Hansal Mehta’s latest feature, Faraaz, takes us into the night of violence that is believed to be one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Bangladesh. Following real-life incidents, five armed Islamists entered the Holey Artisan Cafe in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in July 2016, raining bullets, killing almost all foreigners, and taking the Bangladeshi Muslims hostage. They have no demands from the government. They only appear to want to set an example for the nation by staging a tumultuous spectacle, claiming that Islam is in grave danger.
Nothing motivates them to partake in vandalising public property and civilian lives apart from the wishful aspiration of their souls reaching ‘Jannat,’ or heaven. But this is not a propagandist film. Mehta broaches some larger-than-life issues in Faraaz with his interpretation of the terrorist group. Nevertheless, he cannot successfully tie them together in a neatly rounded study of hate, unfortunately watering it down with some sentimentalism.
There’s something inherently controversial about portraying terrorist attacks. One must walk a tightrope when looking at such an attack objectively. In fact, the idea is not to blatantly humanize the terrorists or sympathize with their cause but to portray them as human beings who have been ‘brainwashed’ just enough to commit to this situation. This nuance is hard to get right in most cases. That’s because our moral compass barely lets us look at the bigger forces of evil that may have forced these terrorists to take up guns and agree to indulge in violence. Faraaz attempts to tread this thin line and is mostly successful.
Nibras (played by Aditya Rawal), who dishes out a terrific debutant performance, is the face of this terrorist group. He is considerate enough to let a parent sit with his children under the staircase and spare the life of a sous chef to feed the hostages. Yet when he speaks the jargon of religion, he is moved to tears and is willing to let a young boy use a real AK 47. One of the five terrorists is also willing to escape this suicide mission by swimming across the lake and settling abroad with their family. There is an unpreparedness to lose one’s life after the point they set out to prove has successfully been grafted into the public conscience.
However, if we take a sneak peek outside the hollow ideologies of the terrorists, the larger issue at hand is a blur. Is it inadequate research or the unwillingness to indulge in serious conversations about national and international politics? Instead, the fourth act of the film shifts from gunfire and violence to become a sentimental ode to the lives lost and left fractured in this attack. It serves to justify the death of the Bangladesh ka ‘shehzada,’ Faraaz (played by Zahaan Kapoor, the grandson of Shashi Kapoor) and, consequently, the name of the movie. Besides, the titular protagonist is a half-baked character compared to the layers of Nibhras’ character, making us eye roll at the sob-fest it tries to become.
Incredibly shot, one of my favorite aspects of this movie is the ineffectiveness of the Bangladesh police and authorities in negotiating with the terrorists or tackling them through an effectively conducted operation. In fact, at one point in the film when Nibhras points out the meaninglessness of voting for a government which can’t do so much as to come to its people’s aid, the accusation rings uncannily true. In fact, the police force acts as comic relief in this hostage drama. Most of the laughs are garnered at the expense of a flawed system they are a part of and their hollow zeal.
During the film’s most obvious Good Muslim-Bad Muslim debate, Nibhras calls Faraaz a Twitter debater. The problem is the film too can reach so much as the standard of social media debates. It lacks the content to make it a sensational topic of discussion. Once you leave the theatre, you don’t find it in yourself to care enough for the terrorists or the lives lost in this shooting. I found myself constantly questioning, “So what was the point?” Mehta’s projection of a neighboring country and its primarily Muslim population is bound to raise some eyebrows. But still this nerve-wracking hostage drama makes for a thoughtful watch. You can watch it in the theatres now!