Sunday, July 19, 2015

Kabir Khan's sentimental, idealistic idea in New York (2009), in Ek Thha Tiger (2012) and in Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015): Overcome the traumatic schism of alienation and the Indian Partition

Thinking and feeling Indians generally look for idealistic solutions to everything in life, and this is reflected in literature and in cinema. That is why, much of the stuff offered by Indians is quite unsatisfactory because of their desire to restore or achieve harmony they are willing to twist things. Of course, the twists in the tale have to be credible to be accepted by people.

Hyderabad-born film director Kabir Khan appears to be looking for the idealistic solution to the alienation of the Muslim in the post-9/11 world, and to the schism in the soul of the south Asian Muslim created by the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. The first is the theme of
New York (2009), starring John Abraham, Katrina Kaif and Neil Nitin Mukesh. In this film, the alienated protagonist played by John Abraham cannot turn back, but the characters played by Neil Nitin Mukesh and Irfan Khan take on the care of the next generation. It has been made in the Hollywood thriller format, and the end of the film i quite uncompromising.

Aseem Mishra's photography captures the action sequences of the climax quite well. There is the Hollywood-ish quality to the picturization. Thhis quality re-appears in Ek Tha Tiger (2012), where there are amazingly tight shots of the parties which the characters played by Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif attend, as well as the cityscape of Istanbul. In Bajrangi Bhaijan (2015), Mishra's opening shots of the Kashmiri mountainscape is breathtaking. The most interesting shot is the climax where people from both sides of India and Pakistan are shown moving towards the border fence in Kashmir. The scene is imbued with huge emotion and cinematographer Mishra captures it beautifully. It reminds one of the scenes from Steven Spielberg's The Sugarland Express (1974), where the cameraman was Hungary-born Vilmos Zsigmond.

In Ek Tha Tiger, Kabir Khan offers a plausible and idealistic solution where the spies from India and Pakistan, enacted by Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif, escape from the irresolvable India-Pakistan confrontation by disappearing into terra incognito to seek personal happiness. The motif young lovers belonging to opposed camps is quite old, going back to Romeo and Juliet. Yash Chopra chose the tragic mode to portray the love between the characters played by Shah Rukh Khan and Preitty Zinta in Veer Zara (2004)though the lovers are reconciled at the end. Kabir Khan's solution to the lovers' dilemma is flamboyant but it also shows the sheer unhappiness with history as it is. Idealists like Kabir Khan seem to believe that Partition should not have happened and they are unable to accept the unhappy fact. They are looking for ways to overcome this fact. In Ek Tha Tiger, Kabir Khan chooses to hoodwink the fact.

In Bajrangi Bhaijan, he returns to his India-Pakistan dilemma. he begins by showing the deep religious links of Pakistan with India through the attachment to the Sufi shrines, and in the story of this film it with reference to Nizamuddin Auliya's burial place. The mother of Shahida (played in a flawless fashion by Harshaali Malhotra)brings her to the dargah of Nizamudin Auliya. The director avoids inserting any of the terror acts that mark and mar the relations between the two countries in this century.

Kabir Khan deals with the devout Hindu, with his gently masochistic Hanuman worship in the Bajrangbali cult, associated with wrestling and bachelorhood. The Hindus and Muslims exist separately but without animosities. But the identity differences are marked. It is expressed in the quaint reference to Muslims as Mahomedans, which was the prevalent in pre-Independence India. The Muslims on the other side, even the innocent rural mountain folk of the other Kashmir, support Pakistan;s cricket team against India because it is the most natural thing to do even as Indians support the Indian cricket team this side. Then there is the curious stereotype -- and Kabir Khan uses the stereotype to the hilt -- is that the Muslims are fond of meat. Meat-eating is the distinguishing mark of the Muslim for the Brahmin Hindu family shown in the film. The thirs identity marker of course is her mode of worship, especially her visit to a dargah.

The director takes the bold step of showing a Bajrangbali bhakt (devotee) wanting to save a Pakistan Muslim girl at all costs, with the help of Lord Ram. It is a brilliant political message addressed to the Hindu right-wingers that to worship Hanuman and Ram it is not necessary to forget one's humanity. This is best shown when the vegetarians sing a song as the child feeds on chicken. The Hindutva crowd cannot bring itself to object to this portrayal of a devout Hindu going across to Pakistan in the name of Ram to return a lost child to the parents. In the climax of Bajrangi Bhaijan, the people from India and Pakistan are quite willing to remain on either side of the dividing line but they feel that it does not prevent the trust and affection that little Shahida develops for Pawan, played by Salman Khan.

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