Director: Amit Rai
Actors: Paresh Rawal, Om Puri, Pavan Malhotra
It isn’t acknowledged often enough that Gandhi, the father to this nation, was victim (this day, 62 years ago) to a Hindu fanatic’s bullet. Decades later, Gandhi and his sworn secular followers were shamed further by a government that came to power in this country, pretty much over a desecrated mosque.
To simply suggest the rise of Islamic fundamentalism (in India) as response to that episode (or any other) would be to miss the trees for the woods. Insecure ghettos alone breed fanaticism of any kind. Love for God is a private affair.
These insular, claustrophobic ghettos, built around a single community, are relatively easy to politicise. The rich of the lot become their natural patrons. Sense of nation-state isn’t adequately strong. Qom (community; largely neighbours) come first. The director of this film walks into one such hamlet to help us experience its dynamics.
Paresh Rawal is a master mistri (mechanic) in a provincial Allahabad neighbourhood. He’s also an office-bearer of the local masjid committee. Unknown to him, he’s been working on the repair of a vintage Ford engine that would take Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes for immersion to the Sangam (confluence of rivers Ganga and Yamuna). This ritual was to take place after Gandhi’s death in 1948 as it was done across holy rivers around the country. This last pot of ash remains an administrative oversight. It’d disappeared into a bank vault back then. Better a service late than never.
Rawal’s Hasmat bhai (who gets his Allahabadi twang right down to Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘aayen’) feels an honoured soul. Except, he can’t honour his commitment. A firman (order) has been issued to his community to quit work, shut shops for two weeks. This is to protest against the arrest of a few Muslims as suspects in a bomb attack. Hasmat bhai should fear a fatwa for merely working (defying an order). And that decree may come from the same organisation he’s general secretary of. His superiors (Om Puri; Pavan Malhotra, brilliant as a maulvi) are not pleased. The conflict is strong, and appropriate.
Hasmat bhai, instead of fighting against his friends, covertly appeals to their senses. The filmmaker competently manages to place the individual within larger conflicts we face today. For the common man caught up in such situations, the choice is often between being ostracised, or just going with the public flow. The narrative plays out well. Rai does however subsume himself in the noble intentions to make larger points on the politics of Liaquat, Jinnah, and the creation of Pakistan. Several moments border on self-indulgence. This is often true for good first films. It is noteworthy to watch a Pakistani star (Javed Sheikh) play a part
in a picture that questions the creation of Pakistan itself: a fact, if reversed in history, the filmmaker suggests, could save us Rs 11 lakh crore spent so far on defending borders alone. The position is debatable.
It still irks the filmmaker to see posters of Osama and Pervez (Musharraf) make the walls of Indian ghettos. While he has a point, this could somewhere also be the failure of the Indian state.
Most public artistes had rather not directly touch upon the issue of Islamic fundamentalism than run the risk of being senselessly labeled Islamophobes. It’s the curse of our delicate times. The questions are still important. They shouldn’t be ignored. Neither should this film.