Afroz Alam Sahil, BeyondHeadlines
Can a story “inspired by true events” be so untrue? This was the first thought while watching the movie ‘Batla House’. If anyone asks you whether a dead person can raise the slogan ‘Murdabad’, your answer would be a big No, but this movie makes this impossible quite possible.
Released on August 15, 2019, the Independence Day of India, this film claims to bring to the forth certain facts about the events that led to the famous Batla House ‘Encounter’ in southeast Delhi, on September 19, 2008.
However, there remain several debatable things that are made to be part of the film on very flimsy grounds. Apart from tampering with many facts regarding the event, the film also reinforces the traditional stereotyping of the Muslims of this country. After all, alcohol consumption is injurious to health, but stereotyping Muslims is beneficial for box office gains.
Stereotyping of Muslims
It appears that the research team of this film never took the pain of visiting the Batla House area where the encounter took place. This film goes a step ahead in stereotyping Muslims by not only showing the green flags with stars and moons in the area to depict the set up of Batla House but also inserts a scene where an announcement is made from the loudspeaker that there is an iftar party at 6.40 pm and all are invited. If you have any single Muslim friend, you would know that people are never invited for Iftar on loudspeakers while they are fasting.
Since the film is entirely based on the police file, as told to the court, it moves in the same direction. It tries hard to bring forth the same narrative and give a ‘creative’ clean-chit to the Delhi police but poorly falls in its own trap by rottenly woven storylines.
Too much ‘directorial liberty’
In the real encounter, Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, with the help of two policemen, walked to some distance and then reached the car. But the film gives him much convenience that the car is called for K K Verma (Ravi Kishan) right up to L-18, the building where the encounter took place.
Media is shown questioning the encounter, whereas, when the encounter took place, most of the Indian media trusted and published the version shared by the security agencies and Delhi police. On the day of the real encounter, more people from different media institutions were present from all over the country than the residents of the area. But this is not the case in the film.
The film constantly shows that loudspeakers were being used to mobilise the crowd, but, nothing like this ever happened. In fact, some responsible locals used the loudspeakers to tell the people to move away from the site of the encounter and go to their respective homes. The then MLA of the area, Pervez Hashmi was appealing to the people to maintain peace repeatedly.
It is interesting to note that the film talks about the post-mortem report of both the ‘terrorists’ killed during the debate in the court, but there is no discussion on the post-mortem report of inspector K.K. Varma in the movie.
The film revolves more around Sanjay Kumar (John Abraham playing special cell DCP Sanjeev Yadav).
While the film director claimed in the court that the film showed the same facts which are present in the public domain, it is important to note that the post-mortem report of Inspector Sharma is also present in the public domain.
In one scene, the film talks about the judicial probe of the Batla House encounter, while the truth is that it never happened.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has also been dragged to show the politics on the encounter. While the truth is that Arvind Kejriwal was neither a leader nor his party was formed at that time, nor was any statement in the public domain before the first anniversary of the encounter.
The facts have been twisted and framed to suit the ideology of a particular party.
The film tries to show that the government is concerned that any action on the ‘terrorists’ caught in the Batla House encounter can cause its fall. The Minister asks not to target a single community “only” but to have a “balanced” action. All these scenes are meant to target the Congress party, and if one observes, an attempt has also been made to show that terms like ‘Hindu terrorism’ came into existence due to the approach and handling of the affair by the then government.
It is interesting that the film is giving much attention to Ekta Dal, a political party which is very influential in Nizampur. A scene in the movie shows that the then government of UP was supporting Muslims for vote bank.
This Nizampur of the film is nothing but Azamgarh. And the film promotes the stereotype that it is impossible to catch a criminal from a ‘Muslim’ area as the public gherao him when his heroism catches Dilshad.
In a dream sequence, Sanjay Kumar is surrounded by skull capped Muslims. Moreover, he dreams that those killed in the encounter shoots him. How can this scene fit into the agenda of nationalism that the movie tries to hold? Why throughout the movie, this brave officer who ‘fought for his country’ by leading an encounter, fears in his dream frequently being killed by those whom his team had already killed?
The film speaks only of the slain Adil Amin, Shariq and Tufail caught from the spot, as well as the boy arrested and absconded from the studio of a News channel and Dilshad, while there is no mention about the arrests of his father Ziaur Rahman, Abdur Rahman, Atif, Shakeel, Saqib Nisar and many more.
Jamia and Mushirul Hasan
In the film, Jamia’s name has been changed to Okhla University, but it leaves no chance to discredit the then Vice-Chancellor of this university. In the film, Sanjay Kumar tells the Vice-Chancellor that Abid Amin, whom he calls his student, has a fake degree of Allahabad University. Since the VC did not verify at the time of admission, Sanjay Kumar could have filed a case against him. It is more interesting to see that this conversation has been placed in the office of a news channel. Now one must ask why was the VC there? But it is a movie and everything is possible here.
Atif Amin who was killed in the encounter was a student of MA Human Rights in Jamia. Also, there is no mention of his degree being fraudulent from Jamia. At that time, the Vice-Chancellor of Jamia was Professor Mushirul Hasan, who is no longer in this world. Therefore, no one can ask him whether Sanjeev Yadav from Delhi Police Special Cell had ever met him or not.
The disclaimer flashes at the beginning of the film following the order of the court that ‘this film is inspired by Delhi Police and the events that are reported or otherwise available in the public domain. It is not a documentary and is not intended to accurately reflect those incidents that may have occurred. Certain characters, institutions, and events are fictional and have been used for cinematic reasons… ’
But the truth is that people have been associating this film since the beginning with the real incident of Batla House encounter. Since the time of the release of the trailer of this film, it has been claiming that the film is based on the true incident.
Some characters in the film are named after their real names. Some original photographs of Protest have also been used.
If we leave aside the facts part presented in the film and talk only from a technical point of view, then this film can be called an average film. This 2 hours and 21 minutes film talks more about the investigation for almost an hour, in which the viewers are entangled. The general audience remains curious as to what happened next.
The pace of the film is too slow and dragged. At many times, the audience is bored, but to overcome this boredom, an item song and Nora Fatehi have been introduced in the film to follow traditional Bollywood mantra. Nora Fatehi is a Russian girl, living in India illegally and playing the role of Dilshad’s girlfriend. While the editing of the film is weak, the acting of John Abraham and Mrinal Thakur in the film is commendable.
Film Directors have freedom of creativity. For presenting the story in an effective way, they can make changes but since the film Batla House is based on a highly sensitive issue, the tampering with facts with loaded biases cannot be ignored.
Overall, this film is such a flying kite in the sky of lies, whose string has been cut by the flyers themselves…
Note: Its slightly abridged version was published in the IndiaTimes, August 20, 2019.