Rann: Truth compromised

State is a concept brought to life for the purpose of preserving order and promoting welfare of the people by ensuring that every single individual is allowed maximum possible freedom to pursue his happiness without impinging upon the freedom of others.

With great power comes great responsibility, but that’s more of moralizing than any thing else because with power granted, its use and misuse depends solely upon the holder of such power. He must act responsibly, but, despite the desirability of responsible use, it may still be irresponsibly used. However, it can be said without a moment’s hesitation that with great responsibility, great power must come, for without that effective discharge of responsibility is simply not possible. So, while power can coexist with irresponsibility, responsibility is certainly lifeless without sufficient power.

Therefore, when the enormous responsibility of maintaining law and order fell upon the state and it was expected to effectively protect the weakest against the strongest, thereby generating an unquestionable sense of security; it had to be allowed enough power, and also the legitimacy to use brute force as when required. Certainly, the misuse of power was always an undeniable possibility. In fact, it was invariably considered quite a probability, which is why doctrine of checks and balances came into existence in the first place. However, constitutional and legal safeguards could only be effective when there was enough awareness through quick dissemination of information, which is where media stepped and became the Fourth Pillar of democracy. Rann revolves around this pillar and points out the chinks that threaten to bring the entire edifice down.

The success of the movie lies in correctly identifying the problem and the failure in blowing it out of proportion by deliberately obscuring certain ground realities to paint the picture starker than it actually is.

Money keeps the world going, which why corruption is pervasive, and to think that any man or institution is completely free of it is just too naïve. Men with stronger moral grounding and institutions with greater internal and external checks tend to hold better in this respect. The same goes for the media. The mad race to prevent the viewer from reaching for the remote has inspired cutthroat media wars, and electronic media is in the thick of things.

Vijay Harshvardhan Malik (Amitabh Bachchan) is an honest TV journalist, whose belief in responsible journalism – the journalism of truth – is unquestioned and unquestionable. But his channel is suffering loses for want of spicy content, which other channels regularly dish out. His son falls into the lucrative trap of media-politician nexus and tries – and also succeeds – in making the channel a politically inclined establishment trying to not only sell its candidate to the electorate but also to create false ‘truth’ to boost his chances.

The movie conveniently shuts out the multiplicity of media that works as an effective restriction on unethical practices. In the world of Rann there are only two major channels vying for the viewers’ attention. In the real world, there are a great number of small and big channels, numerous newspapers, a great number of new websites and far greater number of blogs with global reach. Furthermore, Indians are class one skeptics when it comes to politics and the indispensable hanky-panky that comes with it. So, float a lie, howsoever incredible, and people would believe, but with the same alacrity they would also punch gaping holes in every such ‘truth’. And the conspiracy theories would be as astounding as the lie hurled out.

So, no single journalist can – or has ever – enjoyed the kind of unquestionable credibility as Mr. Malik is portrayed to enjoy in the movie.

Therefore, the movie fails to create a convincing backdrop to weave the yarn around. Media is not an institution in the same sense as, say, the Judiciary or the Legislature. Therefore, it does not have the unitary character with some exclusive authority, or the power to decide for others. Media stands on the same footing as any other citizen when it comes to the fundamental right of speech and expression. It does not enjoy any exclusive privileges. Whatever power it wields has no theoretically identifiable source. In other words, the power is not formally ‘conferred’ by an authority. Therefore, the checks that operate on a media house also have no formal or legal character for the most part. The legal restriction applicable to the media houses are much the same that are applicable to an individual, which implies that media as media neither has special privileges, nor restrictions. This also means that corruption has limited penetrability in media because there is no exclusivity involved and the utility of media lies in finding and revealing the truth, which is also where it derives its power and influence from.

Rann makes things too simplistic and glosses over the fact that if one media organization tries skewing the facts or tries scheming, there would be a good number of other media organizations move heaven and earth to bring out the sensational truth about irresponsible journalism. The check on media is actually inherent in the very nature of journalism. Since the movie, in its overzealous attempt to ‘uncover’ the media, turns a blind eye to this fundamental truth, it fails to make its point convincingly enough. It sets off the shrill alarm before time.

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My Name is Khan: Unimpressive, yet relevant

He is not a terrorist. Neither are millions of Muslims across the world. My Name is Khan returns to the question of confused Muslim identity in the wake of 9/11 with little novelty other than Shahrukh’s rediscovering himself as an actor playing a patient of Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism.

