Review: Sikandar

Cast: Parzan Dastur, Ayesha Kapoor
Direction: Piyush Jha
Rating: **

Right after a blast in the Valley, one Mukhtar Mattoo (Sanjay Suri), modeled mysteriously on Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the current head of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, and a relatively moderate separatist leader, stands by a Lt Colonel (Madhavan). The Colonel examines a decapitated finger at the site. They share rhetoric on peace and cease-fire. Another blast, and the Mirwaiz (I mean Mukhtar), is there again, making the same personal chit-chat about eye-for-an-eye.

At one point, a dreaded militant, evidently the Gabbar Singh of Kashmir, is found shot dead. This is when Mukhtar walks into a mosque, wishing to urge the ‘awaam’ to desist from violence. The priests shake their heads.

Only an over-ambitious, juvenile script will turn a complicated, global, nuclear flash-point into a minor matter between one Mukhtar, two maulvis, a Colonel, and the entire ‘qom’. This appeared a tender movie about a child. It could’ve remained as just that.

The filmmakers have hired kid-discoveries of Sanjay Leela Bhansali (Ayesha Kapoor, Black), and Karan Johar (Parzan Dastur, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai). They’ve placed them at the centre of the Kashmir conflict. Given the commercial success of their past films, it becomes harder to imagine the two as ordinary off-spring of a war-ravaged zone (unlike the little-boy Tahaan, in Santosh Sivan’s stunning film on the same theme last year).

The two behave irritatingly like mature adults. This isn’t uncommon for children of war. They inevitably (or unfortunately) grow up faster than most. Little boy Sikander lost his parents to the insurgency (it isn’t made clear how). The girl Nasreen is his only confidante. They find a pistol lying unattended to on their first walk together. The boy picks up the gun to scare away bullies in school. He even fires with a casualness that’d make plastic toys seem deadly.

Over a carelessly conceived moment at a washing-machine store, the kid’s gun becomes public knowledge for a terrorist to take advantage of. The child needs ready money. The militant prepares him for an assassination.

Though I’ve only read a lengthy but wonderful excerpt, I’m told, Basharat Peer’s recent non-fiction book Curfewed Nights is a telling account of growing up among guns in Kashmir. The film genre in itself is a fairly expansive one, with several heart-rending stories of innocent children caught in the web of war, in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Central Europe, Africa... Those films work because we see a conflict though a child’s eye, and not for once a newspaper headline. They humanise a problem through sweet subtleties and delicate metaphors.

This one fails because the child and his warm ambitions of playing football or buying for his aunt a washing machine are just cursory mentions. The filmmakers focus instead on the supposed politics of the region, a lame conspiracy, and some larger comment. Their view is entirely the outsider’s; and their idiom, completely bombastic. What remains is a poorly written, shoddily shot, over-dramatic ‘Bollywood’ thriller-type, attempted on a budget for a ballroom. Mute up the background score, to start with, please. Thank you. Let’s go easy on the rest of it now.


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Ayesha couldn't relate to her character in Sikandar

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