Friday, October 03, 2008

Wednesday: Movie

Here is a perfect example of what’s going wrong with India and its people. I have serious objections to the kind of message this movie promotes. This is the exact kind of path I DON’T want India to take up. Unfortunately, many young people that I talked to seem to like this movie and the message.

It is the kind of robin hood justice, not very different from how Naxalites operate, imposing their own version of justice onto the people, taking up a gun and shooting a guy without thorough investigation, based on perceptions, hearsays, and whims, and not very different from the kind of justice what Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia dole out in their countries. Take the gun, shoot the guy who you think is the criminal, do away with laborious and painful judicial procedures – that is the message of the movie.

Many young people seem to like that kind of justice. ‘You know he is the terrorist, why not just shoot him?’ they ask.

What India needs is not more of such heroic and robin hood kind of punishments, but more procedural investigation, and more rule of law. What we need is more people stopping at red light and not the other way round where every Indian takes law into his hands to take a decision right then and there whether he should skip the red light or not. What we need is more procedural arrests, not more of fake ‘encounter killings’. We need more accountability into our system, not more of doing away with it.

Some young Indians have justified Naseeruddin Shah’s (the common man) role in the movie. They believe it is OK to kill four alleged terrorists without due course of legal procedures, without providing the evidences, without having to prove them guilty within the legal framework. And why is it so? Just because they all ‘know’ that these four guys are terrorists.

What is missed out is the basic premise on which the entire legal structure, in fact, the very concept of a modern nation is based on – that every citizen has a right to justice, and a person is innocent unless proven guilty.

In the movie, a policeman is blackmailed into killing an alleged terrorist, who is not convicted in any court of law as yet, on the pretext that he is saving many innocents people from a non-existent bomb. The policeman creates a ‘fake encounter’ and disposes off the last alleged terrorist, and this is celebrated and hailed by everyone around him.

I don’t subscribe to such arbitration of justice. We have courts and we have a legal system in place. If people think that the system is really slow and inefficient, they have to fight the system to make it better, not take up the gun to kill the accused before they are even paraded into the courts. What’s the difference between the terrorist and the ordinary man now? (I have the same argument against Rang De Basanti).

We need to understand and believe that even a terrorist has a right to justice, because we do not know if they are criminals unless proven guilty. They are all innocent till they are proven guilty. Every accused person should have access to a lawyer, even the worst criminal, a serial killer, a rapist or a terrorist. Recently there was a hue and cry when someone suggested they are going to provide lawyers to the alleged terrorists who got arrested. We think that providing a legal support to an alleged terrorist is tantamount to condoning terrorism.

During most part of the movie, the audience view Naseeruddin Shah as a villain, who is trying to free four alleged terrorists by blackmailing the police with a bomb threat that could kill hundreds of people. But later on, Naseeruddin Shah kills three of those alleged terrorists with a bomb and the last one by blackmailing the policeman. As a twist to the whole movie, he gleams that he is a common man who is frustrated with the recent turn of events in the country with so many terrorist bombs blowing up everywhere and that he is only out there to seek revenge.

The police officers also feel happy at the turn of the events and they believe in Naseeruddin Shah’s new story completely without verifying it. All those who are working on the case give out a sigh of relief. There is a sudden change in the attitudes and nobody wants to track him down anymore because now they feel Naseeruddin Shah is like one of them, an ordinary citizen, just taking a simple and straight revenge by exactly following the methods the terrorists follow.

The people in the movie and the audience now sympathize with him, condone his actions, accept them and even congratulate him for that. He is allowed to go scot free. Even the police officer in charge of the operations goes to congratulate Naseeruddin Shah without making any investigations. The police is all happy because he made them dispose of those alleged terrorists.

Many people who have seen the movie felt it was OK to kill those terrorists because it was in some way handing out justice – a little faster mechanism without having to go through court-kacheri. They felt that Naseeruddin Shah acted in the best faith and he did nothing wrong. The fact that he has just murdered four innocent people goes unnoticed by the people in the movie and the audience.

The problem is when we mete out justice guided by feelings, perceptions, and impressions. They can be false sometimes. They can be constructed. That’s why we have a court, a legal procedure, and a due course of law to convict people.

I created a small scenario here to extend how fallacious our arguments can be if we were to go by those carefully constructed feelings and perceptions.

I would like to extend the movie only by a minute. As soon as the police officer leaves (after congratulating Naseeruddin Shah for the great deed he did), Naseeruddin Shah picks up a satellite phone from his grocery bag, and calls Abu Basha, a master mind terrorist, who is lounging in a big bungalow, and tells him that ‘kaam ho gaya hai’. Naseeruddin Shah informs Abu Basha that now nobody will be able to trace the bombings to Abu Basha since the four people that would have connected previous bombings to Abu Basha are now all dead.