Rizwan Khan (Shahrukh) sees world in black and white, and the shades of grey do not quite register with him. To him what continues to be true from day one is that there are only two kinds of people – good and bad. His mother told him so with such fierce conviction that, to his mind, it stood true for all times. But then, the good lady had no idea that there were Twin Towers representing the economic supremacy of a certain nation, bringing down of which could spell disaster. She had no idea that in the circle of violence, the distinction between good and bad blurs beyond human recognition, and she did not live long enough to see the day the Towers came dashing down to the ground changing the world forever.

Those who attacked the WTC and were responsible for the deaths of so many were surely bad people and those who were out to punish these bad people were good. But the act of punishment or retaliation has violence in-built, and punishing for violence with violence is like trying to put off fire by fire. Hatred does not undo hatred, it adds to it. Somewhere down the line we conveniently ignored this simple principle. To contain the wrongdoers is one thing, to retaliate for the wrongdoing is quite another. The US did the latter, and the consequences have been sad so far.

Rizwan Khan is completely oblivious to the crooked ways of the world. After the death of his mother, he lands up in the pre-9/11 US and starts working with his brother selling cosmetics. He meets Mandira (Kajol), a separated single mother, who falls for Khan’s simplicity and inherent goodness. Her son, Sameer or Sam, gets along very well with Khan, too.

They marry and she becomes Mandira Khan, and her kid Sameer Khan. Happy life begins, and then arrives 9/11 bringing acute communal hatred in tow. Mandira’s business suffers because of the ‘Khan’ attached to her name. Things get worse when Sameer Khan is killed by some of his seniors at school. Mandira holds her marriage with Rizwan responsible for the death of her son, and asks him to leave, and Rizwan, in all his innocence, inquires as to when he was supposed to return. Mandira tells him to come back only when he manages to tell the President of the United States that his name is Khan and he is not a terrorist.

Rizwan sets out to accomplish the task, and the journey begins. A time comes when Rizwan is apprehended as a terror suspect while attempting to meet the President and is released only after there is a huge public outcry against the arrest and detention of someone who is not only undeniably innocent but is also a very kind human being.

At the heart of the movie is the everyday struggle of common Muslims in to come to turns with the altered reality in the post-WTC world. They, quite understandably, fail to see why they should be treated as terror suspects because of their religious identity alone. The problem further complicates because Islamist fundamentalism occupies the core of Islamist jihad making it natural for the authorities to be suspicious of the Muslims.

The flip side is that being treated as a terror suspect is insulting for an innocent Muslim just like any self-respecting, law-abiding person would hate being seen as a thief and would absolutely abhor the duration during which he was suspected of being a thief. Certainly, there are good people and bad people, and one’s religious beliefs have nothing to do with it. But when one is clubbed together with others and seen as part of a certain group by most, it is hard to not see oneself as part of the same group. Today, an American Muslim fails to understand if he is an American first or a Muslim or a human being. Killing the innocents is wrong, all religions say that including Islam. What about those who kill the innocents? Are they innocent? When your people are being killed, isn’t it part of one’s duty to defend tooth and nail? In the times of crisis, where should one’s loyalties lie?

Nation comes before the family. What if the nation attacks the family? Naturally, one would side with the family, and even if one does not endorse violent means, one cannot help feeling for one’s own people and getting angry with those responsible for their suffering. That’s the plight of the Muslims today. If the fundamentalist jihadis are ‘bad people’, the killers of innocent Iraqis and Afghans cannot really be ‘good people’ either. So, apparently, the choice is between two sets of ‘bad people’. And if that is the choice, one would naturally stand by one’s own ‘bad’ than by the other ‘bad’. Call him terror sympathizer or a terrorist or simply a Muslim, all he is doing is respond to the acts of violence the same way as any other human being would – with wide-eyed horror.

What My Name is Khan seeks to melodramatically convey is that it is high time we stuck to the time-honoured dictum of presuming innocence until proved guilty and not the other way round. The movie leans a little too much on drama with nothing great in the plot, but despite its shortcomings there is still no defect in what it stands for.

Originally written for and published in LAWYERS UPDATE [March 2010 Issue; Vol. XVI, Part 3]