God Tussi Great Ho (2008), OMG- Oh My God (2012), PK (2014) – Bollywood has often obsessed with God. Fuwad Khan’s latest satirical comedy on religious fanaticism and communalism is an addition to this didactic category. As an entertainer, Dharam Sankat Mein is blessed with an innovative plot and two veteran actors in the avatar of Paresh Rawal and Annu Kapoor. Unfortunately, it is also cursed with a slow plot progression, long drawn climax and preachy monologues.
Dharam Sankat Mein is centered around a Gujarati middle class family residing in Ahmedabad with theHindu Brahmin Dharam Trivedi (Rawal) whose resistance to religious rituals poses an impediment to his son Amit’s (Manoj Sharma) marriage to Shraddha (Auritra Ghosh), daughter of a devout Hindu, Badrinath Pandya (Suresh Venkataraman). Innocuous fights between Dharam and his Muslim neighbor Nawab Mehmood Nazeem Ali Shah Khan Bahadur (Annu Kapoor) progress into a complex and complicated conflict in the life of Dharam leading to an identity crisis in the life of the protagonist.
Firstly, away from the dubious Delhi and menacing Mumbai, to visually scan the landscape of Ahmedabad is a refreshing change. The public memory of the Godhra communal riots acts as a good reference point for this fictional plot to unfold. The dilapidated sanitarium, the narrow alleys of Muslim areas, rows of canopied, independent bungalows, street lining temples and small mosques- the spaces are realistic and easy to identify with. It is common space capturing the common man and his communal travails.
Khan has also done a fine job in building and establishing his characters, their idiosyncrasies and ideals. The opening credits sequence wherein the camera moves into the bedroom of Dharam with the accompanied call of azaan that disgusts Dharam proves ironical towards the end. Ditto with his obsession with the sensational Punjabi dance numbers of local pop singer Manchala! His staunch allegiance to the Hindu religion, prejudice against the Muslim community and simultaneous liberal and materialistic outlook is well captured. The very pun on the word Dharam in the title shows the parallel between the character Dharam and the theme of religion represented in the film.
Some of the dialogues, sequences and details are subtly employed and cleverly used for plot revelation and development. The bhajan sung by Neelanand (Naseeruddin Shah) at Dharam’s house recorded by his daughter with an IPad, Amit’s discovery of an old scandalous video of Manchala, Dharam’s mention of Manchala’s genius talent and strange disappearance and Neelanand’s winking eye on the hoarding are few examples of the same.
While the external conflicts are well-developed, the filmmaker has also effectively and emotionally captured the internal conflict and dilemma of the protagonist. The dream sequence where Dharam is passing through the streets of Ahmedabad populated with the Muslim men and women collectively beckoning to him with the comical threat of castration is a point in case. Another dream sequence shot in sepia tone with the triple seat ride on the two-wheeler is a succinct portrayal of the split identity of the protagonist. The melodious and hauntingly beautiful song Allah Hoo speaking of the search of self and identity is powerfully shot. The lone figure of Dharam against the moving lights and vehicles of the artificial light emotionally connects with the audience eliciting sympathy for the character.
The superlative acting of Kapoor and Rawal lifts even mediocre scenes and situations to an emotionally dramatic moment. Rawal’s comic and tragic portrayal of emotions is noteworthy. Even his standing figure and silent glance communicate volumes. What had been hitherto built very well peters away towards the end with forced, exaggerated and lengthy monologues on the cliché ‘all religions are one’ rhetoric.
It seemed as if the filmmakers could not suffice with just the plot and its nuances but wanted to ensure that the audience hear the message literally too. Official remake of the British film The Infidel (2010), Dharam Sankat Mein passes the average weekend entertainer test with a few memorable scenes and a take-away message.