The time tested formula of terrorism in the movies

Filmmakers in Bollywood revisit the theme of terrorism time and again, the latest being Nikhil Advani’s upcoming ‘Batla House’ starring John Abraham

Photo Courtesy: Twitter
Photo Courtesy: Twitter

Biswadeep Ghosh

Society doesn’t need terrorism. The inescapable tragedy is that terrorism makes periodic appearances in our lives. Filmmakers merge fact with fiction to produce films on this theme.

Nikhil Advani’s latest film, Batla House, is an action thriller starring John Abraham as a cop. The actual Batla House encounter had taken place on September 19, 2008. The incident had occurred one week after five serial blasts in Delhi that had led to at least 30 deaths.

The last release based on terrorism was disappointing. It was Raj Kumar Gupta’s directorial, India’s Most Wanted which tells the story of intelligence officials on a manhunt for a terrorist. The character is based on Yasin Bhatkal, an IM terrorist.

The theme of terrorism, when deftly handled, has produced remarkable films in the past though. Gulzar’s Maachis (1996) was based on the Sikh insurgency after Operation Blue Star, Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Brilliantly directed and with fine performances, the film lives on in our minds more than two decades after its release.

Mani Ratnam has been equally outstanding. The director made Roja, Bombay and Dil Se, a trilogy that portrays relationships against the backdrop of volatile social circumstances.

In Roja (1992), starring Arvind Swamy and Madhoo, a cryptologist (Swamy) gets married to a village belle (Madhoo). Professional demands take him to Kashmir, where he is kidnapped by the terrorists. They promise to release him in exchange for one of their own, who is behind the bars. Roja is an engrossing film for several reasons, among them direction, cinematography, story and music. Bombay (1995), the second part, depicts religious tensions and communal clashes after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Dil Se (1998), the third part, deals with the insurgency in the Northeast. Shah Rukh Khan is seen as a programme executive with the All India Radio, who falls in love with an enigmatic beauty with a ‘mission’ (Manisha Koirala). His love for her is doomed, and it would culminate in deaths for both. A fine story, mature performances, great cinematography and brilliant direction are the striking qualities of the film, which has withstood the test of time.

In Khalid Mohamed’s acclaimed Fiza (2000), Karisma Kapoor plays the sister, whose search for her brother (Hrithik Roshan) results in the discovery that he has become a terrorist. Hrithik again appeared as a terrorist in Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission Kashmir (2000).

The 1993 Mumbai bombings claimed 257 lives and left many more injured. Journalist S Hussain Zaidi based his book, Black Friday: The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts, on this. Anurag Kashyap made a docudrama film based on Zaidi’s work. A lengthy film which re-creates the tragedy and its aftermath, Black Friday (2007) is a masterpiece that shellshocked the viewer.

Important subjects need not produce impressive films. Ram Gopal Varma’s The Attacks of 26/11 (2013) is based on the 26/11 attacks in 2008 that had benumbed Mumbai. Nana Patekar’s presence as Mumbai’s top cop Rakesh Maria notwithstanding, the film shows nothing beyond the obvious. Poor research led to a predictable story with sketchy characterisation, resulting in commercial and critical failure.

Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday! (2008) starring Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher is gripping fare. It tells the story of a cop who must deal with a telephonic threat from the man who demands the release of four terrorists. This faceless man threatens that there will be bomb blasts in Mumbai if his demand isn’t fulfilled. The film is the outcome of fine writing, good direction and noteworthy performances by the two stalwarts of Hindi cinema.

Written and directed by Neeraj Pandey, Baby (2015) keeps the viewer interested in spite of being a jingoistic film with loopholes in the story. The film’s simplistic plot is structured around the age-old formula of good versus bad in which espionage agents led by the macho hero (Akshay Kumar) must win against terrorists, which they do. The characters and storyline don’t have much to write home about, but the film is decent entertainment if the viewer doesn’t have unrealistic expectations.

Bollywood returns to the subject of terrorism time and again, delivering films like the John Abraham starrer New York (2009) helmed by Kabir Khan. The Rensil D’Silva-directed film, Kurbaan, starring Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor also released in the same year.

Terrorism as a theme attracts makers, which is understandable. However, the industry has been guilty of making films in which terrorists are mostly shown as belonging to a particular community. That approach needs to change, and explorations from diverse angles to show the menace of terrorism in all its hues must be made.

Will it happen soon? It must. Viewers are waiting to see such films, too.

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