Friday, January 28, 2005

Black Friday 

At the Mumbai Film Festival recently, there were two films screened, based on two events that still evoke bitter memories where they happened, and it is interesting to compare the style/approach of two filmmakers in different parts of the globe. Both controversial subjects, both fictional accounts of real events, and both requiring extreme caution and political correctness in their handling—one fails and the other succeeds to some extent.

In Mumbai, Anurag Kashyap made Black Friday based in S Hussain Zaidi’s book about the bomb blasts in Mumbai that followed the riots caused by the Babri Masjid demolition. Antonia Bird’s Hamburg Cell is about the 9/11 World Trade Centre attack.Both films capture the people and the preparations made for these well-planned, well-coordinated attacks on innocent people by Muslim fundamentalists or terrorists—whatever fits better.And here’s where the similarity ends.

Antonia Bird’s film seeks to understand what happened, why educated, upper class Muslim youth were swayed by communal rhetoric. There is one scene, powerful in retrospect in which a terrorist (who comes from a wealthy, privileged family) tells his uncle that he wants to fight the forces that are exploiting him, and the uncle asks with genuine puzzlement: but who is exploiting you? The fact that she uses minimal documentary footage to show the actual incident proves that she did not want to either sensationlise the event, nor does she want to reopen wounds.Anurag Kashyap’s film seeks to justify what happened and though his long and boring film captures the most mundane incidents leading up to the attack and the police investigation, and gives the smallest cog in the machinery a lot of footage, he manages to somehow sensationlise everything and makes heroes out of criminals.Just a couple of examples—when Dawood Ibrahim (Vijay Maurya) makes his first appearance on screen, he is seen through the eyes of a character who is in awe of him and all but prostrates himself in front of the Dubai don.

When Tiger Memon (Pawan Malhotra) finds that his office has been burnt down during the riots, he shouts Amitabh Bachchan kind of dialogue—you burnt my office, I will burn the whole city.How could Kashyap’s film he be different from the dozens of commercial films that use riots and bomb blasts as pivots (including recent films like Dev and Insan)? He tries to put in enough thrills and cop chases, at the same time painstakingly reconstructing parts of the story that need not have been told in such excruciating detail—Badshah Khan’s (Aditya Shrivastav) travels, for instance.

On the one hand the dialogue is unbelievably mature—like the investigating cop Rakesh Maria (Kay Kay) lecturing Badshah Khan on the wrongs of communalism; or horribly provocative—like Tiger telling his cohorts that targeting the commercial core of Bombay will break the spine of the Hindus so that they will never be able to look them (Muslims) in the eye, and that they will ‘piss in their pants when they see us’. This followed by scenes of death and destruction gives the impression that the bomb blasts actually succeeded in destroying Bombay, when in fact, people were back at work the next day; a few weeks later it was impossible to tell where the blasts had taken place and today, most people would have to strain their memories to recall when exactly they happened.

Kashyap captures the indoctrination of Tiger Memon’s men, their training across the border, and their travails after the bombings, but fails to stress that the mission eventually failed.Black Friday is as technically accomplished as it is politically immature and dangerous. It lacks the compassion of a film like Amu (about the anti Sikh riots) for instance, or the detached analytical powers of Hamburg Cell. It reminds a city of the terror it went through, it rips off the bandages of time, but to what purpose? To heal or to hurt?


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