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Aamir Khan’s ‘Rubaru Roshni’ is about loss. And about forgiving

With an Aamir Khan Productions film, one expects carefully orchestrated publicity, the actor giving out strategic media interviews, a series of appearances with the look he is assuming for the film, and so on. Not unnaturally: a superstar carries the weight of a film and potential box office returns. For Rubaru Roshni, though, Khan only put out a video asking fans to watch it, and said nothing of substance about the film.

But by the time you read this, if the non-publicity has worked, a substantial chunk of India’s television audience will already be talking about the film. It will have skipped theatres altogether and launched across Star TV’s network, with dubs in six languages (with English subtitles), beamed simultaneously across the country, and on Hotstar.

For those of you who missed it, what’s the hullabaloo about?

The documentary, at one level, is about grief and devastating loss: a young child loses both parents to a political assassination; a nun with cancer loses her sister, also a nun, to a senseless attack; a middle-aged woman loses her daughter and husband in a brutal terror attack, one the world witnessed in real time. It is also about the perpetrators of these gruesome deeds: a man radicalised by the pogrom in Delhi after Indira Gandhi’s assassination; a semi-literate sharecropping farmer brainwashed by landlords into thinking the nun’s social activism is a threat; faceless terrorists.

The camera gets in close, telling their stories in their own words. Close enough to Avantika Maken Tanwar, whose father was a target of Sikh revenge, to see what seems like brash self-assurance dissolve as a self-confessed daddy’s girl remembers that day and its aftermath. Close enough to the impassive face of Ranjit Singh “Kuki” Gill to look deep into his eyes as he makes no attempt to sugarcoat the story of how he and his compatriots shot and killed Lalit and Gitanjali Maken, about his life in prison, his extradition and attempts to win release.

We get as close to Samundar Singh, the farmer, as we do to Sister Selmi Paul, sister of Sister Rani Maria. We spend time with Kia Scherr and her memories of Alan and Naomi, but there is also footage of a half-in-tears Ajmal Kasab telling the police about his parents having sold him into militancy, to wrench you away, if only for a moment, from the verdict in your head about the horrors of 26/11.

At times, one feels almost like an intruder, as composures crumble, taut smiles waver, twist and reveal naked grief, but we are held, forced to witness the humanity, to not turn our gaze. At others, the intensity dials back to character-revealing interludes — the meticulous tying of a colour-coordinated turban, a bare altar, calloused hands pulling up shoots.

Khan is the voice-over bridging the conversations, while debutant director Svati Chakravarty Bhatkal is also invisible but core to the film’s veracity: its subjects speak to her, not to the eye of the camera. More than her filmmaking skills — which are evident — what shines through is her feel for story, her empathy, her ability to probe beyond the surface, to step back from the easy slope of bathos.

The narrative, then, is not about the atrocities that started the stories. It is about finding — despite the shattering of lives, despite the pain that nurtures bloodlust and dreams of revenge — that it is possible to forgive, and through forgiveness, find salvation and peace.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 1:48:25 AM |

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