By Utpal Borpujari
Sandhir Flora had a question in his mind, a question that exercises the minds of probably countless Indians. The question was – why is nobody interested in the common man’s viewpoint when it comes to important issues such as religion and the society, and why the same people take on the role of self-appointed spokespersons of various communities on every available platform? He tried to seek out an answer, and since he is a filmmaker, an aspiring one if one may call him, his search resulted in a film. Self-searchingly titled Kya Main Qaafir Hoon? (Am I a Non-believer?), the one-hour film has been able to strike a chord with the discerning viewer, even getting selected for the Non-Feature section of the Indian Panorama at the last International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa as well as the Persistence Resistance Film Festival in Delhi in February.
Flora, a Sikh from Jabbalpur, refuses to call his venture a short film, stressing that it has the structure of a long feature though minus the length. But more than that aspect, it is the subject that he feels is more important in the context of the present times. The young director chose to delve into the debate within the Muslim community about religion and its impact on them in the backdrop of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, and though a little too verbose, his film has been able to raise pertinent questions. For Flora, it has been a worthwhile venture, even though he would have loved to make it into a full-length feature film but for lack of finances. As he puts it, “I am trying to analyse the irony of the fact that in following principles of a religion with the same purpose, two persons can find themselves on opposite sides. My film tries to showcase that everything stems from a certain value system, education and most importantly certain experiences in life that mould people into completely unique individuals.”
Flora, who took the help of several of his Muslim friends to interact with various viewpoints in the community, fleshed out realistic characters in the story. “Such a story cannot stand on its own if its characters are not real with real flesh and blood and do not have a strong opinion. Initially, people doubted my intentions but with some effort I managed to break that barrier and found some authentic voices. I decided to take a backseat and let those voices talk and interact independently in my film, as I did not want to pass a judgement or offer a clear-cut solution either as there is none,” he says.
Flora has been clear that he would highlight the fact that the common man’s views on religion are never heard or taken into consideration. He puts it in a matter of fact tone, “I wanted to make this point heard loud and clear. Whenever any such issue of national interest talked about in TV or print, the Muslims are generally represented by same faces again & again. Not that there is anything wrong in their views but sadly, the voice of a common Muslim is lost in this whole commotion. I decided I must include this very firmly when I tell my story.”
In the film, Abraham, an NRI Muslim who escapes death in the Taj Hotel firing incident, goes to his native place in Central India, where he sets out to achieve his long-time dream to set up a madrassa to provide education to poor Muslim children. Through the city’s SP Suleiman Shaikh, he gets in touch with TV journalist Maria, who also has a similar wish. But when Maria and Abraham meet, it is found out that they have very different ideologies, which is what develops the drama.
Flora is aware that the market for the short film genre is almost zilch in India, but he is hopeful that if not a regular theatrical release, it will at least be picked up by a general entertainment channel for screening. The film has already found a distributor of its DVDs, in the form of Delhi-based Magic Lantern Foundation that distributes a lot of independent documentaries as also short and full-length films.
The filmmaker is aware that a lot of films are being made on socio-religious themes, even though most of them are getting restricted only to the festival circuit. While he says that there is no direct visible impact of cinema on society, he believes that it can be one of the many tools that can be used effectively for social change. “It is a powerful medium. Therefore I am very much against its abuse. As a filmmaker I wish for the sake of society that private satellite channels should pick up such relevant content to broadcast on TV, rather than that same mindless shows merely for the sake of TRPs,” says Flora, an MA in economics and an MBA in tourism who has assisted in films like Manoj Punj’s Zindagi Khoobsoorat Hai and Parvati Balagopalan’s Rules: Pyaar Ka Superhit Formula.