In a multi-religion country such as India, where sectarian violence has reared its ugly head on more than a few occasions, but where those of different beliefs have generally gotten along for thousands of years, it is of interest to note two excellent and hard-hitting Bollywood films which deal with the post 9/11 attitude towards Muslim peoples.
AAMIR (2008) features former soap actor Rajeev Khandelwal in a powerful performance as Dr. Aamir Ali who is handed a cell phone by a stranger as he is departing a Mumbai airport, heading for home. The phone rings and his nightmare begins. Aamir’s family is being held hostage by a small terror group who have decided to use him, an upstanding young Muslim doctor, to carry out a vile bombing. The film is an edge of your seat thriller and puts a whole different face on who some suicide bombers could be, and likely at times, are. Would you kill innocents in order to save your family? Or would you fail to follow through knowing that your loved ones will be brutally murdered? This is not your typical feel good Bollywood, but rather one that will make you think about things you never imagined that you would have to think about.
In ANWAR (2007) a depressed young Muslim artist named Anwar (Siddarth Koirala) takes overnight refuge in an abandoned Hindu temple, which is positioned along a busy highway. While he is doing his prayers by the river, a small boy steals Anwar’s bag of drawings. These drawings of Hindu temples quickly find their way into the hands of a politician vying for re-election and by morning the temple is surrounded by police, the media, and rubberneckers all certain that the young man hiding inside is a terrorist planning to bomb holy places.
The film takes on an ACE IN THE HOLE quality, as the situation is exploited by everyone involved…a newswoman desperate for a story, a corrupt politico who is having image problems, a police officer who simply wants to get home to his dying wife…carnivals pop up, vendors appear, a patriotic song contest develops, wackos attempt to incite panic, and even a movie director and his crew shows up to film a Bollywood dance number on location. The film takes a looks into the lives of those involved in the goings on, particularly Anwar, whose love for a neighbor girl, which he imagines is like that of the devotion that Meera had for Krishna, has caused him to end up in this crazy situation in which he has no control, and seemingly no way out.
This is no comedy (although it is not without its comedy interludes), the story is a tragic one, and one that could easily happen in today’s world where too many ill-informed people believe that Islam = terrorism.
Manisha Koirala, Vijay Raaz, and Yashpal Sharma co-star in this amazing and sad look at not just India’s, but the world’s culture of fear.
Oh, and ANWAR has one of the most beautiful and moving songs ever. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoWmcQLZkFk )