Zaigham Imam

Movie Review
Alif:The first letter in the language of Cinema is missing!

Nelson Mandela once talked about education which per him “is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” But what exactly is education? Is it a mere accumulation of information by reading numerous books? And if it’s that, what difference does it make if it’s traditional or modern?

Writer-Director Zaigham Imam in his film Alif (originally Aleph, which is the first letter in Arabic/Urdu) asks these questions pertinent to education of a child Ali who studies in a Madrasa located in a Muslim ward of Varanasi. His father wants him to study in a good school but doesn’t enrol him because of fear of the past riots as they all are in Hindu locales. The story is set in 2002, sometime around Gujarat riots and hence, the fear is justified. However, the story gets in shape when Ali’s best friend’s elder brother Jamaal and Ali’s phuphi arrive. The actual conflict is between these two characters who come from two opposite school of thoughts. Ali’s phuphi encourages his father to enrol him in a good English medium school so that he can become a doctor, while Jamaal, is in complete favour of studying in a Madrasa as Koran, according to him, is complete in itself and one doesn’t need any further education.

A writer is many a times when assessed, is always separated from his material. This battle of the two school of thoughts as a concept is great, which is the material of the film. But Zaigham completely fails in his writing. The writing is not mature enough to deal with such a concept. Ali’s phuphi emphasizes on English medium while towards the end she scolds one of Ali’s teachers for not respecting his Urdu education and for how could he expect him to read English if he couldn’t read Urdu. The conflict between Ali’s father and phuphi seems futile. It doesn’t leave any impact in the film and it does not seem relevant to the narrative. The transition in the dialogues of characters is poor. The confrontation scene between the brother-sister (Ali’s father and phuphi) has such fake transitions. One moment they are talking about their own conflict and crying over it, the very next moment phuphi is talking about Ali’s education and suggesting her brother to enrol him in an English medium school. Similarly, the visa problem of phuphi has gone so haywire that the narrative totally loses its grip. The romantic angle between Jamaal and Ali’s cousin is written so carelessly. She doesn’t even like to look at him in the beginning, then just one small song and they are in a relationship, while the viewer never gets to know did they start bonding or what did actually click between them.

Still there are few things about writing that I liked, which includes Ali’s bonding with his best friend which right from the first scene till the last scene looks real and believable and impacts emotionally well (credit goes to the two child actors). Then, there’s another viewpoint shown about school system where after favouring the modern education almost till the interval, Zaigham suddenly pauses, looks back and realizes that there’s not everything that’s good about school, by showing a teacher who represents a traditionalist in a modern background. His scenes are actually provocative, makes us think twice about so-called modern education system, particularly the scene where he beats the boy for bringing a Pakistan flag on a Republic day. But then every character is a consequence of the situation he/she is in. The condition of 2002 is clearly evident here.

Besides writing, which the film almost fails to impress in, it sucks completely in other departments. Some camera angles look amateurish, editing is extremely poor (It’s Prakash Jha – the director?), not being sensible enough to cut at appropriate moments, and such loud performances that one could totally sense the fake emotions of the actors, not being able to relate with them or their conflicts. Background music is not at all in sync with the visuals. Some moments where not much is happening in the visual, the background music is quite loud. Also, the film has a look of a television show than a feature film. That must be due to the director’s television background. Oh! Now the reason for the loud background music is justified.

A film dealing with education, looks like uneducated in the language of Cinema. 

   Prakhar Khare

Prakhar is film and music reviewer and a film student at Whistling Woods International..

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