Movie review 'Dharam Sankat Mein': A low IQ film with high goals

Dharam Sankat Mein is a low IQ film that is not really up for the task it sets for itself
Cast: Paresh Rawal, Naseeruddin Shah, Annu Kapoor, Alka Kaushal, Murli Sharma
Director: Fuwad Khan
Rating: 2 stars

In a neat, upper middle class colony in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, lives a family man and city’s No. 1 Jain caterer — Dharampal (Paresh Rawal). Carrying his reputation for atheism from the 2012 Oh My God!, Rawal’s Dharampal is a brahmin but not a practising Hindu.

He drinks, eats non-veg, doesn’t listen to pravachan but prefers to listen to songs by one Manchala — a sardar who went missing after some misdemeanours many years ago. It’s a detail that means something to the film’s plot but nothing to me.

Dharampal has an idiot son who is in love with an imbecile. Idiot wants to marry the imbecile. But imbecile insists that idiot and his family must be chanting, ranting devotees of Neel Anand Baba (Naseeruddin Shah) for her father to agree to the alliance.

Neel Anand Baba, a rather hirsute fellow, seems to have been constructed out of the bottom halves of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh of Dera Sacha Sauda and Swami Ramdev. He is creepy and crafty and Mr Shah, with his over-the-top hamming, makes him rather boring.

Dharampal is repulsed by the idea of a blue satsang (everything at Baba’s ashram is blue) and suggests to idiot to look for another imbecile. But idiot huffs and puffs and then pleads. Daddy Dharampal says he’ll try.

Meanwhile, going through his dead mother’s locker, Dharampal comes across adoption papers where the name of his father is not Dharampal Senior but Shaukat Ali. To wear the janaeu feels wrong to the brahmin, but even a stray thought about a knife on his foreskin makes the Muslim in him go cold. While grappling with his identity, Dharampal goes to meet his dying father. But he can’t.

The imam tells him that he will kill his father if he appears before him as a Hindu. He must become a good Muslim if he wants to see his father. Dharampal’s litigious neighbour — Nawab Mehmood Nazeem Ali Shah Khan Bahadur (Annu Kapoor) — comes to his rescue.

This bit, where he switches between Hindu and Muslim identity, learns Urdu and the ways of another religion, provide some moments of mirth. But, mostly, the film remains rather skewed and objectionable.

Islam is reduced to a few superficial symbols, including the taqiyah, nukta and speaking from the epiglottis, and is cast in the role of trying to convert Hindus, while Hinduism is not questioned at all. Only the silly, swaying masses at cult clubs of swamis are told a thing or two. Hinduism remains a benign, if sometimes silly religion, but Islam gets talked about a lot in the context of terrorism.

At some points in the film some important questions are raised — from the minority community to the majority one — about loyalty, about being stereotyped and branded, but the film doesn’t have the intellect or the courage to give honest answers. So it resorts to that one answer that fits all: humanity is the biggest, best religion.

Usually I am deeply allergic to movies that are made for the express purpose of delivering a social message. I.E. not to entertain, but to wag finger and edify. The moment piety begins, I break into a rash. But given the times we live in, if a film doesn’t instigate violence rather overtly, we should all genuflect in unison. I would have if Paresh Rawal and Annu Kapoor had taken their roles seriously. Both seem to be sauntering on to the sets while on vacation to mouth lines.

Somewhere in the idea of making a film about Hindu-Muslim identity lurks a noble thought. But Dharam Sankat Mein is a low IQ film that is not really up for the task it sets for itself. That should not have been the case because there is a long list of illustrious predecessors it could have drawn strength and sense from — Yash Chopra’s 1961 Dharmputra and Bhavna Talwar’s 2007 film, Dharm. Both were more honest, more real, less fearful of offending majority sensibilities.

But then, we live in acutely self-righteous times and for Fuwad Khan to question Hinduism would invite the likes of Dinanath Batra, Mohan Bhagwat and Praveen Togadia to demand ban, burning or banishment.

That Dharam Sankat Mein, a poor copy of the 2010 British comedy The Infidel, is playing at all on Indian screens should be considered a blessing in these self-righteous, majoritarian times.

( Source : dc )
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