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Blackened Friday

By Farzana Versey

19 February, 2007

"Shiiit, we missed the blast!" I turned to look at the late entrant into the cinema hall. He carried a rucksack and was with a friend; they appeared to have just returned from college. They must have been around 18 years old.

The film was 'Black Friday', touted as one of the most realistic films ever made in India. It traces the journey from the bomb blasts of 1993 to the trail of the culprits, the enquiries and the evidence. For the teenager, the "Shiiit, we missed the blast" is not only about the first one shown on screen. He missed the real one. This is history for him. History is irrelevant.

Taking top angle shots, shooting at real locations among real people, showing the violence and bodies does not translate into realism. This is controlled and manufactured; it is edited.

Besides, why build up objectivity as the highest virtue? Much of life is a bit of fact that fits into our very own fictions. Am I being too harsh? Can all those critics and a large section of the 'aware' audience be wrong? No. this is beyond right and wrong, good and evil.

This is cunning cinema conniving with the forces to appear balanced. It loses all credibility the moment it starts with a quote of the Mahatma: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind."

No one turned blind on December 6, 1992, and that too for wanting to herald in a Hindu Rashtra. History repeats itself as farcical tragedy.

Why does 'lex talionis', the law of retaliation, not seem to apply to four centuries old vengeance or for 'action-reaction' based riots?

The unfortunate hero in this saga is Tiger Memon, who we see is devastated by the loss of his business. Please note that hundreds of Muslim families lost much more and did not retaliate. However, what comes through in this film is vengeance. And because a few pieces of timber do not have a large epic appeal, the film brings in the word jihad.

It sounds ridiculous as Memon is picking his teeth and looking at some new recruits. His interrogation of Badshah Khan is especially meant to be profound for the latter is the perfect example of the misled Muslim youth.

"Do you pray?" he asks Badshah. Badshah nods his head.

"Five times?"

"Yes, I try to."

"Do you read the Quran and know what it says?"

"Yes, of course."

Please let us cut out this poppycock about this film not taking sides. The same stereotypes dot the whole landscape. An innocent young woman who lived in the same building as Tiger is asked about his and his family's whereabouts.

"Woh gaon gaye, (they have gone to the village)," she says.

"Which village?"


A woman who clearly does not know much about the world is talking about Dubai as 'gaon'; 'gaon' here is more than merely a village; it connotes colloquially in the Indian context one's 'native place'.

The training in Pakistan is so silly. If we are being told that Muslims were an angry bunch with jihad on their minds, does it not mean that they had the strength to fight back on their own? Here a whole community begins to look like sissies who don't even have a physical trainer forget adequate muscles. And to think that the Indian Muslim population is larger than the whole of Pakistan's population.

We are also shown a group shouting slogans outside Dawood Ibrahim's house in Mumbai, "Dawood Ibrahim Murdabad!" It is entirely possible that such a group did go, but it is like neighbours complaining about broken window panes; it does not mean that the whole community sought his help. He was sent a few bangles to show how useless he was.

Amazingly simplistic. It is a bit weird that Dawood would not have entered into the fray if it was important enough; many of his lieutenants were Hindu. Can we forget Chhota Rajan? If you bring in Dawood then Rajan has to be mentioned, for the whole basis of the latter leaving the D-company was Dawood's involvement in the riots. Did not the research check that out? Rajan started portraying himself as a Hindu hero. This is what he had said, "I am a Hindu, a true Indian. I was wrong to associate with him, and I have made it my life's motto to fight him. I am first and foremost a patriot."

He has also gone on record to say, "My men have killed more Dawood members than the police. I have always helped the Indian government."

The whole justification for such claims now falls flat. The underworld is a close-knit group and there are squealers. If Rajan was still a part of the Dawood gang until the blasts, then surely he would have known his part in it. Now we are being told that the Don was not responsible, so why did Rajan do what he did?

Was he getting instructions from certain important people in India? How did he escape?

We are given a wholly white-washed picture of the police. Does anyone in his right mind want us to believe that the same cops who were shooting innocents in bylanes by standing on the roofs of houses, who provided no help to victims who had to take their own family members and friends to hospitals in carts, who demanded to watch television while they were 'protecting' the citizens, who joined forces with the goons, who arrested anyone they could get hold of knowing full well that they had the power of the terrible TADA, would within a couple of months transform into paragons of virtue? Get real.

Sure, the realism does show tough police interrogation techniques, but they are for the benefit of society. Right? We are shown tired cops, hungry cops, disturbed cops.

The helplessness of the 'misguided youth' in the form of Badshah just does not come through potently. What happened to all his training in Pakistan, his brainwashing about jihad? If a man can be tutored for one thing then he can use that for anything else too.

After he turns approver, we have the most bizarre scene where he recounts to the police officer, Rakesh Maria, that Allah was with them.

The officer replies, "Allah is with us now. If he was with you, then you would have been successful in bombing Mantralaya and Sena Bhavan too."

'This' turns out to be the turning point for the Muslim youth! He sits in prison and prays, and then asks to meet Maria. It has struck him that indeed if god was with them then there would be a cent per cent success rate. What utter nonsense is this. The establishment too wants to lay claims over Allah. Has Allah justified the arrests of innocents? Did Allah approve of TADA?

And this is authentic cinema only because it depends on a book based on research? Only because it takes real names of people? You can take all the names you want, but when you have a position, then state so clearly. Do not do it slyly. Stand up for it and stop this charade of objectivity. Newspapers mention names. Nothing new about it.

Is this authentic cinema only because it uses the cut-and-chop, no romanticisation format?

Then why is Dawood shown in silhouette as an enigmatic individual? The director said somewhere that it is because little is known about him. Really? For pete's sake, he used to be shown on national television during the Sharjah matches with film stars. Everyone knows where he lived in Mumbai, where his sister lives, his other relatives live. His properties have been attached. If you know his White House in Dubai, then the Pakistani press has already told us about his abode in Karachi. We know his daughter is married to cricketer Javed Miandad's son. We know how many mistresses he has. We know about his wife. We know about his illegal dealings. Journalists used to speak to him on the phone. And god knows who else continues to do so. We know who his associates are and who his opponents. We know. But I suppose this does not show up in research.

The film again ends with that quote from Mahatma Gandhi. I would like to state here that if history has to remember anything it is this: following the bomb blasts no Muslim organisation or Muslim individuals in India called Dawood Ibrahim or Tiger Memon their hero. Tell the world that, and then we will believe this twisted authenticity.

(Farzana Versey can be contacted at [email protected] )

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