Dear Kabir Khan, Salim-Javed, Jaideep Sahni, Nikkhil Advani and my other friends of several decades,
I saw Hansal Mehta’s Faraaz and that night in 2016 when a bunch of young terrorists brutally killed patrons of Holey Artisan Bakery in an upscale part of Dhaka, came alive again. Uppermost in the memory drive was not the routineness of the religious fervour of the terrorists or their gunning down of people who couldn’t recite a verse from Islamic texts. What stayed for the ensuing seven years was the name Faraaz Hossain, the 20-year-old boy from an upper-crust Bangladeshi family, who stood by his non-Muslim friends and chose to take a bullet instead of leaving the café alive. He who stood up to the terror of his own co-religionists was the hero we’d been rarely introduced to.
With documentary zeal, Hansal and writers Raghav Kakkar, Kashyap Kapoor and Ritesh Shah whitewash none of it as they tell the story of terrorists who separated Muslims from non-Muslims and treated one community with politeness while brutalising all others, powered by their missionary belief that they were delivering Islam from the wicked influences of the kaafirs. It rings true when a terrorist protests the use of perfume to treat a wound because it has alcohol which is haram in Islam.
Yet, without the prosaicness of a documentary, the team uses cinematic license (which is not the same as fictionalising) to make Faraaz watchable and credible. The impetuous bickering of the terrorists amongst themselves, their ambivalence as Nibras (Aditya Rawal) cites respect to seniority while stopping Rohan (Sachin Lalwani) from getting a doctor to pull down his pants to check out his religion, Rohan’s ruthlessness in hacking patrons and forcing another hostage to pose like a perpetrator which is at odds with the desperation to save his own skin, it’s all there.
Juxtaposed with Nibras handing a bottle of water to a thirsty little boy is his sadistic command to a guitar-owning hostage to stand up and entertain everybody.
With Pratham Mehta’s unobtrusive cinematography, Amitesh Mukherjee’s unconfused editing and Mukesh Chhabra’s unerring casting which results in efficient performances all around, there’s back and forth movement from the horror of terror and the humaneness that occasionally arises inside the cafe to the well-intentioned but often bumbling efforts of those outside.
Outside is the believable unpreparedness of the security forces, somewhat resembling the scenes during Mumbai’s 26/11 terror attack: the unavailability of protective gear, the one-upmanship between different security arms, the need to come off as superior and hog credit. “Bewakoofi is not a plan,” barks one officer to put down another’s botched up rescue attempt.
Standing outside and also standing out is aristocratic Simeen (Juhi Babbar Soni), mother of Faraaz Hossain (Zahan Kapoor), introduced unapologetically by Hansal. She is clearly the boss of a sprawling business empire, there’s no attempt to foist a husband on the scene. This is a woman used to dialling the PM herself and not in indulging underlings, thriving in the ‘Jaante nahi main kaun hoon?’syndrome as she demands, “Where’s the Commissioner? Why am I talking to an Inspector?” Juhi segues from woman in control to helpless mother and finally the proud parent who blends satisfaction with sadness as she says, “I knew my son wouldn’t desert his friends.”
Most of all is the eternally avoided but much-needed debate between the good Muslim and the bad epitomised by Faraaz and Nibras, two boys who’ve played football together but interpret their faith in opposite ways. As the bully with a gun pushes, “Islam khatre mein hai,” Faraaz stands his ground and remarks, “Tum jaison se mera Islam wapas chahiye”.
In real life, Faraaz was posthumously honoured with the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for not abandoning his friends even though the terrorists had allowed him to leave. Bravo, young man.
Like the dessert topping a satisfying meal, musician Sameer Rahat signs off with a stirring “Musafir ko ghar hi aana hai”, leaving me pondering over why pussyfooting writers and filmmakers have lately angered so many.
It hits me.
By changing Haji Mastan to Vijay in Deewaar to deflect from the don’s religion and sticking the crime on another, by changing the religion of Mir Ranjan Negi to coach Kabir Khan in Chak De! India to flash the victim card, by making up a fictitious Raza Mehdi in an otherwise real story on Homi Bhabha-Vikram Sarabhai in Rocket Boys solely to weave in a patriotic Muslim at the expense of putting down the scientist of another faith, or indeed by inserting a completely unreal Pakistani outpost on the border when telling the real story of our World Cup victory in 1983, you writers and filmmakers have been unwittingly doing the Muslim community a big disservice.
Instead of fulminating, look inwards. By flicking the heroic stories of other religions, have you been trying to say that Muslim heroes have to be invented because there aren’t any real ones? Or, was it lazy-easy to switch identities to sell a story instead of sweating over research?
Whatever the reason, it’s time to do some real work and find real stories of real heroes that will make the world look at the community with long overdue respect.
Hansal Mehta and Team Faraaz just did.
PS: Don’t even look at the box-office, Hansal. The film you’ve made is game changing. And it takes a while to change any game.
— Bharathi S Pradhan
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