First they came…
I haven’t written for quite some time, and I haven’t written much worth the while.
The trigger was random really. A random viewing of Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday; that masterly adaptation of S. Hussain Zaidi’s sprawling documentation of the 1993 Mumbai blasts and the events surrounding and leading up to it. As with Kashyap’s other early works, the film struggled its way to a theatrical release, securing a delayed one almost 5 years after it was made; by which time most had downloaded the film and its sting rendered neutered. The film was finally cleared to be released by the Supreme Court of India after the verdict in the ’93 blasts case was delivered by the TADA court in 2007. It has since been broadcast on satellite television quite a few times, with the same indifference that had characterized its eventual theatrical release.
Star Gold HD decided to air that film again, last evening…..
In a week when Yakub Memon became the first and only convict in the ’93 blasts case to be hanged…..
With a 3-day build-up of promos showcasing the bit part of filmmaker Imtiaz Ali as Yakub Memon being apprehended!
Black Friday then… 11 years after its intended release, 8 years after its censor clearance and multiple mundane television screenings later… had finally earned a ‘hook’ worthy enough for it to be marketed.
Whatever be your opinion of the film, one cannot deny it its audacity. It recreates the disturbing events interspersed with newsreel, inhabits characters with perfect casting choices, juices out masala from its chase sequences and drops names left right and center. But for all of that and its surefooted deftness in ensuring that the account remains that of a feature film first and foremost; the crowning take away from the film is its simple clarity. It begins with the Mahatma Gandhi quote “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”, and never forgets this once during its entire dramatization of all the ghastly incidents and the people involved, before falling back onto itself as a marvelously edited vicious cycle. We see the blasts, we see the arrests, we find out the planning that went behind it, we meet the man who engineered it, we meet the men he recruited, we learn of their reasons, we see their communal alienation being exploited to exact a single man’s personal revenge, we witness his seething anger, we see the events leading to his anger and their alienation, we watch in horror as the retribution is planned, we see the blasts! And then that Gandhi quote again to bookend it.
Now imagine this narrative minus the communal alienation. You’ll see the blasts, you’ll see the arrests, you’ll find out the planning that went behind it, you’ll meet the man who engineered it, you’ll meet the men he recruited, you’ll see them exact his revenge, you’ll witness his seething anger at being wronged, you’ll watch in horror as he plans his retribution, you’ll see the blasts. Basically you’ll see one angry Muslim man with links to Dawood and Pakistan’s ISI recruiting other angry Muslim men to carry out a series of deadly attacks, only for the cops to round up and arrest history sheeter Muslims and have at least one of them tire of running from one city to another to ultimately realize that Allah was not on their side. Why did they carry out the blasts? Why did they enlist? Why were they ripe to be exploited? If you weren’t someone who lived through the ’92 riots and the ’93 blasts as I did, in Mumbai no less, and your reference to the incident was only the Black Friday screening on Star Gold HD last night, then the Babri Masjid demolition never happened. Yes, there was some unnamed riot which led to some shops being burnt in the Mahim area, but that was that. Gone is any mention of Babri Masjid. Gone is the midway exchange between Kay Kay Menon’s Rakesh Maria and Aditya Srivastava’s Badshah Khan so central to the film and its politics. Gone is Badshah Khan’s outburst that he will never come to terms with the systematic demolition at Ayodhya. Gone is the entire chapter of this episodic film which shows the newsreel of the Kar Sevaks before the film falls back onto itself in a vicious narrative cycle.
Aside from the fact that such mutilation of a film’s narrative is an affront and insult to the film and the filmmaker, such selective censorship of a film by the television channel and the concerned ministry smacks of political opportunism and agenda. One has learnt to put up with terms such as boobs and butt being beeped out; one even shakes their head in disbelief to see the childishness in subtitling bitch as witch and shit as crap. Sunny Leone’s ample cleavage can apparently cause such harm that it has to be blurred out. But this is something else. This is fashioning a narrative so that it fits into popular consciousness just as you’d prefer it… of wishing away something that happened.
Much has been said and written about Yakub Memon’s hanging and the closure it has given to the whole blasts chapter, but as a taxi driver remarked outside the Bada Kabristan at Marine Lines where Yakub’s funeral took place, the atmosphere on the day felt less like closure and more ominous. I am not one to question or comment on the legal merits of the sentence, neither will I use this piece to debate capital punishment but selective closure only accomplishes raking up old wounds. But now even those wounds are being erased out of existence from popular narratives.
– Abhishek Bandekar