In the times of terror, Jagmohan Mundhra is back in the reckoning with “Shoot on Sight”.
The world needs to understand that a devout Muslim could be progressive as well
Photo: S. Subramanium
Incisive Jagmohan Mundhra doesn’t want to be pigeonholed in an image.
As the country gets trapped in the terror matrix, it is time to understand the root of the problem rather than wiping off the branches. Seasoned filmmaker Jagmohan Mundhra’s much anticipated “Shoot on Sight” is one such effort to comprehend issues that are usually swept under the carpet or buried in files. The film takes off from the killing of an innocent Brazilian national by the Scotland Yard, which suspected him to be a suicide bomber in the aftermath of London Bombings.
“I have fictionalised it as an innocent Muslim boy who was killed while entering the station. The officer who shot him thought he was wired with explosives, but in fact he was plugged to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s music,” says Mundhra. However, the focus, Mundhra explains, is on Tariq Ali, the police officer who was put in charge of enquiry of London bombings. “I have tried to bring out both sides of the story. The title comes from an order issued by the London police after July 7 bombings. While Tariq tries to figure out the truth, he faces a hostile response from his own community who consider him an outsider because he is married to an English girl and has not forced her to change her religion. Similarly the officer who shot the boy argues that the environment is such that every Muslim may not be a terrorist but every terrorist is turning out to be a Muslim…that he had little time to verify the antecedents of the boy…and had the boy actually turned out to be a suicide bomber, he would have been labelled incompetent.”
Mundhra, known for his thought provoking “Bawandar” and “Provoked”, says once again real life situations inspired the contours of his script. “After the bombings, taxi drivers refused to stop for me, as I have a beard. Similarly after the bombings, we suddenly started to see Tariq Gaffur on television as a spokesperson of Scotland Yard. Another twist in the script comes when Tariq starts realising that he is being used by his seniors to cull the cries of racial discrimination. Despite being a British, he feels his seniors suspect his integrity. Interestingly, Gaffur has recently sued Scotland Yard for alleged racial discrimination after being by passed by several junior officers. It is a case of life imitating art.” He says the film has a definite beginning and end but the issues dealt are open-ended.
Naseeruddin Shah plays the role of Tariq and Mundhra is elated about his choice. He contemplated on names like Amitabh Bachchan and Pakistan-born British actor Art Malik. “I first offered it to Amitabh, who showed interest but finally turned it down probably because it is a not a politically correct script. I thought he will bring eyeballs, which such a subject requires, but now I feel the vulnerability and dignity that Naseer has brought to the character, nobody would have been able to match it. I had asked him that he could have to face backlash from the fundamentalist lobby. He said he doesn’t care as long as he is satisfied with the script. In a way he represents the moderate face of Islam. The world needs to understand that a devout Muslim could be progressive as well.” In the form of Om Puri, Brian Cox, Burton Hill and Gulshan Grover, Mundhra has an eclectic support cast. “It is always a pleasure to have Naseer and Om in the same film. Om has played a venom spitting fundamentalist, Junaid to perfection.”
As always, Mundhra has already got into another skin after “Shoot on Sight”. “I am directing ‘Naughty at 40’, a low brow comedy with Govinda. It is about a 40-year-old bachelor.” As much known for his erotic thrillers as his issue-based films, Mundhra says the industry has a propensity to pigeonhole people. “I had not shot a kiss before ‘Night Eyes’. Now I am trying my first comedy. Actually I wanted to do Woody Allen kind of comedy with Govinda. I feel whatever he does; he does convincingly and has a way with the audience. But at that time his market value was down. As things changed after ‘Partner’, Govinda was flooded with offers. At that time he told one of the producers that he will do a comedy with me. He was impressed by the way I narrated him the script.” Meanwhile, Mundhra is also working on his controversial project based on the life of Sonia Gandhi. “It is on hold but not shelved.”
Recently he was charged by a section of the media for not giving money to Bhanwari Devi on whose life “Bawander” was based. “As promised I had put two lakh rupees in a bank account, which could be operated only by her. I had shown the receipt to Shabana Azmi. Of late her son, who is in some financial trouble, is after me to pay more. He is spreading such rumours,” Mundhra signs off.
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