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Posted at: Jan 10, 2016, 12:52 AM; last updated: Jan 9, 2016, 4:16 PM (IST)

A tale of terror and belief

Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Naqvi’s Among the Believers tracks the goings on in the Red Mosque while getting into the mind of cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, an ISIS supporter

Nonika Singh

Hemal Trivedi’s Among the Believers, which tracks the goings on in the Red Mosque and gets into the mind of cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, an ISIS supporter and Taliban ally, is not just a vicarious gaze of an outsider, but one of empathy and keen understanding of the geopolitical situation in Pakistan.

The film, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, is being hailed for its even-handed tone and its balanced unbiased perspective. To arrive at this equanimity while charting the making of what many would call terror factory couldn’t have been easy. But soon after the 2008 attacks, in which she lost a dear friend, as Hemal decided to look at the phenomenon that gives birth to jihadists, her own misgivings dissolved. No not about terrorism, or even men like Aziz, “terror is very much out there” but about people of Pakistan. She reiterates what has been said before “more than anyone else, it’s the Pakistanis themselves, who have been victims of terrorism and more Muslim have lost lives in terror attacks.”

She beseeches the world to empower moderate Muslims, rather than mindlessly bombing what the US and the West perceive as hubs of terror. She lauds India for behaving very maturely post-2008 and refraining from waging a war. 

 The biggest triumph for her film, which she set out to make with a firm resolve that it won’t be anti-Islam, would be if it could make viewers see reason. Documentary films, she feels, are a potent tool and can change attitudes and overcome prejudices. At least in America, where she lives right now, these are taken rather seriously.

Of course, Indians perceive documentary films differently. So much so that she had to convince her mother to watch her own film. But when she did, she remarked, “Oh it’s just like any other film,” a comment Hemal takes as a big compliment.

Between craft, truth, emotions and message, which go into the making of the film, all are very important to her. Though like all films documentary film too has to be crafted in an engaging fashion, truth she asserts can never be compromised.

It was, perhaps, this quest for truth that led her right into the lion’s den, a dare devil act no doubt. But when things got tough in Pakistan, she had to consider three factors — she is an Indian, Hindu and a woman. “I am not going to die to tell the story that needs to be told,” she decided.

And this is when her co-director Mohammed Naqvi and his largely Pakistani crew stepped in. She is more than grateful to Naqvi, without whom the film would never have been made. She says, “He stood at a greater risk for he is a Pakistani whose family is there. While I could easily afford to never return to Pakistan he can’t.” Come to think of it, he would have to bear the brunt when the film premiers early this year in Pakistan. Aziz’s reaction to the film would hold the key. Interestingly, the cleric has already seen parts of the film featuring him and quite likes them.  But then Hemal had no intention of painting him as a rabid monster. “However chilling or alarmist his assertions might be, he too deserves to have his say.”

Not that she is skirting over the clear and present danger such men hold, only telling the world to find a pragmatic way to counter such deep-rooted ideologies. 

She asserts that the problem with documentary films is that instead of storytelling, often activism drives the film, making it dull and boring. A film editor with more than 12 years of experience with many an award winning film in her editing kitty, she states: “While a fiction film is backed by a script and story, documentary films are all about rummaging through the footage to create a story.”

  At present, she is busy recording the travails of tribals in Chhattisgarh, who have been the victims of Maoism. A book, she might insist, gives you a better understanding of complex issues, but nothing would stop her camera from digging into it and giving you a different perspective, an emotive take that is biting, revealing as well as illuminating.


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