'Holy Cow': More real than reel

The film tells a daring story dotted with real life fears and complexes in the life of a small-town Indian Muslim

Photo courtesy: Social Media
Photo courtesy: Social Media

Rana Siddiqui Zaman

In the run up to the Covid-induced lockdown, we were coming back home when we had to stop at a petrol pump in South Delhi. We saw a truck full of cows being stopped, in a supposedly posh area of the capital, while its driver and co-passengers were being questioned sternly by a few local goons (wearing saffron stoles), in consonance with some uniformed men. The driver was pleading that he had the license to ferry the cows and he wasn’t doing anything illegal. A volley of people slowly started surrounding them, taking pictures and tried to side by the powerful, while the policemen seemed mere pawns in the hands of the goons.

A ruckus ensued. Being the only woman at the site where the commotion was increasing by the minute, we had no option but to leave the scene. Being a Muslim was another reason to flee.

The incident and an imaginative aftermath created a lump in the throat. It felt as deep again while watching 'Holy Cow', a film that released this Friday. This made us revisit the wound and the thoughts thereof.

The film tells a daring story which is penned and directed by Sai Kabir. It is dotted with real life issues and fears in the life of a small-town Muslim of India at present. By any chance, if a cow is a part of his life, his fears double up, to a point of no return. An undercurrent of violence runs through seemingly humorous and tricky situations. Kudos to Sai Kabir, who has handled such a sensitive issue without being gory, offensive or preachy.

In this small-budget film of one-and-a-half-hour, the story is the hero. It needed no superstars to give it a face. An amazingly versatile Sanjay Mishra and his best friend in the film, Mukesh Bhatt, do wonders in every frame, as they are joined by Sadiya Siddiqui and Tigmanshu Dhulia to pull the show, effortlessly. Hindi cinema gets more solid actors in Hemedra Dhondotiya as Matu Yadav and Neeraj Vyas as Hari Singh - the local Hindu goons cum leaders.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui as a corrupt police officer in a cameo, is quite a waste of talent. His wife Aaliya Siddiqui as a producer of the film must know this. No overtly dramatised gestures and body language, helps to create a connection with the audience.

The story is of Saleem Ansari (Sanjay Mishra), a small-time mechanic in the Hindi heartland of India, whose cow, named Rukhsar goes missing and the hunt begins. His friend in need, Ram Babu/Rambo (Mukesh Bhatt), equally naïve, fearful and compassionate accompanies the protagonist in his search from pillar to post, getting involved in dreadful circumstances due to the politics over a cow, created by a certain political ideology and sustained by local goons. Added to the humdrum, are fake spiritual/religious leaders misdirecting gullible Muslim youth and reaping the harvest of religio-political drama.

An attempt to wrap the film in comedy through light moments, however, doesn’t take off the burden of seeing the Hindu-Muslim harmony being disrupted and how. It is not a film made on religious lines, but revolves around a simple situation that traps innocent, pure-intentioned, simple people while the main operators of the game, from both sides of the divide, enjoy worldly pleasures to the hilt.

The real locations, nexus between the police, local goons and fake jihadis, superstitions, doubts, and apprehensions that the film mirrors, reflect every nook and cranny of a small town or a village today where an animal has become more important than a human being.

A complex script of a simple story runs the fear of being blatantly gloomy. But thanks to the scissors of editors Steven H. Bernard and R C Yadav, it doesn't. Brilliant art direction by Sukant Gantayat and costume design by Meenakshi Dhekial, Phukan and Simran Sachdev make it look more real than a film. So, you come back with a lump in the throat. The film grows on you as you understand that the current India is facing grave issues generated from a non-issue.

A truth well-spoken without mincing words. It’s a must-watch film for today’s Indian community to know how their fellow citizens from minority communities feel and those in majority with them, suffer equally.

But unfortunately, 'Holy Cow', due to lack of promotion, may miss becoming a cult film of the times we live in.

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