Thursday, November 16, 2006

BLACK FRIDAY (Hindi; 2004)

The "plot" is, by now, known to all of us: on March 12, 1993 ten bombs went off in quick succession at prominent locations in Bombay, killing hundreds and injuring thousands, the latest in a series of calamities to hit a city still sullen in the aftermath of vicious communal violence and pogroms over the preceding few months.  The blasts were the handiwork of Muslim criminals, masterminded by one of Dawood Ibrahim's lieutenants, "Tiger" Memon, and executed by assorted individuals, many of them petty criminals and victims of communal violence, all of them aggrieved by the destruction of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 and the ensuing communal violence, which in Bombay occurred in two waves, the second of which was little other than a pogrom against Muslims organized by the Shiv Sena and abetted by numerous elements in the state machinery, including the police, both by outright connivance and criminal indifference.  Until September 11, 2001, the "Black Friday" blasts constituted quite simply the deadliest terrorist attack ever.

Director Anurag Kashyap's film (based on a book by journalist Husain Zaidi) isn't narrowly focused on any one aspect of the story, and jumps between the police investigation in the blasts' aftermath; the story of Badshah Khan (Aditya Srivastava), one of the perpetrators; and the "back story" leading up to March 12, 1993.  The film thus has an episodic, even jerky, quality, regularly "returning" to a number of repetitive (and harrowing) police interrogation sequences presided over by Inspector Rakesh Maria (Kay Kay), who has been assigned the task of cracking the case.  In short, if you're looking for a linear (or even coherent) plot, Black Friday is not the film for you.

And yet the film is nevertheless a remarkable triumph of ambience and tone: Kashyap draws the viewer so relentlessly into the world of the blasts accused and of the cops focused on nabbing them that the dominant experience of watching this film is claustrophobia (though Kashyap's vision seems downright uninteresting in the sequences set outside Bombay, including in a caricature of a terrorist training camp).  Kashyap achieves his Bombay-centric claustrophobia by means of a disturbing "neutrality" that puts his film at the frontier where films meet documentaries.  One tells oneself that this couldn't really be a documentary, that no-one really is privy to (for instance) Dawood Ibrahim's conversations with "Tiger" Memon -- but it doesn't matter, as Kashyap's vision wears the viewer down, until the latter simply accepts the film, not just as film but as "truth."  Simultaneously, Kashyap disorients the viewer by refusing to pass judgment, either on any of the accused (thereby enabling the "backstory" of the blasts and the motivations of the plotters to stand on their own terms) or on the cops (and the methods utilized by them) on their trail.  The result of such commitment to a matter-of-fact tone is a deeply psychotic film, one in which the actions of both policemen and terrorists ultimately come to appear -- shockingly -- "normal."

But Black Friday is far from being a morally relativist work, bookended as it is by a quote of Mahatma Gandhi: "An eye for an eye makes the world go blind."  The quote clues us into the fact that for Kashyap the blasts are not merely a singular event, Big Bang as it were, but are the product of a history, forming part of a tit-for-tat cycle of violence in which the blasts themselves are hardly the last word ("Bombay is now Mumbai" the film drily notes at the end, perhaps mocking the naivete of the likes of "Tiger" Memon, who believed that the blasts offered a permanent "solution" to the problem of anti-Muslim violence; surely the state's utter failure to control either the communal violence in Maharashtra or to demonstrate its competence in tackling terrorism played a crucial role in the rise of the Shiv-Sena/BJP combine to power in the state; one of the new dispensation's symbolically most powerful acts was the renaming of Bombay).  Gandhi, it turns out, was wiser.  Kashyap approaches the mentality that believes violence is the answer with the mindset of a Newtonian physicist: in his view violence will beget equal and "opposite" violence, in an unendingly grim spiral to hell.  There can be no solution, indeed there is no way for the film to offer a programmatic antidote without crossing the line into farce, and a deeply offensive one at that.  Kashyap pays his audience the respect it is owed, and does not offer any: he simply offers his violence equation to the audience, and lets it percolate once the film is over.

