A MOVIE ON MODERN DAY TERRORISMAN ANALYSIS OF ITS MESSAGE
Going by the positive reviews that 'AMIR' has elicited in the secular press, my friend Kishore Jagtap and myself decided to see the movie, for the reason that it dealt with the modern scourge of terrorism.
Undoubtedly this movie has a different look to it and has been made with a degree of class in terms of the acting, cinematography and the pace at which it weaves you through the Muslim ghettoes of our city. But what is extremely dangerous is the message that the movie means to convey and it uses all the visual stereotypes and dialogues that the scriptwriter could muster.
The basic message is that terrorism is basically a Muslim phenomenon and moreover a large portion of the Muslim community is either directly or indirectly complicit.
The basic story is that Amir Ali who comes from a Muslim middle-class household has returned from the UK with a degree in Medicine. At the airport he is subjected to 'religious profiling' where he is repeatedly grilled and his luggage checked four times over. As he gets out of the airport, he is given a mobile in his hand and from there begins his ordeal. The plot is that his family consisting of a mother, three sisters and a brother have been kidnapped and he is being coerced into staging a terrorist act.
Amir is given instructions by the lynchpin who wears the Muslim cap & lungi and eats the typical tandoori and Moghlai food. He is made to go through the Muslim ghettoes of Dongri, Bhendi Bazaar and Nagpada and its dirty, stinking, filthy lanes, restaurants and sleazy hotels.
At first he is given a briefcase, bright red in colour with bundles of thousand rupee notes. He is told that this money comes in from abroad to help the Indian Muslims fight their cause & here Amir rightly says that we do not need the help of outsiders. Amir is also asked to call a number in Karachi for instructions. Amir gets mugged but he recovers the bag with the help of a Muslim commercial sex worker after fighting three local goons. Little does he know that the bag is switched and the new one has a bomb in it.
It is only when he on board the bus that he is told to get of, then does he realise the role that he has been forced to play. Keeping his family in mind, he places the bag beneath his seat and gets off at the signal. But his conscience gets the better of him, as he looks into the eyes of a little boy waving at him and he rushes back in, gets hold of the bag and then dashes towards a pit being dug by the municipal workers (God bless them, as this is the last time, I for one, will complain regarding the trenches all over our city.)
Finally Amir decides to sacrifice himself and dies clinging on to the red bag. The press then reaches the spot and the breaking news discusses the story of a suicide bomber who failed.
We left the cinema hall, extremely stunned and worried about the multiple underlying messages that the film was trying to convey and therefore this article.
The first message is that basically terrorism is not only a problem of the Muslim extremist fringe, but that the roots and sympathy for terrorism are deeply ingrained in the phyche of the Muslim masses themselves. It is also an overt attack on the Muslim lower class and the visual stereotypes have played a devastating role to convey this message in a powerful manner. Right from the taxi driver, to the waiter, to the Irani hotel owner, to the manager of the lodge, to the lumpens, to the commercial sex worker, to the teen aged boys reporting every move to the mastermind, they are all involved. Even as Amir, red bag in hand, winds his way through the lanes and markets, the shop owners, the butcher and the many other give him a knowing look. It is as if the mass of the residents of Dongri, Bhendi bazaar and Nagpada are aware if not complicit in the deep seated conspiracy of terror being waged against our country.
Secondly the motivation for conducting the terror attacks is also devoid of the usual moralising and breast beating. The basic argument is that Muslims have remained the underclass for sixty years since independence and that thay have not been given their due share. No reference at all to the thousands of communal riots, Babri Masjid, Mumbai, Gujarat....that are normally alluded to, inorder to provide a justification for resorting to terror as is the case of an organization referred to as the Gujarat Defence Force that time and again appears in the media.
The dialogue between Amir and the terror mastermind is also very interesting. Amir here represents the Muslim middle class, well educated, English speaking, part of the mainstream, one who has made it on the dint of his own abilities and if he can do it, so can the rest. No need for a Sachar Report or support from the state. Also when Amir is told that people like him have made no contribution to the community, Amir retorts like any other from his class and says that, that it is none of his concern, "if each family takes care of itself, society will take care of itself". Amir could have easily told of the terrorist that he did not have to take advice from a person of such a dubious nature and that terroism was not the answer. Amir also evidently lacks the understanding of basic historical processess, social reform movements and revolutions that have played a central role in the emancipation of the oppressed throughout history.
Also it is difficult to fathom Amir's last act. All through the ordeal, he only carries out the instructions because his entire family has been kidnapped and have been threatened with execution, but in the end he decides to sacrifice himself as well as his family. If he had decided to foil the terror attack on the bus, so as to save the innocent passengers, he could have let the bomb explode in the pit and then contacted the police and exposed the entire terror network as he now knew the key people and their hideouts.
The movie thus ends on a note that offers very little hope and practically no answers to the scourge of terrorism. But what it successfully achieves is that it provides a powerful rationale and a suppossed logic as to how the acts of terror are perpetrated.
The major flaws with this logic of explaining the "politics of terrorism" are the following as this movie utterly fails in ackowledging the following facts.
That post 1992-93, there has been a tremendous shift in the Muslim community and the ability to seek the reasons for its socio-economic and political stagnation have turned the searchlight inwards as well. A focus on modern education, womens's rights, social reform, a growing middle class, particpation in the democratic process, recourse to the judiciary are some of the very obvious manifestations over the last two decades. The growing voices of liberalism and the space within the democratic centre has enlarged whilst the right wing hardcore have been reduced to the fringe.
Even on the issue of terrorism, the major Islamic theological schools and Muslim organizations have all come out with clear fatwas and resolutions condemning terrorism as well as the anti-Islamic nature of the act. None of the above are part of the debate or framework of Amir or his tormentor.
Also terror cells do not operate in the manner that the movie seeks to portray the phenomenon. If it was as widespread as "Amir" would have us believe, the police investigations would have surely been successful in filing chargesheets and the courts in convicting the accussed in 90% of the cases. But the total reverse is true. In fact in the last three years or so, where the acts of terror have increased and city after city is being terrorised, the rate of conviction is a big zero.
The nature of terrorist cells is that it comprises highly politicised and extremist individuals who operate in an extremely secretive & subtle manner. That is the reason as to why the terror groups who use bombs placed on cycles, as was the method in the recent attacks in Jaipur, the Malegoan masjid, Lucknow courts or the bombs placed in the trains of Mumbai, are still at large. The hands that place the bombs in public places are part of the core and are no Amir's with a conscience or some ragpickers from Bangalipura in Jaipur or from some slum in Malwani or the ghetto in Mumbra. Thus till today the mass arrests and rounding up & torture of thousands of Muslim youth have borne no fruit and are not likely to do so.
This is not to deny that there are no terrorist outfits like SIMI who operate with the guidance and training of the ISI. But is that the only terror network operating is the question. In my analysis, the incidents of Nanded (April 6, 2006) where Bajrang Dal members died whilst making bombs and Teenkasi where RSS memebers were arrested by the police for staging an attack on the RSS HQ also beg our attention. In my assessment the RSS-Bajrang Dal need to be investigated as well. RSS members are known to recieve training from the Israeli MOSSAD. Today it is the politics of terrorism that is fuelling the wars that US imperialism is waging against the people of the world. It is the CIA-MOSSAD-ISI that constitute the axis of evil. A majority of the Muslim militant and terrorist organizations have been created by the Pentagon with the collusion of the Saudis who bankroll the operations and Pakistani soil which provides the training. This is the network that needs to studied if we are to get to the bottom of this sordid episode of our times. "Amir" deals with none of these complexities but only focusses on the stereotypes that have in any case led us only to a dead end.
Most people are satisfied at the fact that terror attacks do not degenerate into communal riots. The fact is that the "politics of communal riots" has been replaced by the "politics of terror". Thus the same forces and groups that were complicit in formenting communal riots are now involved in perpetrating terrorism. There are thus three main forces, Hindu communal forces, Muslim communal forces and the Indian state itself, which is known for its role in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 or the Mumbai pogroms of 1992-92 or the Gujarat genocide of 2002. Thus the role of the State itself in using terror as a tool to both divide and weaken and thus divert the attention and the struggles of the Indian masses, needs to be part of our empirical framework.
If not challenged the message of this film, which actually is only propagating the existing dominant paradigm, will prove very harmful to the Muslim community in particular and Indian society at large. According to this movie, all Muslims apart from its small elite who are part of "us" are suspect and indeed either sympathetic or complicit.Though even this is only partly true as the attack is also focussed on Muslim professionals of which Dr.Haneef & Khwaja Yunus are the most glaring examples. The Muslim lower classes like the rest of their brethren are waging a battle only to survive the daily ravages of neo-liberalism as the entire social infrastructure continues to wither away. The other added burden for the Muslim is that not only do they die in the terror attacks as well when they occur in the buses, trains, temples and mosques along with their Hindu countrymen, but they also have to combat the increasing global phenomenon of Islamophobia and then prove their innocence and patriotism.
Indeed a tall order for any beleagured community and thus the need for an informed debate and a concerted dialogue between
communities & socio-political movements. It is here that the role of the media as well as cinema have to be both honest and incisive.