Saving the Honour of Azamgarh: A Review
Azamgarh, a district in Uttar Pradesh with a notable Muslim population, has often been in the news for all the wrong reasons. It has been labeled a hotbed of terrorism, producing and harboring young men who join terrorist groups both within and outside India. However, the reality is that an estimated 20 million Muslims live in India and live in peace. It is unfair to condemn an entire community for the actions of a few misguided individuals.
The film “Azamgarh” by Kamlesh Mishra is set in 1999 and follows the story of Aamir, an outstanding student who tops the Intermediate exam in the entire state. His mother celebrates by distributing sweets among the inhabitants of the small town, but nobody is willing to partake of the offering due to the arrest of a religious scholar from Azamgarh, Ashraf Ali, on a charge of masterminding bomb attacks. Already, four Muslims from Azamgarh have been killed in police encounters.
Fellow townsmen taunt Aamir, saying that he will follow in the footsteps of the terrorists. He goes to Aligarh Muslim University, intending to study with honorable intentions, but becomes highly introverted. Eventually, he is approached by some fellow students who want to celebrate the release on bail of their leader, Ashraf Ali. Gradually, he becomes a sympathizer of their cause and is finally initiated into their group of ‘jihadis’ and ‘fedayeen’. Ashraf Ali continues his activities from a small house, where he lives with three henchmen. A fourth appears there in the shape of Aamir, who is welcomed by Ashraf Ali and immediately put under training. Part of his ‘internship’ includes engineering bomb blasts in small towns, which he successfully carries out. However, he is seen by the police, who put up posters, announcing a huge reward for anyone who gives information about him.
The film’s theme is laudable, but the treatment and direction fail to nail the issue. Mishra has a very thin storyline to work on and depends a lot on the climax to get his message through. All characters are stereotypes, including the brilliant student, his pious mother, the taunting townsmen, the TV anchors, the recruiting henchmen, the terrorists, and the police inspector. Too much footage is given to the inspector, who says nothing new. The fact that he spares Aamir’s mother’s torture because she is a woman shows some compassion. Yet, one character rings true, and that is the other Maulana who speaks from the heart while being interviewed by a TV channel.
The film’s editing is not up to the mark. It has been reported that this was to be a 60-minute film but has been expanded to 90 minutes on the editing table. If this is true, the act has done a disservice to the project. Mishra pays tribute to the great men who were born in Azamgarh, like Maulana Shibli Nomani and the poet-lyricist Kaifi Azmi, and laments the fact that, of late, Azamgarh is in the news for the wrong reasons.
Pankaj Tripathi is miscast as Ashraf Ali. He remains Pankaj Tripathi for most of the film, but gets into variety mode on a couple of occasions, for a change. With no stars, getting a release of any sort must have been a task in itself. There is so much screen time given to TV footage that it appears that certain channels are backing the project, though that is definitely not the case.
In conclusion, “Azamgarh” is a The film raises an important question about the role of religion and how it can be misinterpreted and used to justify violence. It also touches upon the issue of how young men can be easily swayed by extremist ideologies and the need for better education and awareness programs to counter this. However, the execution of these themes falls flat due to the amateurish direction and thin storyline.
Overall, “Azamgarh” fails to deliver a compelling narrative or engage its audience in a meaningful way. While the topic of religious extremism and its impact on society is an important one, the film lacks the finesse and nuance needed to do justice to the subject matter. It is a disappointing debut for director Kamlesh Mishra and a missed opportunity to explore a complex and timely issue.