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Siraj Syed


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Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics.
Festival Correspondent, Film-critic, Feature-writer.


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Sameer, Review by Siraj Syed: State of terror

Sameer, Review by Siraj Syed: State of terror

Bomb blasts, attributed to extremist groups, have occurred in India time and again, particularly in the last 25 years, causing several deaths and injuries every time. In most cases, the accused and the sentenced men both belong to India’s minority community of Muslims, which fact has fuelled false beliefs that all bomb blasts are the work of Muslims, and that almost all, if not all Muslims are terrorists. Sameer chooses this sensitive theme, and looks at the other side--the role of the State in carrying out explosions and fanning communal hatred. The film has had to insert several disclaimers and make some changes, without which it would not have been allowed to reach cinema halls. Sameer does cause a few ripples, but the tidal wave proves elusive.

When one after another serial bomb blasts shakes southern city of Hyderabad, a special ATS team lead, by Deputy Chief of the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS), Desai (Subrat Dutta), tries to nab suspect, student Yaseen Darji. They reach his hostel and make an arrest. They then take him to Ahmedabad, for further investigation, since Yaseen hails from that city and that is where his mother Mumtaz (Seema Biswas) and brother Shahid (Chinmay Mandlekar) live. Torture and interrogation follow, which only lead to the discovery that they have mistakenly captured Yaseen’s room-mate, Sameer (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), instead of the alleged mastermind.

Desai reports this blunder to a political bigwig Bahubali Mehta (Manoj Shah), who asks him to use Sameer as a mole, and plant him at Yaseen’s home. Desai threatens Sameer with disastrous consequences, unless he obeys. Now Sameer must find Yaseen, before he strikes again, and kills many more innocent people. Meanwhile, ATS also joins hands with journalist and activist Alia Irade (Anjali Patil), who has been leading a crusade to trace dozens of children who went missing some twelve years ago. Yaseen had sent an email to Alia thirty minutes before a blast, so, being his ‘confidante’, she might be able to help prevent another one.

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) alumnus Karan Vyas has worked in Gujarati language films. Sameer is his Hindi debut. While there are a number of twists in the tale, there are an equal number of flaws. There is only one student in the entire hostel when the ATS raids it. All the build-up about Yaseen Darji strikes hollow by the end and viewers will feel cheated. Manto, Shahid and Mumtaz’s personae needed more fleshing out. Shahid has long footage and requisite intensity, but substance is missing. Desai’s part is better written. Defining Shahid as a bakery-owner is contextual, in the background of real-life incidents of bakery-owners/workers being burnt alive during riots.

A street theatre performer in the slums of Ahmedabad has the unlikely name of Manto (after a popular Urdu writer of the 40s and 50s; played by Alok Gagdeka). ‘Rocket’ (Master Shubham Bajrange) is the name given to a mentally challenged boy, and when asked “Why?”, Manto dismisses it by saying, “That’s a long story.” All Rocket has to do to stop confronting mobs from engaging in a blood-bath is to outstretch his hands, one in each direction. Alia’s character build-up and her interaction with Desai strike falsetto, as does the scene with Rocket and an old man at the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. Alia’s search for the missing children is an interesting side-story and does give some credibility to her fame. The slightly longish climax will catch you unawares, but may not leave you satisfied. Most viewers will get the allegory to tea and Indian politics, a track that the censors have let the makers retain. Dialogue carries numerous errors of language and pronunciation.

Director Dakxinkumar Bajrange Chhara is a playwright, film and theatre director and activist from the Chhara De-Notified Tribes (DNT) of Ahmedabad. It is worth mentioning here that six crore Indians are identified as ‘born criminals’ because they have a history of theft, but they claim that their ancestors were cornered into crime because their families had to survive in ghettoes the British incarcerated them in. The British government, in 1871, ‘notified’ 191 Indian tribes as ‘criminal’ through the Criminal Tribes Act. After independence, the Indian government ‘De-Notified’ them, but then classified them in 1959, through the Habitual Offenders Act. Bajrange is the first film-maker from a DNT tribe. He has worked as an Associate Director with renowned documentary film-maker Rakesh Sharma, on his three films on the political issues of Gujarat, Chet'ta Rejo, Khedu Mora Re and Kesariyo Kono. Sameer has been made under his Nomad Movies banner.

Sameer begins with a choreographed scene in which a dozen-odd ATS men scale a wall to jump into a hostel compound, in sequence, one after the other. What prevented them from merely walking in is knowledge we are not privy to. Desai asking Alia to move into his vacant flat extra flat and stay there on a rental basis so that she is ‘safe’ appears more funny than pragmatic. Alia refers to him as “Chief”, though it is no secret that he is Deputy Chief. The violence which he subjects Sameer to and the heaps of insults he dishes out to him are both quite unnecessary. Elements of theatre, Bajrange’s bedrock, are wasted in inconsequential diversions. A flash-back, used as a recap, turns out to be cinematic cheating.

Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub (Raanjhanaa, Tanu Weds Manu Returns, No One Killed Jessica) is a good choice, with his sympathetic features and good diction. It is when he gets to hamming that the impact withers away. Subrat Dutta (Madholal Keep Walking, Tevar, Bhootnath Returns) stays largely in character, with one angry expression, sadistic torture and vulgar threats, though he is less comfortable pulling off the good Samaritan act with Alia. Anjali Patil (Delhi in a Day, Chakravyuh and the Sri Lankan film, With You Without You) has features that are a quaint mix of Nandita Das and Pallavi Joshi. She is capable of doing , and deserves, much better roles.

Chinmay Mandlekar (Tere Bin Laden, Shanghai) exudes cold intensity and is impressive.Ever-dependable, Seema Biswas (Bandit Queen, Ek Hasina Thi, Water) is hopelessly type-cast as Mumtaz. Manoj Shah (Ship of Theseus, What’s Your Raashee?, The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey) has affected, monotonous dialogue delivery. Alok Gagdeka (Rang De Basanti, Kaipo Chhe, Bajrangi Bhaijaan) struggles in giving life to Manto. Master Shubham Bajrange makes a good debut, speaking incoherently, on account of speech impairment.

Music by Pankaj Awasthy, cinematography by Gargey Trivedi and editing by Aashish Mayur Shah are serviceable. Background score, composed Asad Khan, is a plus.

Terrorism is a burning issue, both at home and abroad, and the intentions behind making Sameer are indeed laudable. State engineered and manipulated terror, with eyes on impending elections, is both a possibility and a reality. That said, maybe Bajrange, as a debutant film-maker, was not yet ready to tackle such a theme. Given his genealogy, a film on the Chharas might be something to look forward too. Sameer flatters, only to deceive.

Rating: **

Trailer: https://youtu.be/aaUpZdlCh9o

Film Certification Appellate Tribunal’s order dated 02-07-17, on the changes and cuts to be made in Sameer: http://sameerthefilm.com/download/censor/fcat-order-sameer-hindi.pdf

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


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