Saturday, February 27, 2010

Movie Review: Road to Sangam

Road to Sangam:
An attempt at demystifying grass root Islam

It somehow seems like every other unconventional Hindi movie these days is aligned to either showcase Mumbai's undeniable spirit as a city that has seen the heights of mass peril or to herald a pro-Muslim message to those who might not already have heard it. Of the two, if we take a look at that rather colorful array of movies that have attempted to paint Islamic fundamentalism in a shade more palatable to the untrained layman palette, some great examples ('Aamir','Sarfarosh'), some decent instances ('Anwar','Yeh Hai Mera India','Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan') and some Herculean debacles('My name is Khan', 'Kurbaan') come to the foreground. Whilst all the aforementioned movies had varying degrees of success with portraying the life and times of an ordinary Muslim in today's India, there has never really been an attempt to juxtapose the Muslim community against Gandhi's backdrop. For that, 'Road to Sangam'(RTS) has my respect.

Now, I am not a hardcore Gandhian. I have read abundant material on the man, exhaustive literature on his legend and certainly seen a dozen variations of his mantra in recent celluloid years. Notwithstanding my personal views of the Mahatma, I was getting a tad frustrated at how almost every movie that used him as the nucleus, would invariably get so sugary at one point that one could die instantly from that lethal injection of diabetic shock. His message of global peace, non-violence and inter-communal brotherhood would be echoed way beyond the subtle reality it so desperately needed. Thus, making an erstwhile honest attempt, seem preachy and philosophical.

What makes RTS more authentic in such a stereotypical scenario is how it attempts to demystify the reasons why Maulwi saahibs and other patriarchal Muslims are screaming from atop mosque enclosures and what the everyday worker is hearing sitting in front of them, convinced that they know more about what being a true Muslim is. RTS dissects that so neatly that it takes your breathe away.

The premise revolves around Hashmatullah (Paresh Rawal), a renowned mechanic and a devout Muslim, who works out of his grease stained garage in Allahabad. He is the general secretary of his community's organization which is headed by one time friend Mohammad Ali Kasuri (Om Puri) and the local Maulwi Maulana Qureshi (Pavan Malhotra). Hashmat is a non-threatening fellow who sits in on rhetorical meetings spilling with the irate and cranky Maulwi's never ending rants about how Muslims are being targeted each day in today's India. Despite his ideology that are slightly different from that of his peers, he does not see the need to voice his philosophy in their presence. He nods his head, joins in their hymns and plays his role to the T.

And then one day a bomb goes off. A few prominent Muslims are arrested by the police and this sends shocks of rage across the community. They unanimously agree to shut down their businesses in protest of what they are convinced is a racist act. Hashmat, without a choice, reluctantly joins in not realizing that a recent project that has come his way, of fixing an age old Ford's rusty and dead engine, is in fact of the same vehicle that had once carried the Mahatma's ashes after his death in 1948. This, for a reason he cannot completely fathom, changes Hashmat's priorities.

On the one hand he does consider himself a true follower of the Koran and a blue blooded supporter of his organization. On the other, there is his conscience that continues to prick him into the confession that his little deed of helping the Mahatma's final bounty of ashes to be submerged into the Triveni Sangam (a spot where the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati meet), somehow seems like a more justified statement of Muslim being a faith of peace, rather than shutting off work and listening to a radically inclined Mullah each day. Thus, aware of the respect he knows he needs to pay to the man who was assassinated for being an open supporter of the Muslims, Hashmat prepares to face the wrath of his own kin by reopening his shop to fix the engine. Hashmat's personal journey of awareness lit brightly by the knowledge of the true meaning of Islam culminates with the Mahatma's final journey into the rivers of the country he fought so hard to liberate.

RTS is no average emotion-heavy movie that is high on religious jingoism without a clear degree of practicality. In fact, it is the most mature movie I have seen on the subject after 'Aamir'. If 'Aamir' was the attempt to present the true anti-thesis of a Jihadi, 'Road to Sangam' paves the way for more clarity on the difference between blind fanatic adherence to one's faith and the need to see the bigger picture. That bigger, brighter, and more appropriate picture.

I would definitely recommend a relevant film like 'Road to Sangam' purely because of the honesty with which it unfolds its theme.

RATING: 4 out of 5

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