Free Press Journal

Alif: Immature Discourse


Film: Alif

Cast: Aditya Om, Saud Mansuri, Neelima Azeem, Danish Hussain, Gaurishankar Singh, Bhavna Pani, Shimala Prasad. Jaya Bachchan (Narrator)

Director: Zaigham Imam


Director Zaigham Imam’s first feature ‘Dozakh: In Search of Heaven’ was adapted from his own book of the same name – but it had quite a few problems in its adapted screenplay. This new film of his also exhibits similar deficiencies though the well-intentioned nature of the effort cannot be ignored.

A miscalculation from the past comes to haunt Raza (Danish Hussain) when his cousin sister, Zahara (Neelima Azeem) a Pakistani, visits India after decades of suffering in silence. Her sorrow of being separated from her near and dear ones during the post partition riots and subsequent unhappy, unproductive marriage to a much married older friend of the family has evidently (from the letters she has penned to Raza’s father) left her desolate and yearning for the only family she has left behind.

After landing in Varanasi and finally paying her respects to the only father (now bedridden)she knows, she settles down into family life hoping for a miracle that would somehow allow her to stay on in India. The guilt ridden Raza is of course working towards that end. Raza’s daughter (Shimala Prasad) falls in love with a soon-to-become head (Aditya Om) of the madrassa school.

In the meantime, Zahara is busy priming her nephew, young Ali (Saud Masuri) who is going to a madrassa school, to aim for bigger ambitions and garner the right kind of education in a liberal secular educational setup. Ali is not convinced but doesn’t want to disappoint his Fufi. So he reluctantly agrees. But his experience in the new school is too traumatic- his unscrupulously violent teacher (Gaurishankar Singh) brutalizes and picks on him endlessly. On the other hand, the local clerics are up in arms against Raza and threaten him with exposure if he doesn’t put Ali back in the madrassa school.

This is a movie made with all good intentions but it fails to gather momentum along the way. Zaigham Imam’s film hopes to pitch fork the debate between religious indoctrination and secular education but the attempt is piece-meal, hopelessly inept and half-hearted at best. The issues raised here go beyond the obvious but the writing is so shoddy that the script just doesn’t make sense and the editing leaves so many gaps in the screenplay exposed that the entire run of play appears jumbled up and meaningless.

The characters are all one-dimensional – save for that of the two young friends Ali & Shakeel (Ishaan Kaurav- who gives the best performance in the film). Neelima Azeem comes across as terribly theatrical. Bhavna Pani as Raza’s wife, Saud Mansuri as Ali, Shimala Prasad, Danish Hussain give a good account of themselves in spite of the shifty character graphs they were made to work with.

There are plenty of melodrama and clichéd moments to go around.

Prejudice is depicted in hackneyed fashion and even the much vaunted goal of favouring mainstream education as a means of uplifting the ghettoized Muslim community, doesn’t create much affect. Of course, a few script rewrites would have done the trick but today’s young filmmakers don’t want to put in that much effort.

Aman Pant’s background score is pretty much unsuitable to the course of this story while Dipak Nayak’s able cinematography tries to keep the faith. Finally it’s the jumbled up, unrefined, discontinuous nature of the screenplay and direction that leaves you dissatisfied with the film.