In a film tradition where comedies rarely evolve into satires, Tere Bin Laden (TBL) signifies a refreshing change. It does what NATO hasn t been able to do in 9 years; disarm the numero uno terrorist. It strips off Bin Laden s carefully crafted persona conjured, in equal measures, by his own video dispatches and the western media – by making him an object of ridicule and laughter. But that s just one part of it. The other, and more important, bit is its denigration of the American campaign in the Af-Pak region that it tries to legitimise in the name of Bin Laden, a MacGuffin, for all practical purposes.
But before I go any further with the film, I d like to talk about a bit about a few things that are, in one way or the other, related to TBL.
If you look at the popular themes in any folk/traditional form of entertainment you ll find that most of them relate to making fun of kings, priests and other such power figures. Since revolt is usually ruled out for logistical issues, that s the only weapon common people have had against their oppressors. One extremely hilarious puppet show that I saw in Delhi had an impotent tyrant king chasing his queen in circles as she goes soliciting sexual favours from the cook to the gardener. The next best thing you can do to bad guy apart from getting him a life-term is to rob him of his gravitas.
But sometimes it becomes difficult to have fun on the expense of the powerful, be itBin Laden or America. TBL starts with a helluva long disclaimer making it very clear that it doesn t want to hurt anybody s sensibility. It s good that the producers put it there better safe than sorry – but more than such disclaimers, we, as a people, need to do something about our god damned sensibilities. On the other hand, we also need a plan to take on the powerful. I don t have a strategy to deal with the America, and I doubt if anyone has, but I do have some ideas as to how we can engage the likes of Bin Laden.
My suggestions, like the aforementioned problems, are divided into two parts. I d like to make it clear, right at the outset, that I refuse to assume any kind of responsibility in case they fail to work, or backfire. Here s part one.
A lot of people I meet tell me how they wish Muslims had a sense of humour. While their feelings may have been inspired by my drab mannerisms, I d like to believe otherwise. Some of the best humourists and satirists have been, and still are, Muslims (including my favourite Allama Chirkeen, whose repertoire encompasses all things scatological). Further, existence and popularity of contemporary stand-up comic talents like Shazia Mirza (at least that s what it says on her pilot s licence!) and Allah Made Me Funny and television series like the Little Mosque on the Prairie buck the common belief that we lack the ability to laugh or be laughed at. But we can surely do better, especially those of us here in India.
For starters, we need to set some of our holy cows free (we re not supposed to eat them anyway! P.B.U.H.; peace be upon heresy). Two, try and give a taste of our lunacy to the lunatic fringe (a friend recently broke into an impromptu Naik nahin Khal-Naik hoon main upon seeing the infamous televangelist Zakir Naik on the TV and that left me with some ideas to follow through). Three, ensure that we give as much space to others as we d like them to give to us. If Prophet Muhammad s (P.B.U.H.; peace be upon him) cartoons are a no no then so are Goddess Saraswati s nude paintings.
Freedom of expression is a slippery concept. You get yours only when you ensure that others have theirs, quid pro quo (the whole thing can lapse into the realm of hate speech or slander before you know it, but it s an idea worth experimenting, much like the concept of democracy if you please). Salman Rushdie s Satanic Verses was still banned in a lot of countries (it still remains in some, including ours) when he personally made sure that an egregious Lollywood production called International Gorillay got a release in the UK. The film depicts Rushdie as an immoral, criminal, infidel who, in the end, gets killed by the holy book itself; The Quran. The film, apart from its brilliant premise, is so bad that you have to see it to believe it. But still, Rushdie asked the British Board of Film Classification to reconsider their decision to ban the film and rightly so, because he knew that freedoms can t be afforded selectively. That or perhaps he genuinely got scared of the visions of airborne Qurans.
Here s part two. This is pitched more in the direction of Al Qaeda fans.
So, in all likelihood, TBL is not going to get a release in Pakistan. All I can say to that is it s unfortunate that Pakistani authorities have given in prematurely to part real, part imagined threats. This action will again have the world wondering, according to Pakistani columnist Faiza Khan, if “the will of Pakistan is the will of the Taliban .
Banning a film or a book and mounting violent protests are the easiest things anyone could do. What is difficult, though, is to engage people you disagree with in a dialogue. If they laugh at you, you laugh back, and hard. Bombing them, I m afraid, is not going to do much good to our already teetering-on-the-edge-of-destruction civilisation. Let me relate a personal story to make that point clear.
“Faiz can t wear Raymond s , a friend remarked while we were on our way to the school, back in the last century. “Why? someone asked even as the punch-line was being delivered “because he s not a complete man . Ha Ha Ha. I Ha Ha Ha d along, with added gusto.
By and by the air in my school bus improved, and I was eventually accepted into the Brotherhood of the Lumpenproletariat . At one point it got so good that a lot of us started missing our stops only to be together and stretch the ride longer. Needless to add, I got my own licence to crack jokes and I made sure that I put it to maximum use. I could ve complained to the principal s office or had a word with my folks or hit the guy who d cracked the joke, but such a move would ve spelt the end of good times for me.
I suggest here then, that Al Qaeda instead of railing against films like TBL, try and adopt my approach. I propose that Al Qaeda, given its expertise in video production, make a film of its own, a sort of a counterattack on anyone it particularly dislike, anyone.
I assure it that I ll definitely go and watch it in the theatres, if it gets a release, or alternatively order a legit DVD, in case it doesn t.
That s been a rather lengthy aside; let s do go back to the film now.
TBL, set in Pakistan, is about a motley group of people who hope to make some easy money and realise their respective dreams by peddling a fake Bin Laden video. They succeed in fooling the big media and, to their dismay, the mighty US of A too. Things start going wrong and they attempt to reverse the damages, regrettably to no avail. What follows is a biting criticism of the American we ll-smoke-them-out-of-their-hole rhetoric.
The central conceit of TBL took me back, for some reason, to the character of Dr Brian O blivion from David Cronenberg s Videodrome. Dr O blivion, allegedly based on acclaimed media theoretician Marshall McLuhan, is a critic who only appears on TV through TV, never making a physical appearance. He s, as is later revealed in the film, has been long dead and his TV appearances have been sustained through a mass of video recordings in which he s answered every conceivable question that d ever be put to him. Interestingly, he s bumped off by people who are helping the US government in its rather nefarious agenda, which I shall not reveal here. So videos and the US have long and troubled history.
The film packs in enough humour and has a few solid laugh-out-aloud moments. It lapses into the absurd every now then and that is alright because it doesn t pretend to be a film serious in its intention. If you find certain stuff running counter to logic, then remember that the post 9/11 world hasn t really been a sane place to live in!
I like the film for its unrestrained irreverence and great performances, especially by Ali Zafar, Piyush Mishra and Barry John. The production quality, though, could ve been a lot better.
Watch it for it s important that we laugh in the face of our problems.