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Review Hindi

Aani Maani review: Brave attempt at narrating an uncomfortable truth

Release Date: 20 Oct 2019 / 01hr 34min

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Keyur Seta

The feature film, directed by Fahim Irshaad, portrays without drama the current political situation in Uttar Pradesh.

Before the screening of Aani Maani at the 21st MAMI Mumbai Film Festival last October, director Fahim Irshaad was asked to introduce the film. All he said was, “#BoycottIndianMuslim is trending on Twitter right now. Now see a film on an Indian Muslim family.”

After such a short and powerful introduction, you would expect the film to be a hard-hitting affair based on today’s polarized times in which various minority groups are targeted by right-wing extremist political outfits. But for a long time Aani Maani seems more like a family drama.

So, we are introduced to a family consisting of Bhutto (Farrukh Seyer), his wife (Priyanka Verma), younger divorced sister Naazo (Neha Singh), father (Shamim Abbas) and mother (Padma Damodaran). They belong to the town of Noorpur in Uttar Pradesh. Bhutto runs a kebab shop while his father finds work as an announcer of important events in the locality.

Bhutto’s father and mother are constantly bickering with each other. Bhutto’s sister cannot get along with his wife. Once, Bhutto also has a war of words with his father.

All these family occurrences are presented in such a realistic manner that after a while you get the feeling you are watching a real family deal with its issues. All the artistes deserve full credit for not seeming to act.

Farrukh Seyer and Priyanka Verma look like any other married couple you may find in a regular middle-class household, especially in small towns. Neha Singh’s attitude and short temper are clearly visible even when she does not speak much. Similarly, Shamim Abbas, Padma Damodaran and the child playing Naazo’s daughter are top-notch when it comes to effortless acting.

Shailendra Sahu’s camerawork presents a nondescript town with style and beauty, making even its mundane visuals look enticing.

But while you appreciate the reality in the presentation and the performances, the director’s words at the start continue to ring in your ears and you wonder what the basic storyline is. It is only after a long time that the main point of the ban on beef in Uttar Pradesh is introduced.

This, obviously, makes you expect the film to move into another gear. But, strangely, the random conversations return, making you wonder why. Some are quite lengthy and have nothing to do with the main subject.

Then the topic of beef ban re-enters the narrative, only to vanish again. For example, there is high drama in one sequence when Bhutto’s shop is razed by the authorities. It shatters and angers Bhutto and the guy who works with him. But no points for guessing that the random conversations return again!

It takes a lot of guts to make a film on a subject as sensitive and controversial as the ban on cow slaughter and the consumption of beef and the subsequent lynchings that have taken place not just in Uttar Pradesh but in many parts of the country on mere suspicion of the possession or consumption of beef or involvement in taking cows to slaughter. There is also a mention of 'Yogiji', referring to Uttar Pradesh’s controversial chief minister Adityanath.

It is always encouraging to see a medium as powerful as cinema being used to show the ugly side of society and government, which is admittedly not easy. For this reason, the makers deserve to be applauded, and for the realism in the sequences.

However, film is also a medium to tell a story and this is where Aani Maani falters. There is just not enough meat (no pun intended) in the narrative to underline the important and hard-hitting topic the filmmaker has chosen to deal with. This is probably why even the rather short runtime of 94 minutes appears long.

Aani Maani was screened at the 21st MAMI Mumbai Film Festival on 21 October 2019. The film is also part of the slate at the virtual edition of the New York Indian Film Festival, on till 2 August 2020.

Related topics

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival New York Indian Film Festival

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