By Subhash K. Jha
BOLLYWOOD: Theatre legend Feroz Abbas Khan’s Dekh Tamasha Dekh is a brutal chronicle of the communal divide between Hindus and Muslims that stares in our face. Subhash K Jha discusses the ideology behind this daring film with film’s erudite intellectually well-informed director.
Q: Dekh Tamasha Dekh(DTD) throws the simmering discontent between the two communities out in the open?
Yes, I think it brings the private out in the public. It started in our cinema with matters pertaining to sex and sexuality coming out in the open. But a confrontation of communalism in the public was so far hidden from cinematic view. The mindset of public communal violence begins in the privacy of homes. The tenor of discussion in these private discussions suggests that a genocide on a small scale is perfectly okay if it brings about any economic growth. Now that’s a kind of mindset where people sit in their drawing rooms and discuss violence. But they don’t really go out and wash their hands in the bloodshed. They let other people do it for them. The minds behind those acts of violence stay out of sight. The thinking class doesn’t understand the long-term repercussions of their secretly sanctioned violence. To me Modi, non-Modi, VHP is not important. All these leaders are to me, manifestations of a dangerous mindset where the logic is, sacrificing 4,000-5,000 lives is okay, as it puts a community in its place and is also good for economic growth. Such rabid mindset doesn’t realize what dangerous effects their action would have on society. It is this violent mindset generating out of the drawing rooms that troubles me.
You’ve not taken sides in the film?
It’s interesting you say that because when we screened the film in Delhi one Muslim boy got very upset. He accused me of being harsher on Muslims by showing the Maulana (played by Sudhir Pandey) giving a long hate speech. I explained to him that I’ve equal contempt for fundamentalists on both sides.
So you’re fundamentally opposed to fundamentalism?
Ha, ha. You can say that. I can understand the minority community’s feeling of persecution. But that doesn’t make their vitriolic any less insane than the majority community’s vitriolic. You can’t say, ‘My bakwas is better than your bakwas.’ After watching my film the people are shocked by what they see.
Was there no trepidation that this film would stir up a hornet’s nest?
The responses in the most communally volatile places like Varanasi, Lucknow and Kanpur…hotbeds of communal tension…They all felt that the language of truth is undiluted. It comes across without prejudice and with no baggage. I didn’t make this film to generate melodrama by creating a filmy conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist. I made this film with no agenda except to tell the truth. It is neither for or against any community. I think I’ve been responsible in putting across the truth. Sure, the language that the two communities use to address one another is harsh. But nothing compared with the language our politicians use on television.
Your film certainly doesn’t flinch from confronting the demons of communalism?
I think the time has come for the semi-liberals of our society to stop implying that the time has come for the majority community to discipline the minority community’s behaviour. There is no real socio-political context for this kind of a mindset. People pick up instant news from the 9 pm news on their favourite channel without experiencing understanding or even reading on what is happening all around us. The so-called semi-liberals are becoming the twitterati of political knowledge. These are the body-blow to civilization. For me it was essential to go out there and express a concern for the times we’re living in. The idea of communal identity being bigger than humanity is absurd and dangerous. Communalism is like a damaged ATM card from which something harmful will always come out. The next stage of the nation’s development cannot happen without a character development. For the younger generation every response is based on an instant emotional stimulus.
So is the situation completely hopeless for the younger generations?
Young people in the smaller towns are connected with a sense of history. I’ve travelled to places like Patna and Kanpur with the film. The youth that I encounter in these towns is not the same people I meet where I stay in South Mumbai. In the larger cities the youth is fed on alternate reality based on cricket and Bollywood. And that’s a fine option to exercise. However to believe that alternate reality is the only reality worthy of inhabiting is a frightening thought. If you make diversion the focus of your life reality would one day be knocking on your door. Even the intelligentsia is shown to be quite helpless in my film. It’s all very fine to be an intellectual. But what good is your ideology when you are beaten by a mob on the streets? Thinkers are becoming redundant. We’re creating a sharply polarized society consisting of generations that are either extraordinarily brilliant or a mass of morons.
How did you make sure that you did not take sides in the film?
One’s work reflects what one is really like. If some Muslims think I’ve been harsher on Islamic fundamentalism it’s because 90 percent of victims of communal riots are Muslims. However, being the victim does not give a community the licence to play the communal card. Because you are suffering you cannot retaliate with a fundamentalist ideology. Those who do indulge in communal violence end up being seen as representing the whole community. This is where the sequence showing the Mullah propagating hatred in the name of religion, comes on. Very soon, organized religion is going to become militarized. Pakistan is an expression of an idea based on hatred, the professed superiority of one religion over another. Converting the idea of Hinduism to the idea of Hindutva is equally sinister. I find both the religions aiming for a robust ‘masculine’ militancy. It’s frightening.
Your film comes during Lok Sabha elections. What do you have to say about the looming reality of a BJP government?
I’ve immense faith in the checks and balances and sanity of this country. I think the people who will vote for Narendra Modi will actually be protesting against the complete failure of the Congress government. I am optimistic about the basic decency of the people of this country. However it is very important to be warned that this decency can easily be manipulated for small political gains. Political desperation leads to all kinds of bizarre alliances and compromises….like Mrs Sonia Gandhi meeting the Shahi Imam.
How did you convince the censor board to let go the volatile content and the strong dialogues ?
It was cleared 9 months ago when Pankaja Thakur was still the CEO of the Censor Board Of Film Certification. She was very rational in her approach.The entire censor board loved the film. One lady actually felt children should be allowed to watch the film. But the film had go to the Revising Committee. After a very long discussion they decided I only had to cut 40 seconds of the Maulana’s rabid speech. This speech was taken from real life. This kind of hatred is propagated when a community is not allowed inclusive space in society. This kind of Jihadi Islam comes from Saudi Arabia. It tells people to behave, dress and speak in a particular way. Even now when the Congress is showing a Muslim in its election ads he is shown with a topi and beard. If we live by that daadhi-topi diktat, we Muslims would never have a non-religious Indian identity.We have to stop the ideology that propagates the superiority of one religion over another. If the religion of isolation is practised, and if you create a militant Hindu leader then what happened in Mumbai to some Muslims is that they began to feel Dawood Ibrahim is their leader.
Would your future films continue to display the same level of social commitment?
I’ve told what I had to tell. I had to get it out of my system. My health was getting affected because of all these ideas were bottled up against me. Either I could rant on news channels or make a film. I chose to make a film. It’s out of my system. My next film is a pure love story. Luckily, I got a fabulous cast. Tanve Azmi didn’t have much to do. But look at how much she has brought to the film. I also found the ideal scenic coastal town to shoot the film . It had a Hindu and Muslim population. But ironically contrary to my film, they co-exist peacefully in the town where I shot my film.