Thursday, June 26, 2008

Who says you can write your own destiny?

Every day I try to forget 'Aamir' and every day, the film seems to come up in discussion, the papers or as a TV spot. For over a week, I've been trying to tell myself, it's only a film. But try as I might, I cannot calm down the negative vibes it has evoked in me.

The fact that it is shot in Chor Bazar, Bhendi Bazar, Dongri, the areas that I grew up in, where I still have family, where my family still has family and friends, makes it difficult for me to view the film objectively. In my childhood, these areas were mohallahs, not ghettoes, as they have become now.

And I wonder, how did these traditional community enclaves become ghettoes? Is it due to overcrowding and a breakdown of infrastructure? Is it due to the takeover by communal and criminal elements? Or is it due to a changed perception of a community?

The director of 'Aamir' professes that the film is the story of a common person, and how easily a common man today can become a victim of elements beyond his control.

The dangerous part of the film is how every common man from Andheri to Dongri, in fact, seem to be part of the terrorist network, connected to Pakistan, actively a part of the terrorist nexus, or at least passively aware of it. From the taxi-driver at the airport to the seemingly friendly prostitute in the dingy lodge in Dongri, from restaurant owner to waiter to STD phone booth woman, from the manager of the lodge, petty gangsters to junk-yard workers, and countless other nameless, unidentified faces, they form a malevolent, hostile and inescapable trap for any innocent.

'Aamir' perpetrates the worst myths about Indian Muslims.

1. That most of them live in ghettoes.
2. That they live in filth and squalor.
3. That they do nothing to come out of it.
4. That they eat and butcher meat, and that enhances their inherent violence.
5. That they are more attached to the larger Islamic community rather than their own country.
6. That they get a huge amount of money from outside to fund their terrorist activities here.
7. That most of them are connected somehow with the terrorists or the underworld. Actively or passively.
8. That an outsider cannot say who or who may not be involved.
9. And of course, that anyone, who makes any attempt to get out of the larger community will still at the end be subsumed by it, becoming part of the terrorist nexus due to circumstance, or become a victim to it.

These are as absurd as the myths that all Gujaratis are right-wing Hindu fundamentalists, all Biharis are thieves and crooks, all Maharashtrians are lazy, unfriendly and insular, all Goans are amiable drunks and all Sikhs are either fools or trouble-makers.

The trouble with the film is that it is very well-shot. Anyone, who has anything at all to do with film-making in Mumbai will know how difficult it is to execute a shoot like that, given the crowds and traffic here.

That combined with the narrative form of a man chasing against time to save his loved ones, in fact, does not give any space for the protagonist Aamir, to be well-defined as a character. The one dialogue that makes his stand clear, that he believes that each person can make their own destiny, that they can pull themselves out of their circumstances, gets lost in the thrill of the chase. And of course, by the countering dialogue of The Bad Man who asks if this is the destiny (that is trying to save his family) is what he has chosen.

The Bad Man however gets enough time to repeat ad nauseam his stand on the Muslim issue, spending a lot of precious time haranguing Aamir about Islam, his responsibilities to the community, his infidelity in having a Hindu girl friend, not caring enough to send money to fund terrorist activities, and so on. To the extent, that it gets one wondering whether The Bad Man is more keen on teaching Aamir a fundamentalist lesson in Islam, or he wants him to get on with the job.

Was The Bad Man seriously hoping to convert Aamir to the terrorist cause, by kidnapping his family, having him wade through shit, not letting him drink water (a very un-Islamic thing to do, by the way, because not giving someone a glass of water when they ask for it, is tantamount to a sin in Muslim households), having him beaten up??

In the same vein, it is not clear why Aamir, an innocent and reluctant man, has to be emotionally blackmailed into putting a bomb in a bus, after a complicated, convoluted journey through the city, when it would be the easiest thing in the world for any one of The Bad Man's minions to walk into a crowded bus with a bomb, leave it there, and walk away, without any trace.

But of course, The Bad Man is a dark, bald, fat, meat-eating monster who shuns light, and sits in a dark room all day. He exudes menace when he holds up a kid, and then proceeds to beat up a toy monkey. So perhaps, one can expect only illogical planning from him.


SUR NOTES said...

was going to leave for the film fifteen minutes later- now i am wondering.

Banno said...

Sur, please come back and comment after you've seen the film. Want to know what you think.

Space Bar said...

This is the first ungushy review of the film i've read. it's a good perspective, though i haven't seen the film...

Anonymous said...

I had decided I didn't want to see this film because I get weary of the Muslims vs everyone else same-old same-old...

I love the personal touch you've given this review (that you grew up, and still have friends and family, in the area). Maybe you should make a film about the transition from "neighborhood" (not exactly sure how to translate "mohallah") to "ghetto" and what causes it to happen, or causes perceptions to change...really interesting post, Banno, thanks.

Banno said...

Space Bar, see the film. Would like to know what you think.

Yes Memsaab, I get tired too, weary, weary, weary of this Muslim issue. Yes, neighborhood is a good enough translation of 'mohallah', though mohallahs were traditionally centred around a particular community. But do see the film, if only to give me another perspective on it. It's so successful here, and got such good reviews.

Anonymous said...

