Growing up in a liberal Muslim family, seeing my father work with colleagues mostly belonging to other religions, and my spending time and playing with friends who belong to a religion different from mine has made me a heterogeneous amalgam of existing backgrounds. After two decades, all that I can sum up is that I see my socio-political identity more as an Indian than a Muslim. My nationality is something that surfaces above everything else. Practically, I depend on my nation for my education, my livelihood, my survival. My country is my home, and at the same time, my religion strengthens me emotionally and directs me to the right path, me seeing no contradiction between the two. Indeed, I enjoy better civil liberties and security of life and property here than people do in many Muslim-majority countries and while there are occasional riots and hate speeches, given that extremists exist among both Hindus and Muslims, India’s constitutional bedrock is strong (the convictions in the Gujarat riots cases and acquittals of many falsely accused of terrorism point to the same) and there is no dearth of Hindus who value and cherish Indian pluralism, not willing to let go of it at any cost, with many Muslims having made it big in diverse walks of life in this beautiful country. Narendra Modi having become prime minister in spite of allegations of mass murder is disturbing, but he had a low vote-share, with the votes of the majority of the electorate not voting for him getting divided owing to no consensus on an alternative, and he won the elections when an anti-incumbency sentiment was at its peak, with even many Muslims in some regions having voted for him.
The mechanic Hasmat in the movie ‘Road to Sangam’ (played by Paresh Rawal) dating to 2010 is any of us, any such Muslim who has placed his country before religious grouping, who identifies with the country as a loyal citizen, and has religion as a source of emotional stability in his life. For Hasmat, work is worship and the moment he realizes the worth of the task entrusted upon him, he violates the ‘farman’ (decree) issued by the local mosque committee and steps out to work. Gandhiji’s principles govern him and strengthen him; he tries his best to convince the members of his community to participate in the march that will carry Gandhiji’s ashes towards Sangam, enduring much verbal and some physical abuse.
Hasmat adds logic and reasons to everything absurd going around him. He figures out this engine and considers his work as an opportunity to unite the long-clashing communities. The movie comes close to reality with its characters, it shows the extreme rigidity on the part of large sections of the clergy and the trapped general God-fearing Muslims who blindly listen to the ‘farmans’ that the clergy issues. There are Hindus like Dr. Banerjee and the assisting engineers in the shop who value humanity irrespective of the religious identity associated with any individual. Rawal is an ensemble of any common God-fearing Indian Muslim, who has several dimensions to his self; an identity that he was born with (Muslim), a place that he belongs to (India), an area that forms his workplace, his social sphere and the family that further saturates to his individual self. The movie depicts that section of Indian Muslims too, who live in India but have a portrait of that communal mass murderer Jinnah hanging on the wall inside their rooms, support Pakistan in an Indo-Pak cricket match and celebrate 14th August as their Independence Day, leading to suspicions about all Indian Muslims’ loyalty in times of national crisis in India. It becomes a pressure for the Indian nationalist Muslims who hail apostles of peace and diversity-respecting nationalism like Mahatma Gandhi. But a movie can foster change through a single rational mind and reform demands strenuous endeavors. The scriptwriter Amit Rai has effectively adjusted the equations of nationality, patriotism, service and religion to enlighten the strayed society, to remind us of the sacrifices forgotten.
The whole point about Mahatma Gandhi dying a martyr for Indian Muslims’ security, a Muslim’s introspection about cops getting a chance to frame innocent Muslims only because some Muslims do actually engage in acts of terrorism in the first place, making innocent Muslims vulnerable to being framed (and how those innocent Muslims who were detained were released in the film, or how others are released eventually even if after a long time owing to the snail’s pace of our judicial system), the whole discussion of how some misguided Muslims need to realise their national duties and be concerned about the country as a whole rather than only harp on only problems of Muslims and ask for doles, expecting non-Muslims to care for them without doing the vice versa, some Indian Muslims even exhibiting anti-national tendencies (like supporting Pakistan against India only on a religious basis, as exemplified in cricket matches), as if they are guests in India and not Indians, the history of the partition of India vis-a-vis Jinnah’s vested interests, given Jinnah knowing that all Muslims couldn’t migrate, and Gandhiji’s role in managing to secure communal harmony have been well highlighted.
On technical grounds, the movie has purely an inspiring message but the element of entertainment never loses its presence, the songs serve as an echo with meditative, Sufi vocal to their lyrics. The cinematography in the movie is absolutely brilliant, Dharam Gulati doing an excellent job with the camera to portray Allahabad and setting the mood to the story. The setting is limited to Allahabad but the compressed setting does not affect the stretching chain of events that evolve the theme of the movie. Gandhiji’s message of truth, peace, non-violence and brotherhood remains dominant in evolving Hasmat’s character and the movie successfully exhibits the emotional content that it strives to bring out. The actors – Paresh Rawal, Om Puri, Javed Sheikh, Pawan Malhotra, Masood Akhtar, Yusuf Hussain, Swati Chitnis and others – remain faithful and sincere to their roles and this brings the movie closer to reality. This movie should be cherished as a tribute the idea of secularism in India, which despite its many failures on account of the actions of some people, binds it very tightly as well.
(Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)