Hansal Mehta’s quietly bold film Shahid, manages to take an honest look at the fissures in a society that continues to splinter itself into “us” and “them”, without the jingoism – or martyrdom – that is usually served up as glossy and reassuring distraction by the big budget entertainment Industry, as Sayan Bhattacharya discovered.
Durga Pujo had just ended but many idols were yet to be immersed. Bengalis were scraping at the last bits of revelry. I was in an auto, intently listening to a conversation between a co-passenger and the driver. Why does the government always accommodate ‘them’, was their question. If Bakri Id had fallen during the Hindu festive season, why can’t ‘we’ take out our processions on the road? Why did the government issue a circular to not allow immersions on Id? Why is secularism invoked only on ‘us’? And so it went on from a specific incident to Indo-Pak matches and who do ‘they’ support, to terrorism and beef and beyond… The reactionary nature of this conversation is not surprising because whoever takes public transport through certain specific routes of the city overhears such conversations regularly, be it on a Friday morning, when footpaths spill over with “them” offering prayers or when a bomb blast occurs.
The topography of the city changes with every blink of the eye and old structures are razed to accommodate new ones, but the hegemony of who belongs to the state and the state belongs to whom is only further and further solidified. In fact, the changing economy flourishes on such polarities.
The fruits that we have earned from the thriving economy need to be secured. So, raise the gates higher and higher and then secure them with barbed wires so that if an “alien” body dares transgress into your territory, he is so mutilated that others like him dare not invade your space. Yet, bodies slip in, time and again. They prod us in our little bubbles. Their disturbing presence reminds us of our fallibility, of our fragility, of our collective failures.
The image of Shahid Azmi’s face (as played by the powerhouse performer Rajkumar Yadav) covered in black ink is one such source of dissonance in our glassy paradise. Hansal Mehta’s film, Shahid sticks out like that sore thumb amid the 200 crore assembly-line productions, in a climate where jingoism has reconfigured itself into sleek, zany thrillers (D-Day, 24, Kurbaan and so on). It is a soreness that does not wallow in self-pity or in martyrdom but is a chillingly matter of fact reminder of how we have other-ised large swathes of our population. It is a film that may not have made crores, may not have high production values or may not even be structurally flawless, but a film that strikes right through our complacency, our privileges of class, caste and religion.
Shahid was deeply moved by attorney Roy Black. “Even thorns and thistles can teach you something, and can lead to success.” These lines became his motto.
Shahid Azmi was a Muslim. He was a lawyer who had achieved 17 acquittals in a career spanning 7 years. He was a lot more…
He was fatally shot at. The perpetrators are still at large. Here’s hoping that his tarred image lives on to remind us how, where and why we failed him and thousands others like him.