Thursday, May 26, 2016
Bajrangi Bhaijaan 
Indian Express (S. Gupta) review**
Hindustan Times (R. Vats) review**
The Guardian (M. McCahill) review
Bajrangi Bhaijaan  [IMDb] [FiBt] (directed by Kabir Khan [IMDb] [FiBt], original story and screen play cowritten by Vijayendra Prasad [IMDb] along with Kabir Khan [IMDb] [FiBt], Parveez Sheikh [IMDb] and Asad Hussain [IMDb], dialogue by Kausar Munir [IMDb] and Kabir Khan [IMDb] [FiBt]) is both a critically acclaimed (above) and award winning Indian film which was also the top grossing Indian film in India in 2015, ALL DESERVEDLY SO. The film serves as the fourth stop on my 2016 Indian Film Tour.
The film while fairly widely available on the internet (even w. English subtitles) is still not available on streaming services like iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, or Google Play / YouTube but hopefully will be so shortly. It would be well worth the view / rental for a nominal fee.
A truly heart-string-tugging / heart warming film, it's about a little six-year-old Kashmiri-Pakistani girl, mute, named Shahida (played wonderfully by Harshaali Malhotra [IMDb] [FiBt]) who gets lost on the Indian side of the border with Pakistan after her mother (played by Meher Vij [IMDb] [FiBt]) had taken her to the Sufi (Muslim) shrine in Dehli to the Sufi (Muslim) saint Nizamuddin Auliya in hopes of a miraculous healing.
Faced with a hysterical mother who didn't want her train to go forward until her (again _mute_ six year old) daughter was found, the Pakistani border authorities do ask their Indian counterparts (who, of course, famously don't particularly like each other...) to conduct at least a cursory search for the girl on the Indian side of the border. The Indian authorities of course don't find her (though Viewers remember here that we're dealing with a child here who doesn't necessarily think the way that adults, even their parents, would wish he/she would...). Then the Pakistani authorities break the news to the mother that since _she_ (the mother) was already on the Pakistani side of the border, she'd have to go to a major city (Lahore) to get a new visa to re-enter India to look for the girl.
Watching this as an American, I can not imagine being forced to accept "there is nothing we can do." We'd probably scream and refuse to move. The poor Pakistani mother, screams, refuses to move, but ... eventually must. That's what poor / marginalized people have always been forced (if over time...) to do.
The homecoming (the mother having to come home, minus her daughter) is tearful. An uncle / grandpa finally says at the end "May God (Allah) send someone to protect our dear child."
And ... for the first, second, third or even fourth time in the film (realize Dear Readers that the film's only progressed about 10 minutes or so ...) ... one has tears in one's eyes, as one realizes that in this story God does hear Shahida's family's prayers and ... finds her a protector in ... a lovely, devout, if somewhat "slow" (Forrest Gump-ish ;-) Hindi man named Pawar (later a.k.a. Bajrangi Bhaijaan and played absolutely wonderfully by Salman Khan [IMDb] [FiBt]) who's a devotee to a "second tier" Hindu God named Hanuman.
Shahida, by then hungry and scared (and remember SHE'S MUTE / CAN'T TALK ...), runs into Pawar as he's finishing a pilgrimage to a Hindu shrine in apparently Kurukshetra in the Indian state of Haryana some distance from the Indian-Pakistani border. Able to understand him (on the spoken level Hindi / Urdu remain essentially the same language perhaps like Serbo-Croatian in Europe), but unable to speak (and as a 6 year old from the Pakistani countryside also unable to write) they are able to communicate ... somewhat. Above all, Pawar comes to realize that she really is lost, that it's going to take some time to find her parents, and asking himself "what [his Diety (Hanuman)] would do" in this case, he takes her home with him so that she'd have a place to stay while he (and his larger family) figure out what to do next.
Now how Shahida got there, to Kurukshetra (some 50 miles from the border), will be clear to those who see the film but the two essential plot points made here by the film-makers were (1) the little girl was truly lost and the civil authorities were probably _not_ going to find her even if they tried (and _no one_ expected them to try particularly hard...) and (2) God sent a good / kindly even if somewhat "slow" HINDU man to save this little MUSLIM girl (from Pakistan ... ;-)
AMONG THE MANY WONDERFUL ASPECTS OF THIS FILM IS that _even_ Pawar, Shahida's eventual "Savior," HAD A JOURNEY TO MAKE in overcoming his own prejudices. For when he saw the little hungry girl who couldn't speak, he assumed (rightly) that she was lost. However, he _also_ assumed that she was INDIAN / HINDU. Only slowly but surely and always initially to his horror he discovers who she really is:
One day, he finds her (gasp... ;-) EATING CHICKEN with a neighbor (presumably Muslim) family. (Perhaps she's from some (still upper...) caste that can eat meat... he muses). Sometime later, as he's dutifully teaching little Munni (as he calls her) how to pray beside a statue of a Hindu God, he finds that she's slipped away, and, smiling, entering into A MUSLIM MOSQUE _across the street_ to do the same. Finally, while ALL OF PAWAR'S family was watching a heated Indian - Pakistani cricket match, to everyone's shock / horror they find little Munni dancing when Pakistan won the match and even going over to the TV set to kiss the Pakistani flag on the screen (as her home villagers would do when Pakistan scored a significant point :-).
OMG, Munni's "one of THEM?" ;-) It's here that Pawar's fiancee' Rasika (played wonderfully by Kareena Kapoor [IMDb] [FiBt]) steps-up to calm both Pawar and her own (all Hindu) family down, (her own dad having been a veteran of one of the Wars between India and Pakistan), re-focusing them on the challenge(s) ahead:
They have to find a way to get this little girl back to Pakistan to her family. And dear Readers, let's recall the challenges that Pawar, Rasika, and their family faced: This little girl obviously didn't have a passport and couldn't even speak. How then to prove to _anybody_ of any legitimate (we Catholics call it "competent") Authority that (1) the little girl was really Pakistani and (2) that she needed to "go home" (to where?? in Pakistan...)?
So ... the rest of the film ensues. After exhausting all the normal channels (going to the Pakistani Embassy in Dehli, going even to a not exactly "above board" travel agent to see if he could "find a way") good / honest Forrest Gump-ish Pawar decides that since he's _doing the right thing_ and _for the right reasons_ (even if his little charge is for some reason a Muslim Pakistani ;-) that God -- Rama/(Hanuman), Allah... GOD -- will protect him. So ... What's a border or a Visa if you have GOD on your side ;-)
It's a lovely story, and as Pawar bumbles his way over the _absurdly highly fortified_ border ;-) and trying to do so HONESTLY (not wanting lie about it ;-) HE MAKES FRIENDS on both sides of the border, (1) of the Indian smuggler who helps him get at least to the Pakistani side of the DMZ (!!! ;-) and then (2) of VARIOUS PAKISTANIS from border guards, to a reporter (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui [IMDb] [FiBt]), to a kindly Imam WHO HIDES THEM IN HIS MOSQUE ;-) all of whom find him TO BE A REMARKABLE MAN, one who, okay (to the Pakistanis) WAS "A HINDU," but SOMEHOW _CLEARLY sent by God_ (how else to explain it?) to fulfill this little mission of reuniting this little girl with her lovely Pakistani-Kashmiri family.
WHAT A STORY :-) Lovely also is that this film could really be viewed by just about everyone in the family (PG-13 or even PG). A truly, truly nice job!
My hat off (and honestly BLESSING) to all who were involved in this film!
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