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Nawazuddin Siddiqui Shines In Bebaak

Bebaak,  A short  film written & directed by  Shazia Iqbal

Rating: *** *

In 20  minutes Bebaak  says   says more about  religious radicalism and  its power to control  the destiny of the economically weak, than  20 feature film on the same  theme. Not  that I’ve seen 20 films on this sensitive  and volatile  subject.  For  obvious reasons Bollywood is scared  to touch the topic of religious fundamentalism .

In Bebaak Sarah Hashmni(who  looks  like  a deglamorized  version of  Urmila Matondkar)  plays  the  spirited young Fatin, the eldest daughter of an  economically challenged but liberal Muslim family. Her parents,  played convincingly and sincerely by Sheeba Chadha and  Vipin Sharma(both Hindus,by the way), are  open to letting their children dress the way they want to and be themselves without radical reprobation breathing down their necks.

But now Fatin needs  a scholarship to tide her through her education and  for that she must go through an interview  at a lowbrow  Islamic institution that funds  the education of needy Muslim girls.

The interview, a humiliating farce  to disempower educated  women,  becomes a terrible show of misogynistic  muscle force as  the  seemingly moderate cleric(he wears normal workingclass clothes and has no beard  or religious cap ) lets loose a  volley of softspoken  sexism. Nawazuddin as the cleric is bone-chilling as he casually and   blatantly  humiliates and verbally  molests  Fatin in  front ofher father for not wearing a hijab.

The deal is simple:  wear  the  hijab, praise its virtues and collect  the  god damned  scholarship . For Fatin it is  like choosing between her future and her  freedom. It’s a remarkably profound battle between religious despotism and individual  freedom and how the former violates the latter space.

Shot in  real locations , Bebaak had me thinking long after  I finished watching it. At a time when a radical Islamic group has shamed  the whole Muslim  community in  India by blatantly  violating the  lockdown rules,   Bebaak comes as a  jolting though  not  unwelcome  reminder of how  an entire community is  held at ransom by  the  radical leaders who  control the purse strings and  thought process  and gag liberal elements.

It’s a brilliant idea  thoughtfully and gently executed. One  of the most moving and provocative short  films in recent times.

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