Sunday, February 11, 2007

Black Friday+Undertrial 

At the Mumbai Film Festival in 2005, 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 religious 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 often 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 is Kashyap’s film different from the dozens of commercial films that use riots and bomb blasts as pivots? He tries to put in enough thrills and cop chases, at the same time painstakingly reconstructing parts of the story, even those 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 Menon) 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. Mumbai did not react with hysteria or paranoia or vindictiveness like the US or London after terrorist attacks.

Anurag Kashyap is undoubtedly a terrific craftsman and Black Friday is technically accomplished, and has superlative performances, but it lacks the compassion of a film like Amu (about the 1984 Sikh killings) or Parzania, 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?

Still, it is worth seeing, to admire the making and to test our own responses.


Aziz Khan’s Undertrial is reportedly based on a true story and set in real locations—Thane jail. That’s where the ‘realism’ ends, because the film gets its causes all mixed up, and ends up as a very badly written and directed court room drama.

Sagar Husain (Rajpal Yadav) has been accused of raping his three daughters and imprisoned. In jail, he is beaten and reviled by almost everybody, except the mysterious Nadir (Mukesh Tiwari), who is the only one given royal treatment.

Sagar inexplicably looks like a wild animal, with long hair flopping on his face—though he is not supposed to be mentally deranged. With Nadir’s help, he gets a lawyer (Kader Khan who must have written his own fancy Urdu lines), who proves that Sagar’s wife (Monica Castellino) had sold her daughters into prostitution and when the father tried to stop her, she falsely accused him of rape and got rid of him.

The far-fetched part comes when the mother, with the help of her lover and pimp kills the daughter who wanted to support her father-- and all of this is recorded on a rather high-end cell phone model, which couldn’t possibly have happened in the real case. So why add such fanciful fiction and not let the facts of the story go on to the end?

The film’s producer says that Sagar Husain’s story is true, but it still leaves some unresolved problems. Women seldom get justice in rape cases, so the idea that a man’s wife and daughters could do something so terrible to a harmless old man, throws all rape complaints (and very few are reported) open to suspicion. This man may have been innocent, or a smart lawyer may have got him off, but rapes do take place in homes just as much as daughters are sold into the flesh trade by parents. Aziz Khan tries to talk of life in prison, unhappy cops, injustice towards undertrials, delays in the legal system and so on, so that the actual issue at hand gets totally blurred and made even more unbelievable by the melodramatic trial sequences. If the story was true, all the more reason to have treated it with more depth and seriousness.


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