Script writer

    Our film “Dear Friend Hitler” shows the clash of ideologies of the world’s two of the most talked about personalities of the era , Adolf Hitler and Mahatma Gandhi.
    Hitler believed in violence while Gandhiji in non violence.

    The name itself “Dear Fiend Hitler” comes from the contents of the two letters Gandhi wrote to Hiter. The first letter requested Hitler to stop the war while the second posed to him the unique preachers of non violence. He wrote that we seek to convert our enemies not defeat them on the battlefield.

    Unlike many of his countrymen he had rejected the idea of achieving freedom from the British rule with the help of Hitler though both had common enemies. In Gandhi’s view a violent winner is bound to be defeated by a superior force in the end. And even the memory of victory painted by the blood of violence is violent in nature.

    Hitler had advised Lord Halifax in 1938 to kill all Indian leaders including Gandhi so that Indian people gave up all hope of independence. But it was typical of Gandhi to remain friendly towards his own would be killer.and hence he addressed him as dear friend.

    We feel deeply hurt by the international media’s coverage of our film. At no point in our film are we glorifying Hitler. Contrary to this, the movie shows the unique position of non violence India had taken when the whole world was involved in WWII.

    Before this the world had never seen a fight for freedom through non violence.

    In the movie, we plan to show that in1945 Hitler loses in his ideology and is defeated while in 1947 Indian wins freedom through non violence. We plan to end the movie throuh the famous Nehru’s speech which he delivered when India got its freedom

    “at the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom”.


    • A good reply. Again I am sorry that it needed to be said.

      The makers had said right at the beginning that the title of their film comes from the salutation of Gandhi’s letter to Hitler. But, that quickly got lost in the howls of reflexive protest.


  6. Munna:

    Hitler film exposes India’s interest in dictator

    By MUNEEZA NAQVI (AP) – 6 hours ago

    NEW DELHI — When word spread this month that Bollywood planned a movie called “Dear Friend Hitler,” screenwriter Nalin Singh was genuinely shocked it stirred even a small controversy.

    The media expressed disdain, Jewish groups were horrified and his lead actor — though a bit baffled by the reaction — quit.

    While such a response would seem, if anything, understated in much of the world, Singh had reason to believe his film would not generate even a ripple of scandal in India.

    Here, Hitler is not viewed as the personification of evil, but with an attitude of morally ambiguous fascination. He is seen as a management guru — akin to Machiavelli or Sun Tzu — by business students, and an object of wonder by people craving order amid the chaos of India.

    “Indians still have a curiosity about Hitler. The Western audience has seen a lot of films on Hitler, but there was no Hindi film on him,” says Singh, explaining the choice of subject for his first film, which he hopes will be made by the end of the year.

    Without a major role in World War II, India does not have the intense feelings toward the Nazis that many other nations have. In Bollywood movies, characters routinely call each other “Hitler” as a minor insult, referring to a nagging wife or annoying boss.

    But Indians also have a strange fascination with the Nazi dictator, whose brutal dictatorship and slaughter of 6 million Jews has made his name synonymous with the devil in the West.

    A few years ago a restaurant named Hitler’s Cross opened in the suburbs of Mumbai complete with posters of the dictator and swastikas for decor. Protests from Jewish groups forced the owners to change the name to The Cross Cafe.

    A home furnishings company was forced to withdraw a line of bedspreads called NAZI amid similar complaints.

    “Mein Kampf,” Hitler’s semi-autobiographical book outlining his anti-Semitic ideology, sells thousands of copies a year in the upmarket, air-conditioned bookstores of New Delhi.

    The book, free of copyright in India, is printed by over half a dozen publishers. It is even a staple amid the small stack of top-selling books hawked by young boys at traffic lights in India’s cities.

    The book once helped inspire India’s far right Hindu politicians, who often expressed open admiration for Hitler, but it is now appealing to a new generation of less political readers.

    “It’s basically the young crowd. The rebellious,” says Anuj Bahri, who runs Bahrisons, a popular book store in New Delhi’s posh Khan Market.

    “It’s a constant seller and sells one, two copies a day,” he says, adding that part of the draw for its young readership seems to lie in the fact that Hitler “defied the whole world and challenged the whole world.”

    Sociologist Ashish Nandy says a confluence of reasons explains why Indians are drawn to both the man and the book.

    For some readers, modern India is a country in chaos and, there is a “certain admiration” for Hitler and his extreme authoritarianism.

    There is also India’s colonial inheritance when “every enemy of Britain was a friend of India and at least potentially a good person,” he says, adding that among today’s young readers “there is kind a vague sense that it’s about a person who gave a tough time to the Brits.”

    Tarun Singhal, a management student at New Delhi’s prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, who first read the book as a young undergraduate, says for him the book is uplifting.

    “(It) serves as a reminder that nothing is unachievable,” he said, adding that he is able to separate that message from the book’s pervasive anti-Semitic ideology.

    India’s interest in Hitler, mirrors Nazi Germany’s in India as the home of the purportedly pure Aryan race — which formed the basis of the Nazis’ notions of racial supremacy. The Nazis also co-opted the ancient Hindu symbol of the swastika for the Nazi Party flag and arm bands.

    When news about the Indian film on Hitler came out earlier this month, it might have been a step too far.

    The title is a reference to two letters written by Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi to Hitler.

    The first written in 1939 asked the Nazi leader to help prevent a “war which may reduce humanity to the savage state.”

    India’s tiny Jewish community condemned the film as insensitive and the lead actor Anupam Kher dropped out saying he didn’t want to upset anyone.

    “It’s very hurtful,” says Jonathan Solomon of the India Jewish Federation, of the film’s title. “The Jews in India were not the victims of anti-Semitism or the Holocaust, but we feel for our brother Jews and this is very hurtful to Jews all over the world.”

    But Singh is determined to see his script — which he says juxtaposes the personality of the German dictator against India’s Gandhi — on celluloid and has the support of the film’s producers. If he’s able to persuade Kher to return to the project or find a replacement, the film should be ready by the end of the year, he says.

    “It’s misleading to say our film is glorifying Hitler,” he says, adding that he just wants to make an “authentic” film for the Hindi film audiences.


    • Re: “Without a major role in World War II, India …”

      This is typical of the amnesia surrounding India’s role in the two World Wars: more Indians died in those conflicts than in ANY of the post-1947 conflicts. Thousands and thousands of Indians died in the killing fields of El Alamein, other battlefields in North Africa, and heck even in the aftermath of the wars (e.g. post-World War I Iraq, in quelling a rebellion against British rule) — nearly 75,000 in World War I, and ~87,000 in World War II. That is why, from Kurdistan to East Africa, one can find graveyards with Indian military dead. “Without a major role in World War II” for India, Britain might not have had a major role in that conflict.


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