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D.W. Griffith and his American silent film “The Hindoo Dagger”: The significance of the term “Hindoo” in it!

The name Hindoo is sure to conjure up in our minds thoughts of mysticism, fetishism, thaumaturgy, and occult art

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Image Source : Saada.org
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  • “The Hindoo Dagger” was Indian in name only and there was nothing Indian about it except for the association of the dagger with India
  • The name Hindoo was used to conjure up thoughts of mysticism, fetishism, thaumaturgy, and occult art
  • In time, many Indian terms were associated with the occult and the people were viewed upon as con-men

When the “Inventor of Hollywood” released his groundbreaking film The Birth of a Nation in 1915, significant controversy sparked focusing on its negative depiction of African Americans and its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan. D. W. Griffith, film director, writer and producer who pioneered modern filmmaking techniques, earned millions of dollars in profit for his film, The Birth of a Nation. Out of his 500 films, there is one with an Indian reference which can be considered offensive. “The Hindoo Dagger” was Indian in name only. There was nothing Indian about it except for the association of the dagger with India.

India was then believed to be the land of the occult and supernatural and the word Hindoo” as a way to signal “alterity” and “ethnological interest.” According to Saada, a description for The Hindoo Dagger during its release describes it as such:

David Wark Griffith Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

The name Hindoo is sure to conjure up in our minds thoughts of mysticism, fetishism, thaumaturgy, and occult art, and with reason, for Hindustan is, without a doubt, the birthplace of all such weird practice. Hence it is that anything coming from the Hindoos is regarded as possessed of certain phylacteric and talismanic powers, and it was not strange that Jack Windom should experience a sensation of awe at the reception of the Hindoo dagger from his old chum, Tom, who was traveling in India.

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The Hindoo Dagger is a murder-suicide movie. When the protagonist Jack Windom sees his wife embracing another man, he stabs her with a dagger he received from his friend, who had been to India. Overcome by fear, he flees the crime scene. The wife’s lover comes out from hiding and saves his wounded lover.

After a year, the lover discovers that she has been cheating on him with a third man. Overcome by rage he stabs her to death and flees. Then, in a twist, Jack Windom returns to the home, entering the crime scene he had left. When he enters the bathroom, he finds his wife exactly as he had left her. Horrified by the scene, Jack plunges the dagger into his heart falling to death over his wife’s corpse. The desire to enact murders was placed squarely on the instrument brought over from India.

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In 1902, Thomas Edison’s Hindoo Fakir featured an Indian magician, performing a series of tricks with the aid of trick photography. In time, many Indian terms were associated with the occult and the people were viewed upon as con-men. The term “fakir” described a host of figures, from Hindu yogis to Sufi dervishes, as well as street performers, magicians, and, con-artists. Sheet music for songs like “Hindu Man” and “My Hindoo Man” described the fakir, in his “turban crown,” who came from the “home of ‘ologists’ … palmologists, and flim-flam.” Also many films like The Love Girl (1916), Upside Down (1919), and Sucker Money (1933), featured the figure of the Hindu prince and swami, who would later be revealed as a fraud or con-man. Even associations with yoga conjured fantastical notions about the “unnatural hypnotic sway” that yogis could have on their followers states the Saada article.

-prepared by Ajay Krishna, an intern at NewsGram.

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  • AJ Krish

    So Indians were viewed upon as con-men and often associated with the occult. So how do western movies depict Indians now? I guess a lot has changed!

  • Aparna Gupta

    The movie was great but didn’t knew about the term Hindoo on it. It’s ridiculous to call Hindoo’s a con-men.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    D.W Griffith is known as the father of silent cinema, his Psycho is one of the best thriller. But the depiction of Indians in the movies is not what we could appreciate

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  • AJ Krish

    So Indians were viewed upon as con-men and often associated with the occult. So how do western movies depict Indians now? I guess a lot has changed!

  • Aparna Gupta

    The movie was great but didn’t knew about the term Hindoo on it. It’s ridiculous to call Hindoo’s a con-men.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    D.W Griffith is known as the father of silent cinema, his Psycho is one of the best thriller. But the depiction of Indians in the movies is not what we could appreciate

Next Story

Star ICC Asks Anonymous Accuser Of Sexual Assault Charges To Step Forward

The accuser said that while she was at the company, there were "clear instructions" given to make the sales team fulfil the targets.

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Star ICC
#MeToo: Star India internal panel writes to anonymous accuser to come forward

The Internal Complaints Committee of Star India on Sexual Harassment (Star ICC) has written to the anonymous accuser — who had alleged “sexual exploitation” of women employees — asking her to reach out to the committee or its external member on allegations made by her in tweets.

In a Twitter post on Friday, Star ICC, formed under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 said it had reached out to the accuser through two emails on the ID provided by her through her tweets. The committee’s external member is Veena Gowda, a Mumbai-based woman rights lawyer.

The accuser, who tweeted through handle @ApurvaS17 — saying she would remain anonymous — had made sexual harassment allegations against the company’s officials in an open letter.

Star ICC
Star believes that the allegations made in the tweet without the complainant coming forward and giving any further detail, is a malicious attempt.

Asked to comment on the allegations, a Star India spokesperson said in a statement that despite no response by the anonymous accuser to the messages sent, the Star ICC had “suo moto conducted a preliminary inquiry and found no basis or factual accuracy” in respect of the allegations.

“We strongly urge any genuine complainant to approach the Star ICC. At Star, we stand with women in drawing the line on any behaviour that violates human dignity or the ability for women to pursue their dreams with respect and freedom. We have a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment,” read the statement in response to an email query by IANS.

It also said that the anonymous tweet shared on October 13 raised an allegation that “runs completely counter to everything we believe in and the norms and values that we deeply embrace.”

The statement further said: “Star believes that the allegations made in the tweet without the complainant coming forward and giving any further detail, is a malicious attempt to malign and defame the reputation of the company and the CEO.” It said that Star reserves its right to initiate appropriate legal proceedings in this regard.

Star ICC
The Star ICC had “suo moto conducted a preliminary inquiry and found no basis or factual accuracy.

The accuser in her tweets had said that the #MeToo movement had encouraged her to come forward and that she had quit her job at Star India in the Airtime Sales section after 26 months and nine days and was now a homemaker, “taking care of my baby and hubby in a beautiful country, far away from Mumbai.”

The accuser said that while she was at the company, there were “clear instructions” given to make the sales team fulfil the targets in case they want to continue with their employment contract, “for which even if you have to take the clients to a hotel room and sleep with them for days.”

She said there were many instances when she and three of her female colleagues (interns) had clear instructions to reach a hotel after office hours for a private party hosted for influential friends.

Also Read: India’s Junior Foreign Minister M.J. Akbar Quits Following #MeToo Harassment Allegation By Women

She says the influential friends were “mostly bureaucrats and sometimes politicians and foreign nationals” who were “all ready to violate you, force you to dance against your wishes, drink with them, make drink(s) for them, exchange your numbers and even quietly accompany them to their respective rooms if they want you to”.

Veteran writer-director Vinta Nanda, who earlier this month accused actor Alok Nath of sexually violating her 19 years ago, wrote on Twitter: “I’m neither shocked nor surprised. I salute your courage to have come out and spoken out. The rot runs deep.” (IANS)