New York’s Middle East Success Story
SRK, Aamir and Salman are not the Power Khans in Cairo. Everyone here knows of one Bollywood star—Amitabh Bachchan—be it the shopkeeper who whistles his songs, the journalist who perennially carries his photograph in the wallet or the chauffeur who feels threatened by his wife’s obsession with the angry young man. But last fortnight a different Khan made a dent in Big B’s fiefdom. Kabir Khan, director of New York, represented the youthful face of Bollywood at the 33rd Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF), with his film on the illegal detention of Muslims in post-9/11 US having already witnessed unprecedented success in the Middle East. The film went beyond the diaspora to grab the large Arab audience as well. The Indian press may have been merciless but journalists in the Gulf were receptive. Aijaz Zaka Syed, opinion editor, Khaleej Times, wrote: “The witch-hunt and victimisation of innocent Muslims as portrayed in the movie is not a figment of Bollywood imagination. It’s a frightening reality not limited to unfortunate individuals who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Madholal Keep Walking
Besides New York, three other Indian films at the CIFF dealt with the theme of terror and its aftermath. Jai Tank’s Madholal Keep Walking, which won the best actor award for Subrat Dutta, is a simple, modest, but at times moralistic and sentimental tale about how the Mumbai train blasts of 2006 altered an ordinary commuter’s life and how his Muslim neighbour, Anwar, gets rounded up by the police for possible involvement.
Raman, Travelogue of Invasion
Dr Biju’s Malayalam film Raman, Travelogue of Invasion, looks at terror with an ideological eye-view. Biju calls George Bush a “political terrorist” and critiques US imperialism. The film has two parallel tracks, one set in India shows how globalisation creates economic and cultural imbalances in developing nations, the other is about the US’s violent invasion of Iraq. Lastly, there was Neeraj Pandey’s sleeper hit of last year, A Wednesday, that takes the audience into the mind of a terrorist and shows how terror results in more terror.
The films garnered curiosity, evident in the filmmakers’ interactions with the press and audience. Tank’s “personal” approach on the issue of terrorism was appreciated but he was also questioned on why he made his message too direct. For an audience that identifies Indian cinema with Bollywood kitsch and is unaware of our recent range of terror films—Mumbai Meri Jaan, Tahaan, Sikander, Aamir, Black and White—these movies were a revelation. “Madholal turned out to be very different from what I’d expected. It was a real portrayal,” said Croatian critic Daniel Rafaelic. “Religious differences didn’t seem to matter and then, all of a sudden, the integrity of the Muslim neighbour is at stake. The film shows how terror impacts individuals,” said Dutch critic Dineke de Zwaan.
Kabir’s intense interaction with the audience lasted about 90 minutes. For the filmmaker, who had first visited Cairo in ’95 with journalist Saeed Naqvi for an interview of President Hosni Mubarak, it was about forging new bonds. “An old lady whispered something to me in Arabic, kissed my hand and walked away. I wish I could have understood what she said,” he says.
The tug of New York is not hard to explain. It is an engagingly structured, Hollywoodian thriller boasting of a fabulously shot New York. “It blends mainstream with offbeat. The subject is topical but the treatment is entertaining,” says Gaurang Jalan, advisor and India representative of CIFF. “Films on terrorism are common but not all of them receive good press and public appreciation. New York is a well-made film...when the package is good the audience enjoys it,” says R. Swaminathan, India’s ambassador to Egypt.
For German critic Enrico Bosten, it was interesting to see “a critical movie about post-9/11 US made from a non-western point of view”. And it’s one that also steers clear of stereotypes of Muslims. The audience cited the cliched visual referencing of Islam in most films—people offering namaaz, men sporting beards, dressed in pathan suits or robes, mentioning Allah in every second sentence—and how New York had none. A journalist said he was happy to see “Allah” had not been mentioned even once and yet the film was relevant to the Islamic world. But the biggest reason the film worked on Arab street is because most of the illegal detainees post 9/11 have their origins here. “You can replace the three Indian students with Egyptian, Jordanian or Moroccan and the film will still hold,” says Kabir.
The film also got its share of flak, for showing the warped side of American politics and then eulogising it effusively in the end. Some viewers felt Kabir had “overbalanced” things by presenting the American perspective via Irrfan Khan’s FBI officer character. Bosten couldn’t relate to “the constructed message”. “It didn’t give me any new answers,” he said.
Despite grossing US $1.5 million at the box office, New York is estimated to have lost close to a million dollars to piracy in the Middle East. But its success could open up newer markets for Indian films. “We have managed to make inroads into territories where our films don’t get released theatrically,” says Kabir. Yashraj has been approached by Arab distributors for theatrical and television rights of New York in Egypt and Morocco. Karan Johar’s forthcoming film, My Name is Khan, which is being distributed worldwide by Fox, will also get released in Cairo next year. Perhaps then, SRK, Aamir and Salman will inch their way towards becoming the Power Khans.
(Namrata Joshi was part of the Fipresci Critics Jury at the 33rd CIFF.)
Your article on the movie New York and its success in the Gulf countries highlights the hypocrisy of the Muslims of the Arab world (Al Hind: A Relook, Dec 7). John Abraham’s character, Sam, is a modern Muslim jailed after 9/11 and tortured. Released, he decides to take revenge by blowing up the fbi’s office. Muslims of the Arab world see him as a martyr. Had he chosen the path of seeking justice through legal means, would he have been seen as a hero? I suppose the character played by Neil Nitin Mukesh would be seen as a traitor, and that of Irrfan as the very Devil. Confused Muslims on the one hand say that a terrorist has no religion; on the other, they speak of jehad. For Indians, the hero is the character played by Irrfan.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT