Produced by: Aamir Khan & Kiran Rao
Direction, Research & Written by: Svati Chakravarty Bhatkal
Narrated by: Aamir Khan
Aamir Khan does not wish to call his film a documentary. His logic is that documentaries, at least in India, are almost a synonym for “boring.” And “Rubaru Roshni,” a series of three tales, is certainly not that. Well, almost, because the third story, “The Terror And The Mom” is a sharp step down from the riveting grip of the earlier ones.
The film was screened exclusively for the media Jan. 24 at a multiplex and was aired across all channels of the Star Network Jan. 26 in all major languages. Afterward, revealed Khan when he met the media for a brief interaction post the screening, will be sold to Netflix.
While an embargo was put on this one’s review until the India release by Khan as a tacit request, his other wish that the interaction should not be written about on any platform seemed mysteriously pointless and was not respected either. But we are going off track.
The first story, “The Orphan and the Convict,” is the most riveting of these real-life stories with the actual people involved in their narration. It told the story of Avantika Maken, daughter of Congress leader Rajiv Maken and his wife, who were both cold-bloodedly killed by a Sikh group in the aftermath of the 1984 riots and the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. There are in-depth and very intimate interviews of the girl, who was just one-year-old when it happened, and the main perpetrator.
We come to know both sides of the coin – how Maken was among the core Congress leaders who targeted the Sikhs after her Sikh bodyguard assassinated Indira Gandhi, and her killer, who could have opted to choose the call for higher education in the US then but chose his community and country: the Sikhs had to be avenged. We finally see how life becomes a merciless cycle of trauma for both parties (and their respective families), the 15 years the man had to live in jail, and how they picked up the pieces of their life. The film ends with the friendship between Avantika and her family with the man who killed her parents and how their kids play with each other, ignorant of the past.
The second story, “The Farmer and the Nun” is a shade melodramatically handled, but true nevertheless. This time an innocent farmer, incited by business forces, stabs a nun, Sister Rani Maria, to death in a bus. Maria has been working in Madhya Pradesh to make farmers self-reliant so that they are not at the mercy of the moneylenders. The killer undergoes imprisonment, but the num’s sister and her associates decide to forgive the man and seek permanent remission.
The farmer too realizes what he has done, is “adopted” by the family (including the murdered nurse’s parents) as their son and brother, and a “rakhi” is tied every year on him, for which he travels even now down to the victim’s home in Kerala from Madhya Pradesh. Once again, we get the facts through meetings with the sister and the farmer, right from the “reasons” the sister is killed, how it happened and how things went after that.
The third tale, “The Terror And The Mom” is the only one shot in Mumbai, which Bhatkal said she had to include because it was in her city, and deals with 28/11. It is about the American social worker for Synchronicity, Kie Scherr, who lost both her husband (who also worked with her) and daughter when the terrorists attacked that deadly night. It shows how she comes down every year since to commemorate the victims and motivate everyone, including policemen, towards compassion, forgiveness and peace. The story, however, does not really match up to the rest in intensity, and the only interesting point is the unseen police footage of Kasab’s interrogation.
It is, therefore, the third tale that is also a sharp climbdown from the intensity of the first two stories where the murderers of the kith and kin are forgiven personally and totally by those wounded by their acts. The American lady’s compassion for terrorists, in general, does not inspire, nor does Kasab’s admission that he has been used strike any sympathy, for terrorists, no matter where and of what etiology, do not deserve any sympathy or empathy WHATSOEVER.
On the whole, director Bhatkal’s grip on the subject, deserves pats, as her interviews have a very casual, buddy-to-buddy air, showing the rapport she has established with her subjects. Hemanti Sarkar also deserves kudos for editing and putting it all together.
And so, the overall motto that forgiveness as the one thing that truly sets man free is a brilliant concept, especially when executed well. We can understand the reasons that made mature people of high mental caliber and resolution forgive those who changed their lives forever, in a petty world where we do not forgive trivial matters. But the third story of “Rubari Roshni” goes too far, and so to speak, on a reverse track of “URI” the film. And so, though we are “Rubaru Roshni” (Close to Light)” in the first two stories, we get almost into darkness in the last.
The Orphan and the Convict: ****
The Farmer and the Nun: ****
Terror and the Mom: **