Abhijit Ghosh Dastidar
Khalid Mohamad’s first feature film ‘‘Fiza—In search of her brother’’ (Hindi, 2000) follows media events of communal riots, terrorism and violence to trace personal expressions and interior exiles. It is Bomaby of 1992. A Muslim family of mother, Nisha (Jaya Bachchan), a teenaged son, Aman (Hrithik Roshan) and a teenaged daughter, Fiza (Karishma Kapoor) are watching television in the evening. The camera remains largely still in the ensemble acting.
The night is soon shattered by the cries of rioters. Aman is pulled out by his friends to help in armed resistance. Panic stricken mother and sister watch from the second storey window, Aman being knifed, by marauders. The pre-credit sequence shifts to newspaper footage and still photograph of the December 1992 Bombay riots. Time has passed, and after six years, widow Nisha who teaches in a primary school, keeps visiting the Police Missing Persons Bureau, to enquire of her long lost son, Aman. Fiza has graduated by now, and with black graduation robes, photographs herself with her friend Shahnazz (Neha), who was Aman’s friend.
There is no news of Aman. We gather from the dialogue that Aman, a high school drop out, was part time painter when he disappeared. Nisha distributes alms to the poor at Haji Ali mosque on the sea coast. In the crescendo of quawali music, Nisha is self hypnotized and imagines Aman by her side. In a corwded street, Fiza spots Aman, but fails to reach him through the traffic. Obsessed with missing brother, Fiza mortagages family jewellery and bribes a police inspector, Prakash to gain information. Prakash recalls Aman’s knife injuries and the mass cremations. Fiza’s fears and anxieties are stirred still further. Nisha remains self composed and guards her son’s memories.
Graduate Fiza keeps searching for a job in vain. She encounters the father of Chandu, a Hindu boy who has also disappeared after the riots. Close up of eyes and faces focus on the flow and confines of the characters and the situations. Fiza succeeds in publshing an article, ‘‘Where is my brother—who will answer?’’ in a local Newspaper. TV interviews make her a celebrity. A Hindu political leader offers her a job in the party. Soon goondas threaten her with acid bulbs. A Hindu college friend, Anirudh shows the covered face of a terrorist in a journal cut out, where the uncovered eyes resemble Aman.
Fiza rushes to the Thar desert along Gujrat and Rajasthan. Through extremely reticent tribals, Fiza gathers information on jehad fighters. One night Fiza spots Aman all dressed in black, holding a gun. Fiza rushes out and hugs him. Aman explains that during the riots he had killed a man in self defence. This led to further killings and while bleeding and on the run, he was picked up by religious terrorists devoted to holy war. A succession of scenes recall the past and portray the terror. Aman gives up the gun and returns home
to Bombay. In the happy family re-union, recent social events remain terrifying, and the motivations of the characters continue to be complex.
Aman in still unemployed, and one day in the neighbouring park at a gathering of Laughing Club members, saves a man from assault by goons. The goondas inflict a knife wound on Aman. At the clinic, Aman meets his old friend Shanaz, who with her husband has gone for a pre-natal check up. Aman extracts a promise from Fiza’s Hindu friend, Anirudh that he would always look after Fiza. But Anirudh comes from a prosperous family, and takes Fiza to posh parties. Aman remains lonely and insecure, and soon returns to his terrorist friend, Murad, who gives him cash and a pistol.
One day the goons again attack Aman and Fiza. Aman beats them up, and sets their bike on fire. The goons come with police to put Aman under arrest, and insult Fiza. Aman shoots two goondas and flees. Meanwhile, Nisha unable to bear the pain dies on the sea coast. Fugitive Aman watches the burial from a distance, and in spite of a police presence, rushes out to throne earth on the coffin.
On the eve of elections, there is a move for unity between a Hindu party and a Muslim party. The jehad terrorists entrust Aman with the job of eliminating V K Singh and Mr Sayyad, the party leaders. From a high rise window, Aman shoots at the leaders. As he flees, the jehad terrorists try to shoot him. Aman fires back and jostles through the crowds. Fiza at the political rally sights Aman, and runs after. Meanwhile, the police encircle, and Aman hands the gun to Fiza, requesting her to pull the trigger. Almost as a mercy killing, Fiza shoots Aman.
While the evocation of the subject is biographic, the narrative ramains imprecise without any rich structure or audacious decor. Much of the passage of the film is on flash back. The uninterrupted commentary of the images, is broken up by the scenario of song and dance sequences. The choreography of fishermen and fisherwomen, Aman and Shahnazz dancing through the streets of Bombay, belly dancers led by Shushmita Sen in the Thar desrt, and Fiza gyrating in a disco do not adhere to the story line, and remain flash-forward fantasy. The jigs of neighbour Ulfaat, before TV musicals fail to portray any radical solitude.
The film is insufficient to protect itself from the specialist interpretors of any Mumbai blockbuster. The narrative style on the Muslim family is simple, with a camera verging on placidity. The fight sequences and dance plans are full of camera shifts and zooms, digital sound brushes and cuts, and split screens of mobility. Nisha’s burial march is profound with the camera drifting with the steps of the mourners. The direction and the script never rises beyond the functional, and the loud colour melange does not achieve anything aesthetic. Santosh Sivan’s camera is conventional and quite superficial. Anu Malik’s music and Gulzar’s lyrics are never fascinating. There are no subtle movements in the narrative to provide any new perspective or alternative dimensions to the human tragedies portrayed. Karishma Kapoor’s search for her brother is unnerving and exhilirating.
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