The Miracle Movie
A magnificently executed film which marries passion for cinema to its very plot, delivering a cleverly told story for cinephiles
Sonali Ghosh Sen Kolkata
Let’s start with what Filmistaan isn’t. It isn’t a film with any known names in its star cast. It doesn’t have an established director. It wasn’t even supposed to get a commercial release but it’s the miracle of the movies that it did.
And that’s what Filmistaan is all about – the miracle of the movies. Ostensibly, it’s the story of a movie-obsessed struggling actor, Sunny, and his kidnapping by an Islamic terrorist group who, mistaking him for an American crew-member, takes him across the border to Pakistan. What Filmistaan actually is, is a dark comedy of dignity, courage, bonding and humanism anchored by humour and dexterous use of the curious universe that only people in South Asia inhabit – the world of Hindi movies.
Even the protagonist’s name is a clever play on the everyman-turned hero, Sunny Deol, who has played an ordinary citizen-turns-hero under extraordinary circumstances in film after film. And for once in his life, Deol (Sharib Hashmi) does find himself in extraordinary times. Once he stumbles into this Alice in Wonderland world of terrorists, guns and prisoners of Zenda-like existence, he embraces it not with terror, but with childlike naiveté. Bollywood trivia, iconic dialogues, popular songs and scenes are cleverly integrated into the screenplay, to create a film where Deol woos hostile villagers through a scene from Maine Pyar Kiya, and even more hostile abductors by directing his own ransom video. He finds his Pakistani Bollywood alter ego in Inaamulhaq as Aftaab, who deals in pirated DVDs and is also a walking encyclopedia on Hindi movies.
The movie is all about relationships. Not just the Jai-Veeru bonding of Deol and Aftaab, but also the more complex one between him and his captors, Mehmood (Kumud Mishra) and Gopal Dutt (Jawed). If films bind Deol and Aftaab, it makes him more foreign to his abductors, brainwashed for years to believe any form of entertainment is evil. An undertone of tragedy keeps running through the film, as films form a way of escape and escapism for our goofy oddball of a prisoner, against the harsh reality of what he faces. In a chilling scene, he steals a gun from the terrorists only to regale the village children with impersonations of Mithun Chakravarthy and Shatrughan Sinha while being lined up in a sniper’s sights. But most of all, the film is about the tenuous relationship between India and Pakistan without falling into the jingoistic fervour that most Bollywood films stray into, or the even more clichéd brotherhood lines of aman and shanti that others do. Debutant director Nitin Kakkar said in an interview that he did not want to give any gyan. “All films made in India are very much from an Indian perspective. It’s very anti-Pakistan. I wanted to find a balance. I consciously avoided getting into religious debates.” That’s why issues like jihad and Partition, seen through the lens of cinema, become less of a stereotype, more of issues of common understanding, and the film offers a fresh voice on patriotism, not seen through barbed wires but through a common love of shared memories. For instance, when Deol joins in to sing, Reshma’s song, “Ve Main Chori Chori,” with the Indian version of Lata Mangeshkar’s “Yaara Sili Sili” you feel the poignant pull of home, whichever side of the border you are on.
This is where the film scores, because it weaves the passion of cinema into the plot, not using it as a secondary track, and keeps the narrative rooted in its tribute to Hindi cinema without the larger-than-life spectre of Bollywood overwhelming it.
What keeps it from being a great film is that while the film is superbly cast and its sound track adds layers to the story, the production values don’t keep up with the richness of performance. It doesn’t lose the rough-around-the-edges look of a debut film which its mature script almost makes us wish it would.
Filmistaan, despite its flaws, stands out in a sea of mediocre summer releases, and it gladdens the heart that one can actually make a film without stars, “item numbers” or even a heroine, and still keep the audience engrossed in almost every moment till the camera fades to black in the end.
Filmistaan, in the end, is a little film, but it is a little film with a big heart.