Black Friday can be highly offensive, not because of its language or frank depictions of police brutality, but because Kashyap's refusal to take sides means that the police and D-company all end up in the same boat, as mirror images of each other (I repeat, not because Kashyap is a moral relativist but because he sees both sorts of violence as feeding off of, and magnifying, each other).  That's disorienting and deeply upsetting, but in the context of this film amounts to a compulsive viewing experience, a train wreck from which one cannot avert one's eyes.


Skay said...

Kudos for such a good review on a one of the best films made in India. Your review sent me back to re-think about the movie and look at it from a different viewpoint, hence making it a more loved movie for me.

hyderabadi guy said...


The grip of the Majlis-e-ittehadul Muslimeen on the community remains strong, With a Member representing Hyderabad in the Lok Sabha, five members in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, 40 corporators in Hyderabad and 95-plus members elected to various municipal bodies in Andhra Pradesh, the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is one of the foremost representatives of the city’s Muslims and the most powerful Muslim party in India and one can see the partys strenghth if it goes to Hyderabad old city and Parts of Muslim Dominated Villages of Andhra Pradesh everywhere u look u can see MIM written on walls ,lightpoles and buildings leaving aside green flags and posters of its Leadership and there small Offices . The Majlis has brought lot of development to the Old part of the city even after it is said it hasnt done anything by its opponents who are mostly Ex Majlis workers.The Majlis was formed in 1927 “for educational and social uplift of Muslims”. But it articulated the position that “the ruler and throne (Nizam) are symbols of the political and cultural rights of the Muslim community… (and) this status must continue forever”.The Majlis pitted itself against the Andhra Mahasabha and the communists who questioned the feudal order that sustained the Nizam’s rule. It also bitterly opposed the Arya Samaj, which gave social and cultural expression to the aspirations of the urban Hindu population in the Hyderabad State of those days.By the mid-1940s, the Majlis had come to represent a remarkably aggressive and violent face of Muslim communal politics as it organised the razakars (volunteers) to defend the “independence” of this “Muslim” State from merger with the Indian Union.According to historians, over 1,50,000 such `volunteers’ were organised by the Majlis for the Nizam State’s defence but they are remembered for unleashing unparalleled violence against Communal Hindus and the communists and all those who opposed the Nizam’s “go it alone” policy. It is estimated that during the height of the razakar `agitation’, over 30,000 people had taken shelter in the Secunderabad cantonment alone to protect themselves from these `volunteers’.But the razakars could do little against the Indian Army and even put up a fight. Kasim Rizvi, the Majlis leader, was imprisoned and the organisation banned in 1948. Rizvi was released in 1957 on the undertaking that he would leave for Pakistan in 48 hours. Before he left though, Rizvi met some of the erstwhile activists of the Majlis and passed on the presidentship to Abdul Wahed Owaisi, a famous lawyer and an Islamic scholar from jamia nizamia who also was jailed for nearly 10 months after he took over the Majlis leadership as the then govt wanted to abolish the Majlis party but Owaisi refused to do so and was seen as a person who had financially supported the party when it was a bankrupt and weak one after the Police Action in Hyderabad State.Owaisi is credited with having “re-written” the Majlis constitution according to the provisions of the Indian Constitution and “the realities of Muslim minority in independent India”, and fought the legal case for winning back darrusslam mim headquarters for years according to a former journalist, Chander Srivastava. For the first decade-and-a-half after this “reinvention”, the Majlis remained, at best, a marginal player in Hyderabad politics and even though every election saw a rise in its vote share, it could not win more than one Assembly seat.The 1970s saw an upswing in Majlis’ political fortunes. In 1969, it won back its party headquarters, Dar-us-Salaam — a sprawling 4.5-acre compound in the heart of the New City. It also won compensation which was used to set up an ITI on the premises and a women’s degree college in Nizamabad town. In 1976, Salahuddin Owaisi took over the presidentship of the Majlis after his father’s demise who also was also Jailed Various times .This started an important phase in the history of the Majlis as it continued expanding its educational institutions,Hospitals,Banks, including the first Muslim minority Engineering College and Medical College. Courses in MBA, MCA ,Nursing, Pharmacy