It has now been 48 hours since Black Friday (BF) hit that nearby theatre and despite the fact that it had been forced to spend a rusty two years in film-cans, the film hits just as hard now as it would have then.
And it isn't only BF's cinematic strength that justifies its pertinence. The one thing that BF proves is this — on March 12, 1993, India found itself fighting a war, which then went on to consume the world on 9/11/2001.
Adapted from S Hussein Zaidi's book of the same name, Anurag Kashyap's directorial box-office debut — his first film Paanch still waits to the see the light of day — juggles narratives that led up to and followed the '93 Bombay bomb blasts. Black Friday was ready to be released in 2004 but responding to a filed petition, the Bombay High Court came to the conclusion that the commercial release of the film, which referred to the accused by their real names, would have affected the proceedings of the Bombay blasts case and thereby, influenced the verdict. This, some would now say, is testimony to the power of film and this film in particular.
Much has happened in the last two years. A hundred of the 123 accused have been convicted; Mumbai has been the target of another similar attack (11/7) and it has been proven that Sanjay Dutt is not a terrorist. Though the film makes no mention of the now-reformed Munnabhai, it does help establish the fact that Dawood Ibrahim and members of his Company are more than what Ram Gopal Verma and his factory make them out to be. They aren't just criminal members of an Indian mob who extort and kill for a living and fix cricket matches for recreation. Perpetrators of what was arguably India's 9/11, they are terrorists who belong to an ilk no better than that of Al-Qaeda. And much like Osama and Ayman al-Zawahiri, Dawood and Tiger Memon still remain footloose and possibly fancy-free.
In one of the film's many chilling scenes, Memon asks his motley crew to avenge the deaths of all Muslims who were killed in the '92 Babri riots. The fundamentalist rhetoric used seems cannily similar to that which had convinced the 9/11 hijackers to do what they had. The difference — Osama and his men construed the American military presence in Saudi Arabia to be a blasphemous defiling of the Mecca. Tiger, on the other hand, was incensed by Hindu violence, which apart from claiming his office was also responsible for the deaths of Muslim men and the rape of Muslim women. Moral of the story — While there can be no justification for terrorist acts, mindless communal violence fuels that obviously dangerous desire for revenge. So rather than serving up reason and cause on a platter, we must be mindful of the film's Gandhian dictate — an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
BF also deftly highlights the moral dilemmas of fighting this war on terror. With echoes of Abu-Ghraib in place, the Mumbai police use humiliating tactics while interrogating suspects. The most disturbing being the fondling of women in front of brothers and husbands. When inspector Rakesh Maria is forced to answer the questions of outraged reporters, the audience is forced to weigh human rights against the perils of terror and is left with no clear answer but just an uneasy feeling in the gut. And BF succeeds because it makes a Shylock of that stereotyped Islamic terrorist — someone who bleeds when pricked, someone who laughs when tickled and someone who questions the effect and cause of his actions. Even the actions of the Pakistani ISI, which has so often been exaggeratedly vilified, seem believable because of an intended lack in drama.
Two of the films vying for this year's Oscar are United 93 and Babel. While the former looks at how we found ourselves fighting this global war, the latter shows up all that we forget while in battle. BF is our United 93 and Babel rolled into one. An eye-opener of a film, which makes the Friday on which it was released more good than black.