Aamir: A do-gooder gone wrong
Rajkumar Gupta’s recent film Aamir has created a stir it seems in the country. And not just because it stars Rajeev Khandelwal-a relatively new face on the big screen, but also because it is one of the films that dares to approach the tabooed Muslims-in-India issue. The long and short of the film is that it is about Aamir, a young doctor who has just stepped foot on Indian soil after finishing studies in the UK. No sooner than he has cleared customs starts a harrowing journey that he is pushed into by the Islamic fundamentalist underworld. They are unbelievably well-coordinated with each other and have the longest process all worked out for this less than enthusiastic young man. The journey resembles a treasure hunt of sorts, at the end of which his abducted family will be released.
The film presents a picture of the two kinds of Muslims that there are. The modern, educated, liberal, secular in thought kind and the crazed, fundamentalist, psychotic, terrorist kind. My problem with this film is actually not just with this film alone, it is with the gamut that it belongs to. Irrespective of their religious, political or social inclination, many filmmakers have tread this path of representing the Muslim post 9/11. Thankfully, some recent ones have distanced themselves from the jingoism of Border and LoC (1997, 2003 resp, J.P Dutta) etc. However, if you think about it, most films made in India (and I’m talking primarily Hindi cinema) with central characters that are Muslim, hover around the territory of terrorism in some form or the other. Either that they are terrorist and traitors, or that they invariably get involved in such situations. Perhaps there is a need for bringing the prejudice and the humiliation to the forefront, but the group as it grows in this lone direction, is counter-productive. It doesn’t help the suspicions that plague Muslims in the country. Because in the long-run, it seems, as if they all will without a doubt and maybe without their consent or desire have some role to play in the terror situation. It might be because they don’t have a choice, but that is a small consideration in the larger picture, which seemingly concerns itself with personal and even national safety. And this is troubling because these films flood the mainstream and their superficially balanced approach attracts some undecided or superficially liberal audience, making the film a critical and often even a commercial success. Think Fanaa (2006, Kunal Kohli), Fiza (2000, Khalid Mohammed), Mission Kashmir (2000, Vidhu Vinod Chopra) and now Aamir, among a whole host of films not just in our own country but also from all over the world – most recently Pakistan (Khuda Ke Liye – 2007-Shoiab Mansoor) and the big-daddy of pedantic views on everything – Hollywood. At the cost of appearing impossible to please, I will say that the apparently liberal view can often be as damaging as anything else.
Come back to Aamir. Agreed that there is an attempt to portray a new Muslim. Educated, liberal, human. But despite this educated, modern protagonist occupying the screen a good 95% of the duration, his views are weak and remarkably forgettable. What stayed with me after the film was not his meek three lines (literally) about modern secularism, but the guttural and extremely repetitive dialogues of the nameless and nearly faceless underworld don. I’m not sure if one should blame the writer (also Rajkumar Gupta) for his terrible script indicative of a serious lack of imagination or should one congratulate him on achieving his aim of showing the communal fanaticism of this Muslim don. The repetitive use of the word and the idea of ‘kaum’ (community) is not just jarring to the ear; it has a more sinister result-of convincing the audience that this is the only driving, determining force for a large part of the Muslim community. The elaborate Muslims community that is shown to be at work to bomb innocent people (because it is some twisted form of revenge), is hardly dented by Aamir’s secular squeaks. And at a more obvious level, he dies and they don’t. So what kind of Muslim lives on? The terrorist, monstrous kind. The one who says, ‘phone band mat karna mujhe bomb ki awaaz sunni hai‘ (don’t switch off the phone, I want to hear the sound of the bomb blast).
The film adopts an ‘aesthetic of garbage’ and takes is very seriously, to the extent of one getting numb to its impact. It seems as if the director is trying to do to the audience what the don is trying to do with Aamir – acquaint us and him to the pathetic, filthy conditions of Muslims in India. There is no doubt that there is lower class that occupies slums all over India. But the determining factor there is class for a better part of it, not religion. Agreed that there are areas where the majority consists of people of one religion, but there isn’t any place that I have heard of, that is one hundred per cent Muslims, all of whom, needless to say are filthy, uneducated, fanatic, butchers. There is one lone modern Muslim in this film. But we don’t see his house, his locality, the hygiene conditions of his surroundings. We are instead thrown into the muck of a few slums that will now be considered the beginning and end of Muslim existence in the country. How does that help the image, for me it only further deteriorates it. Okay, so it maps the city to an extent, so what? Is the context right? Is it balanced? I don’t think so. I find it passive aggressive.
In between Tehzeeb (2003, Khalid Mohammed)-a film most would have forgotten even if they ever watched it at all and more recently, Chak De! India (2007, Shimit Amin), there have barely been any films that think Muslims in India can have any concern other than terrorism. What this group of films that Aamir belongs to is doing is to create a denial in society about a large group of Muslims, who are definitely concerned about the state of affairs in the world, but live in very normal conditions. Those who are not terrorists and never will be. They don’t live in slums, they are educated, they don’t spell every English word incorrectly, they don’t wear short pajamas and a religious cap and they are as enraged as anyone else at the loss of innocent lives in terror attacks.