and other professional degrees followed and now a daily newspaper known as Etemaad Daily. The 1970s were also a watershed in Majlis’ history as after a long period of 31 years, Hyderabad witnessed large-scale communal rioting in 1979. The Majlis came to the forefront in “defending” Muslim life and property Majlis workers could be seen at these moments defending the properties of Muslims in the wake of riots and these workers were very hard even for the police to control them even now it is a known fact that there are nearly about 2500 units of strong members who only act if there is a seirous threat to the Owaisi family and these members are under the direct orders of the Owaisi family which leads the Majlis party leaving aside thousands of workers and informers throughout the State and even outside the country far away till America and the Gulf countries.Salahuddin Owaisi, also known as “Salar-e-Millat” (commander of the community), has repeatedly alleged in his speeches that the Indian state has “abandoned” the Muslims to their fate. Therefore, “Muslims should stand on their own feet, rather than look to the State for help'’, he argues.This policy has been an unambiguous success in leveraging the Majlis today to its position of being practically the “sole spokesman” of the Muslims in Hyderabad and its environs.Voting figures show this clearly. From 58,000 votes in the 1962 Lok Sabha elections for the Hyderabad seat, Majlis votes rose to 1,12,000 in 1980. The clear articulation of this “stand on one’s feet” policy in education and `protection’ during riots doubled its vote-share by 1984. Salahuddin Owaisi won the seat for the first time, polling 2.22 lakh votes. This vote-share doubled in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections to over four lakhs.The Majlis has since continued its hold on the Hyderabad seat winning about five-and-a-half lakh votes each time.Despite remarkable economic prosperity and negligible communal violence in the past decade, the hold of the Majlis on the Muslims of Hyderabad remains, despite minor dents. And despite widespread allegations of Majlis leaders having “made money”, most ordinary Muslims continue to support them because, as one bank executive put it “they represent our issues clearly and unambiguously'’. An old Historian Bakhtiyar khan says the Owaisi family was a rich family even before entering Politics and he says he had seen the late Majlis leader Abdul Wahed Owaisi in an American Buick car at a time when rarely cars were seen on Hyderabad Roads and the family had strong relations with the ersthwhile Nizams of Hyderabad and the Paighs even now the family is considered to be one of the richest familes in Hyderabad.A university teacher says that the Majlis helped Muslims live with dignity and security at a time when they were under attack and even took the fear out of them after the Police action and adds that he has seen Majlis leaders in the front at times confronting with the Police and the Govt. Asaduddin Owaisi, the articulate UK educated barrister from Lincolns Inn College son of Salahuddin Owaisi and Former leader of the Majlis’ Legislature party and now an MP himself who has travelled across the globe meeting world leaders and organizatons and even in war zones compares the Majlis to the Black Power movement of America.The Majlis that emerged after 1957 is a completely different entity from its pre-independence edition, he says adding that comparisons with that bloody past are “misleading and mischievous”. “That Majlis was fighting for state power, while we have no such ambitions or illusions”.He stoutly defends the need for “an independent political voice” for the minorities, which is willing to defend them and project their issues “firmly”.“How can an independent articulation of minority interests and aspirations be termed communal,” he asks and contests any definition of democracy which questions the loyalty of minorities if they assert their independent political identity. “We are a threat not only to the BJP and Hindu communalism, but also to Muslim extremism,” Asaduddin claims. “By providing a legitimate political vent for Muslims to voice their aspirations and fears, we are preventing the rise of political extremism and religious obscurantism when the community is under unprecedented attack from Hindu communalists and the state'’. He can be seen in his speeches speaking against terrorism in the Country and says if the time arises Majlis will stand side by side in defending the Nation and Recently Majlis ittehadul Muslimeen MP Asaduddin Owaisi has Visited Lebanon after the war with israel and met the leaders of the resistance group Hezbollah and he has even visited Bombay and Malegaon Muslims and raised there issues in Parliament and has even represented the police torture victims to the Prime Minister and has given aid From Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen Party Fund.

Paresh Palicha said...

I've linked your review here