I will get a DVD of Aamir tomorrow. Hopefully, it wont be a camera print.
I wish we didn't live so far away from civilization (read theaters).

SUR NOTES said...

did not end up going. and only partly because of your review.
got caught up in things.

Unmana said...

That's exactly how I felt on watching the movie. It made me very uncomfortable.

Anonymous said...

Hi ,

I was reading ur blog posts and found some of them to be wow.. u write well.. Why don't you popularize it more.. ur posts on ur blog ‘Banno, Dhanno and Teja’ took my particular attention as some of them are interesting topics of mine too;

BTW I help out some ex-IIMA guys who with another batch mate run where you can post links to your most loved blog-posts. Rambhai was the chaiwala at IIMA and it is a site where users can themselves share links to blog posts etc and other can find and vote on them. The best make it to the homepage!

This way you can reach out to rambhai readers some of whom could become your ardent fans.. who knows.. :)


Banno said...

Unmana, yes.

Ray, thanks for the tip. I'll definitely do that. Always nice to have more readers.

Anonymous said...

Hey! Nice Read.

Unknown said...

Hi Batul,

Very poignant and sensitive review. I know it is a shame how erroneous public perception twists a community's image.

Keep writing!


Annie Zaidi said...

banno, am glad you wrote this. although i liked the way the film was shot and the way it was paced and structured, there was something bothering me while I was watching and even afterwards, whenever i considered doing the review. it felt like the filmmaker was setting up the two faces of muslims - the wretched (and aligned them dangerously close to the terrorists) and the innocent (educated, liberal etc). the intention was fine, i thought. but if only the latter group was not so isolated, and the former not so insidiously entrenched and expanding. and there were almost no shades representing what cames in-between. when it comes to religion, the issue (in idnia esp) needs more sensitive handling than this film had.

Banno said...

Junaid Memon, Nomad Films forwarded my link to a few of his friends. These are some responses, which I am posting with his permission.

Junaid wrote: I loved her review, what about you ?

Kavita Gulrajani, Dubai, wrote: Hi Junaid, I haven’t seen the film but after this review would definitely want to watch it…Its sad that its not releasing in Dubai & I will have to get my hands on a CD by hook or by crook.
Its sad to discriminate Muslims in today’s world that too as I myself have a lot of muslim friends who are really god fearing & good human beings doing good work for the community.

God Bless!!

Dhaval Shah wrote: Hi Junaid. Thanks for forwarding this review. Lots of people have been going ga-ga about this film. This review is a very good perspective of the film and it seems to be coming stragiht from the heart. This film makes you lose trust. As Batul pointed out the network of terrorist in the film from a prostitue, to a pco booth owner etc. If this really exist, i want to lock myself inside a room and never go out in fear.

Although one point i'd like to add here is that the part where Aamir is branded a terrorist without any investigation is a comment on the news channels today. Any story to just fill up the space is aired without any attention to detail or proper investigation done on the same.

I also believe that this trend of making films on terrorism and communal issues is feuding in more of the same. There is no change in behaviour. i would like give you an example of my friend's father. A Phd., working at a very high post in Unilever, is such a fundamentalist that he wouldn't buy sweets from shops around the Mahim dargah as he thinks this money goes in funding terrorist activites. Yeah i have seen and heard that in person.

i don't know whether all this makes sense coming from an aspiring film maker who is just starting a career.
i just believe in one thing if you are good to people they will be good to you.

Anand Raman wrote: Yet to see the film - will see it when it premieres on UTV Movies later this month - will keep this subtext in mind though.

In general, all generalisations with respect to anything at all are a waste of time.

What really does worry me though is that the five thousand year old civilization that India is, where we have a reputation for tolerance and inclusivity is now suddenly becoming increasingly intolerant of practically everything.

There seems to be nothing one can do in this country anymore without offending someone. I find that fairly tragic and worry about the world our children will have to live in.

Maybe we should replace our national anthem with Lennon's song - All you need is love. Now I bet I just offended a whole lot of supposedly patriotic people. :-)

Mohan Siroya wrote: Dear Junaid, I agree with what Batul has written.

"Aamir" is most illogical film from the frame one ,besides a plagiarised indianized version of the movie 'Caveat".

If the writer-director intended to portray the Muslims as mere vitims of the fundamentalist machinations, then he has not only failed miserbly but also defiled the entire community as the co-conspirators ,by what happened in the Muslim dominated areas of Dongri, Bhendi Bazar ,Mohd Ali Road or in the entire city of Mumbai for that matter, from wherever the character passed.
"Suspension of Disbelief " is not normal but abnormal in this film.

the mad momma said...

I'm glad you wrote this banno...

Anonymous said...

Wonderful insight! I really appreciate your take on this film. It's true that perpetuating such exaggerated myths is dangerous, but I took it as a short story in real time that pared away the whole of reality to tell the tale. Yet damage can be done with this. I really liked the supplementary disc about HOW they managed to get some of those shots. Well written and thoughtful as usual. Look girl, I'm shallow, I just liked his cufflinks. ;)
All the best,

banno at wordpress

I'm moving to wordpress. I'll miss blogger, especially the fab blogroll feature. But my blog has been virtually impossible to open o...