Politics is what happens when India is hit by yet another riot. Amid the broken homes, dead parents, bawling children and dreams going up in smoke is another plot that may lead those behind it to a cushy seat in Delhi. But are the films today ready to call it out? Give the political climate in the country today, the answer is largely no.
Sameer, a small film that you may not even have heard of, is that exception. Directed by documentary filmmaker Dakxin Chhara, Sameer is the story of what happens behind the scenes before and after a terror attack. It may not break new ground in terms of treatment but it definitely says what needs to be said.
Touted as a suspense, Sameer keeps up the promise of a thrilling experience, even as it touches upon some very sensitive issues of our times and makes extremely bold statements. Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub (Raanjhana, Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Raees and Tubelight) makes his debut as the solo hero with Sameer.
The film goes straight to the nub when it mentions the 2002 Gujarat riots, chief minister from a state in India’s west who maybe the architect of the violence that grips it and the CM’s single-minded focus on economy and development. But welfare of all in his state? Not so much.
Talking about an innocent person getting arrested simply because he was the roommate of a terror blast accused, the chief minister candidly tells his Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) chief, “Musalman hai na? Humara kaam to ho jaega!”
There is a “Naxal sympathiser” press reporter who seems to know when and where the terror attacks will happen and helps the ATS. There is a discussion about how the Indian politicians learnt to divide and rule from British and now propagate it to gain political currency. Seema Biswas even delivers a monologue on how the common people don’t hate each other but are ready to kill when instigated by politicians.
The story shows us serial bomb blasts in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Ahmedabad. The backstories of terrorists are established via the ghastly riots of 2002, but only in passing. Interestingly, there are clear statements claiming that the motive behind the riots was political.
The movie is a brave and giant step for political cinema in Bollywood. Dakxin, who belongs to Gujarat, has made sure that his film does not shy away from questioning the authorities. Towards the end of the movie, there is a scene where a candid conversation exposes the nexus between communal divide, terror attacks and political agenda.
Almost all the actors cast in main roles in the film come from National School of Drama (NSD) and even the way it is shot takes a lot from theatre. Right in the beginning, we see a basti where kids are trying to chase a chicken. In a bid to hit the bird, they throw a stone which lands on the other side of the basti. The two sides are divided by religion – the moment the stone falls on the other side, people panic and react violently, shouting ‘dhamaal ho gaya’ (another riot has begun). It takes another kid and an outsider to establish that it was actually children’s game and they should just calm down.
Dakxin’s son, Shubham Bajrange, also plays an important role in the film. He plays a specially-abled child and the filmmaker uses his lack of practical knowledge to underline things about humanity. So this kid, fondly called Rocket in the film, is an orphan who considers Mahatma Gandhi his granddad and sits in his lap to cry when things turn sour. He is also interested in street theatre – so we get to see him narrate Paash’s poem, Sapno Ka Mar Jaana, enact a play on how silence of the masses is powering corrupt politicians.
While all the actors seemlessly fit their characters, Zeeshan once again proves his mettle as he goes from a vulnerable man to a becoming a puppet and later a master negotiator.
The frames often remind us that the director is actually a documentary filmmaker – there are raw images, real locations and, at times alarmingly authentic, but common faces. It is the well-knit screenplay and crisp editing that maintains the pace and makes Sameer an edge-of-the-seat thriller with a few melodramatic dialogues thrown in.