Abu Basha congratulates Naseeruddin Shah and asks him to be careful next time around and make sure no lead comes to him in the next set of bombings.

I am quite sure that such a twist to the story would once again make the audience change their stance and now they may vilify Naseeruddin Shah for what he had done.

The problem with such stories is that the perceptions can change. That’s why we have a judicial procedure to take care of such problems of perceptions, media reports, and other constructed notions.

No matter what, whether we like it or not, we need to stick to judicial procedure in this country. We need a dose of more rule of law, not less of it. This movie is a bad example coming at a bad time.


  1. // I would like to extend the movie only by a minute.

    That was very nice writing.

    You might be interested to know this little tidbit, sujai. In TamilNadu, in the 80s, every year there were many movies released with the title "Law" "Law in my hands" "Law is dark room" etc etc.. During that season/phase, the great Superstar Rajinikanth did a movie titled "I am NOT Gandhi" Its anybody's guess what the theme is! Now, the censor board jumped in and forced the idiots to change the name of the movie :-) And so it was changed. The new name was "I am not a sage"

    sage in tamil = "mahaan". ie, matches close to the short form of tagore's word "mahaatma"

    We, the hypocrites, go around the world and take pride in Mahatma, but in our country, we take pride in the opposite of Mahatma.

  2. Sujai, u missed a crucial scene:the 4 prisoners BRAGGED ABOUT THEIR ROLE IN TERRORIST ATTACKS during confirmation of their identity by Naseeruddin Shah.Statements like
    1."shooting a guy without thorough investigation, based on perceptions"
    2."without providing the evidences, without having to prove them guilty"
    3."ALLEGED terrorists "
    4."he has just murdered four INNOCENT people "
    becomes null and void just because of that scene.

    MAULANA MASOOD AZHAR was freed by the impotent Indian government. He went on to found the JAISH-E-MOHAMMED .And orchestrated the attack on Indian Parliament .Please understand that if the government had taken pre-emptive action by executing infamous terrorists instead of going through "due course of legal procedures", these kind of disasters could have been prevented.Terrorists know they can continue to "bleed India by a thousand cuts" because "the system is really slow and inefficient".
    Israel carried out "Operation Wrath of God" after the 1972 Munich massacre. Tough times demand tough measures. That is what India needs.And that is what the terrorists deserve.Yes, there will be collateral damage-so be it. U.S.A has Guantanamo Bay.And there had had been no terrorist attacks since 911.

    Jack Roberts

  3. What we need is more people stopping at red light

    Stopping at red light and terrorism - where is the connection? You are getting very incoherent and lack logic in your articles.

    You would not understand what terrorism means before "one of your own" is lost due to the cruel hand of terrorism. It is not my problem (because I stop at the red light) as long as the dying people are not my own friends and family.

  4. Thanks Sujai for a nice article.
    Justice system in India must be corrected.


    U.S.A,Israel have a better judicial system than India.


  5. sujai, its nice to write about procedural laws and justice,If only all citizens are law abiding taxpayers and equally contribute to development of india as a whole is very apt for your vision.My dear friend what message are you sending to the INDIAN SOLDIER who is fighting on high mountains, deserts and deep seas,ask those families who have lost their loved ones, INDIANS per se are apathetic and self centred , the worst are the white elephants of this nation IAS /Chief Secy etc , want to know more

    Good Blog for Gandhigiri!Get ready for BHAGATGARDI

  6. Another great write-up sujai! I beg to defer to the idea that cinema promotes any kind of vigilantine behaviour, just like nobody is going to try kill a head of state after watching The Assassination of Richard Nixon

  7. Arky:
    I am not really concerned about whether movies promote violence or assassination just because it is depicted in a movie.

    I was only concerned about the message of the movie- which seems to rhyme with most Indians - 'lets subvert laws as and when it pleases or suits us'.

  8. Agree with you! I found this while trying to check on another consistency issue in the movie.
    remember at one point the cops talk about a mystery man being the actual strategist. And while doing so they show a blurred picture of the man's eyes- very naseeruddin.
    was that a red herring or was N actually the strategist. In which case he was no common man.
    Also at the beginning N drops a bag at VT. What happened to that?!
    all in all yes a good movie but with a pseudo sympathetic cause. Destroy the symptoms of the malaise and be proud of Bharat mata's matyrs

  9. Good article Sujai. In fact, the movie review was so thought provoking. You are correct, If there is some problem with the law enforcement agencies and due to which justice is delayed, we ought to concentrate on making that more efficient. Instead of taking the law in our hands. I think the reflection is also on the belief that the law enforcement agencies are no longer trusted by the common man in India. That needs to be changed.

    Destination Infinity


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