``Tehzeeb" is completely void of clichés, stereotypes, caricatures and political agenda. That is what makes it novel. Identity is part of the conscience is the director's point. Kudos to Khalid Mohamed, says ZIYA US SALAM.
"Tehzeeb" ... it goes beyond stereotypes.
FINALLY, A whiff of fresh air. Finally, an attempt to step beyond the stereotype. Finally, it is time to say goodbye to gun-toting, bearded guys with skullcaps and forget those sherwani-wearing, paan-chewing, ghazal-singing men on the stage.
Finally, "Tehzeeb," a film that tells us that Muslims in India are normal human beings,they have their shortcomings and strengths, that they attend office, listen to music, drink coffee and read newspapers. That they are neither unfurling the Tricolour in a desperate attempt at exhibitionist patriotism, nor are they mouthing `Jehadi' slogans. They are just reasoning, thinking, achieving and even failing human beings. Nothing more. Nothing else. Credit to Khalid Mohamed for that.
Khalid's "Tehzeeb" released recently with more than 70 prints across the country, was panned by many critics as being too slow and lacking in drama. Others hailed Shabana Azmi for a brilliant performance. Still others showered praises on Urmila Matondkar and Arjun Rampal for being able to portray a middle-class couple without hiccups. Yet very few noticed that all the leading characters of the film were Muslim.
No, they were neither pro-Pakistan nor pro-India. They were neither traitors nor patriots. Nor were they wearing a typical black Aligarh sherwani like Jackie Shroff in "Bas Itna Sa Khwaab Hai," and breaking into a qawwali at the first opportunity. Nor were they saying prayers at a dargah. They were just normal human beings.
The men wore trousers and jackets, the women got into jeans and tops, and occasionally churidars or saris. They were just cosmopolitan men and women who happened to be Muslims.
Director Khalid Mohamed's achievement lies in his message. Pic. by R. V. Moorthy.
Their Muslim identity was not paramount, nor were they apologetic about it. The men were not a caricature of Muslims you and I are likely to come across in real life, nor did the women wear those heavy lehengas and ghararas they used to in films like "Mughal-e-Azam". They don't in real life anymore. They did not in the film either.
Shabana Azmi as a singer sang pop songs and did not at any time recite Iqbal's poetry. Urmila as her daughter listened to instrumental music besides tuning in to what mother dished out on TV. She spoke in English, Hindi and Urdu, she played with her little sister and a teddy bear. She also said her prayers. Nothing extraordinary about it. Just normal. That is what Khalid has been able to achieve with this film, which has not exactly set the box office cash registers ringing. That being able to portray a `normal' Muslim family on celluloid is taken as an achievement is a reflection of the state of our film industry. `Normal' is novel here! So often do we come across caricatures, so often are clichés used, so often does political agenda colour the content that Khalid's appears a noble venture!
Says Khalid, ``The problem right now is that Muslims are being portrayed as terrorists. In Hollywood too, it is the same. In recent times, Muslims are the villains there as well. It is much like Germans after World War-II.'' Or East Europeans in Hollywood films where hidden villains or conniving scientists always used to be from that part of the continent.
Khalid reveals that he did not have all things his way making "Tehzeeb." ``I came across a producer who wanted me to change the names of the characters. He did not want me to change the script or anything. I refused. The idea was to make a film with normal Muslims, to portray something, which has not been attempted in Hindi cinema. I wanted to show Muslims for whom secularism is a normality.''
Feroz Khan's "Janasheen" repeats a cliché.
He contends he made a similar attempt with "Fiza". "In `Fiza' too, I made an attempt to show a normal Muslim family. Nobody noticed it. My heroine in it was a Muslim girl who could go to a disco and behave like everyone else. The message was that Muslim women are not forever wearing a dupatta or clad in a burqa. They are as much mainstream as anybody else. The identity is part of the conscience. And an attempt was made to step beyond convenient stereotypes. Unfortunately, everybody saw it as just an item song. They did not read the message with it,'' he says, adding, ``I have no regrets.''
Well, Khalid is already beginning to discover it is not a lonely furrow he is ploughing. Recently, Vidhu Vinod Chopra's "Munna Bhai MBBS" released to good response all over. The film again shows Zaheer, Jimmy Shergill, a young man with dreams for his family, wanting to build a house, marry off his sister, and find a mate for himself. He is just like Anil or John next door except that he does not go to a temple or church. He goes to a mosque. That he is a Muslim we get to know from his name, and from his greeting. Otherwise, there is no tokenism like a cap here, a rosary there. He does not even have a burqa-clad sister accompanying him on the road!
But these two films are already having to take on the menace of stereotypes and clichés sought to be unleashed on us by the likes of Feroz Khan. The veteran filmmaker decided that many years after "Prem Aggan," the fire was still simmering in his heart to make another movie. And he gave us "Janasheen" which was released on Id this year. Truth to tell, it was far from being a festive gift to discerning cine-goers.
Not only did Khan try to capitalise on the consistently exhibited assets of the heroine, he was guilty of repeating the cliché the Muslims have been fighting over the last few years. Like Shashilal Nair's "Angaar," Saawan Kumar's "Dil Pardesi Ho Gayaa," Rohit Shetty's "Zameen" or Anil Sharma's "The Hero," Khan's Muslim was a villain with the only difference being he was not mouthing slogans on Kashmir but based in Sydney, racing cars and running an empire. Khan himself was Saba Karim, now counting God's name on his rosary, now abusing people in the same breath. That he did not even know how to say his prayers correctly was just a reflection of the film's lack of attention to detail.
One is not protesting his villain being Karim, one is aghast at his portrayal. That is, Muslims are always counting their beads, they are dressed in salwar-kameez with a scarf over their shoulder. They use language sprinkled with Arabic words. They are not like that any more. They are as much citizens of emerging India as anyone else. Why in Bollywood can't Muslims just drive down to work, earn a salary, make their coffee, have their lunch, make a house, fall in love? Pray, why must they be doled tokenism of secularism? Why must they be shown as Jehadis all the time? And why should they be just the frail, good-natured next door chacha in penury?
That is why Khalid deserves credit. And to a lesser extent Chopra.
As Khalid puts it, ``Muslims are just as mainstream as everybody else. There has to be some responsibility in making cinema. Instead of tokenism or rabble-rousing, filmmakers have to be honest.'' Time to get rid of clichés, time to say sorry to stereotypes. Time to turn over a new leaf.
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