Every day I try to forget ‘Aamir‘ and every day, the film seems to come up in discussion, the papers or as a TV spot. For over a week, I’ve been trying to tell myself, it’s only a film. But try as I might, I cannot calm down the negative vibes it has evoked in me.
The fact that it is shot in Chor Bazar, Bhendi Bazar, Dongri, the areas that I grew up in, where I still have family, where my family still has family and friends, makes it difficult for me to view the film objectively. In my childhood, these areas were mohallahs, not ghettoes, as they have become now.
And I wonder, how did these traditional community enclaves become ghettoes? Is it due to overcrowding and a breakdown of infrastructure? Is it due to the takeover by communal and criminal elements? Or is it due to a changed perception of a community?
The director of ‘Aamir’ professes that the film is the story of a common person, and how easily a common man today can become a victim of elements beyond his control.
The dangerous part of the film is how every common man from Andheri to Dongri, in fact, seem to be part of the terrorist network, connected to Pakistan, actively a part of the terrorist nexus, or at least passively aware of it. From the taxi-driver at the airport to the seemingly friendly prostitute in the dingy lodge in Dongri, from restaurant owner to waiter to STD phone booth woman, from the manager of the lodge, petty gangsters to junk-yard workers, and countless other nameless, unidentified faces, they form a malevolent, hostile and inescapable trap for any innocent.
‘Aamir’ perpetrates the worst myths about Indian Muslims.
1. That most of them live in ghettoes.
2. That they live in filth and squalor.
3. That they do nothing to come out of it.
4. That they eat and butcher meat, and that enhances their inherent violence.
5. That they are more attached to the larger Islamic community rather than their own country.
6. That they get a huge amount of money from outside to fund their terrorist activities here.
7. That most of them are connected somehow with the terrorists or the underworld. Actively or passively.
8. That an outsider cannot say who or who may not be involved.
9. And of course, that anyone, who makes any attempt to get out of the larger community will still at the end be subsumed by it, becoming part of the terrorist nexus due to circumstance, or become a victim to it.
These are as absurd as the myths that all Gujaratis are right-wing Hindu fundamentalists, all Biharis are thieves and crooks, all Maharashtrians are lazy, unfriendly and insular, all Goans are amiable drunks and all Sikhs are either fools or trouble-makers.
The trouble with the film is that it is very well-shot. Anyone, who has anything at all to do with film-making in Mumbai will know how difficult it is to execute a shoot like that, given the crowds and traffic here.
That combined with the narrative form of a man chasing against time to save his loved ones, in fact, does not give any space for the protagonist Aamir, to be well-defined as a character. The one dialogue that makes his stand clear, that he believes that each person can make their own destiny, that they can pull themselves out of their circumstances, gets lost in the thrill of the chase. And of course, by the countering dialogue of The Bad Man who asks if this is the destiny (that is trying to save his family) is what he has chosen.
The Bad Man however gets enough time to repeat ad nauseam his stand on the Muslim issue, spending a lot of precious time haranguing Aamir about Islam, his responsibilities to the community, his infidelity in having a Hindu girl friend, not caring enough to send money to fund terrorist activities, and so on. To the extent, that it gets one wondering whether The Bad Man is more keen on teaching Aamir a fundamentalist lesson in Islam, or he wants him to get on with the job.
Was The Bad Man seriously hoping to convert Aamir to the terrorist cause, by kidnapping his family, having him wade through shit, not letting him drink water (a very un-Islamic thing to do, by the way, because not giving someone a glass of water when they ask for it, is tantamount to a sin in Muslim households), having him beaten up??
In the same vein, it is not clear why Aamir, an innocent and reluctant man, has to be emotionally blackmailed into putting a bomb in a bus, after a complicated, convoluted journey through the city, when it would be the easiest thing in the world for any one of The Bad Man’s minions to walk into a crowded bus with a bomb, leave it there, and walk away, without any trace.
But of course, The Bad Man is a dark, bald, fat, meat-eating monster who shuns light, and sits in a dark room all day. He exudes menace when he holds up a kid, and then proceeds to beat up a toy monkey. So perhaps, one can expect only illogical planning from him.