Daredevil Musthafa’s nuanced Muslim protagonist holds a mirror to our own biases | Azad Times

3 weeks ago 32
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Azad Times News Desk.

At one point in the film, Musthafa wonders why his classmates, who had never heard of him until recently, are decidedly against him – a question often repeated during incidents of communal violence in the state.

With a few exceptions, Kannada newspapers and news channels are known to refer to Muslims and Christians in Karnataka as anya Komu (the others). News channels are known to pit communities against each other while reporting sensitive issues. Whether it was the media spectacle during the hijab protests or the amplification of Muslim stereotypes during the pandemic, the idea often portrayed is that Hinduism is the principal faith of the land, and ‘the others’ have to adapt.

Against this backdrop, the release of Daredevil Musthafa, a crowd-funded film by Shashank Soghal about a lone Muslim student in a Hindu-majority college, reflects the times we live in. The film is an adaptation of a short story of the same name by eminent writer Poornachandra Tejaswi, published in 1973. Five decades later, its message of religious harmony and coexistence is as relevant as ever today. 

Beginning with a clip from one of Tejaswi’s interviews in which he condemns youngsters engaging in communal violence, Daredevil Musthafa transports you to the world of Abachur, a fictional village in the Malnad region of Karnataka where the protagonist Jamal Abdul Musthafa Hussain, portrayed by theatre actor Shishir Baikady, turns up as the lone Muslim student in a Hindu-majority college. We find out that Abachur has had its own history of communal violence and Musthafa’s arrival in the college prompts Hindu students, in particular a group led by Ramanuja Iyengari, portrayed by Aditya Ashree, to take notice and be on guard. 

There is frenzied speculation about Musthafa. While some are seemingly harmless in nature – “Is he from Tipu Sultan’s clan? Does he have a foot-long beard? Does he bathe in perfume?” – others are more sinister calling him “Moole kadiyuva saabi” (carnivorous Muslim)  and “Gujiri” (scrap dealer).

One of the first things the college principal tells him is “Don’t look at girls,” a dialogue that pointedly makes a reference to the conspiracy theory of ‘love jihad’. It is one of several such moments in the film that holds a mirror to the society around us. A scene in which Musthafa is asked by his teacher to remove his Fez hat in the classroom echoes the rhetoric of the hijab protests in Karnataka.

Even though the film deals with sensitive topics, its brisk narration integrates the social fragilities of Tejaswi’s fictional world with moments of light-hearted fun. Whether it is Musthafa attempting to learn Old Kannada poems, or a Hindu classmate finding out that Musthafa brought curd rice for lunch, the first half of the film is underpinned by clever writing that largely stays true to Tejaswi’s story. 

The writers, however, are understandably wary while addressing Musthafa’s friend and love interest Ramamani, the most popular woman in the college. That they address this at all can be considered ‘daredevilry’ in Karnataka today, since artist groups portraying interfaith harmony have faced repercussions in the last year. 

In July 2022, the Bajrang Dal cadre in Shivamogga disrupted the performance of a play because it featured Muslim characters and portrayed an interfaith marriage. Much like Daredevil Musthafa, the play Jothegiruvenu Chandira, which was an adaptation of Joseph Stein’s Fiddler on the Roof, also spread the message of communal harmony. Similarly, Hindutva groups have repeatedly opposed interfaith marriage and even interfaith friendships in coastal Karnataka. 

In Daredevil Musthafa, it is Musthafa’s friendship with Ramamani that leads to a flashpoint between him and a group of Hindu students. There is a point at which Musthafa wonders why his classmates, who had never heard of him till recently, are decidedly against him, a question that is often repeated during incidents of communal violence in the state. 

In the end, it is sports that brings Musthafa and his Hindu classmates together against a common objective. The writers try their best to avoid preaching to viewers, but the message of unity and coexistence is unmissable, especially in the climax where Musthafa and Ramanujan Iyengari celebrate together.

Musthafa is no longer ‘the other’ and in a film industry that rarely depicts Muslim characters as protagonists, it is refreshing to watch Daredevil Musthafa tell the story of an assertive Muslim man. Yet, saying that Muslims are equal citizens should not require courage and there are question marks over the long final sequence where viewers are left guessing the reasons for Ramanujan’s change of heart. 

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Azad Times.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a Syndicated Feed and has not been created or edited By Azad Times Staff.

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