Bharat Express

‘Hamare Barah’ Tackles Population Growth, Islamic Beliefs, and Education System in India

The film, devoid of overt violence, poignantly portrays the silent suffering of women under patriarchal dominance, especially through scenes like the reading of Rukhsana’s diary in court, which are likely to evoke strong emotions in the audience.

The recent selection of young Indian filmmaker Payal Kapadia’s film, All We Imagine as Light, in the main competition section of the Cannes Film Festival has sparked a significant influx of young filmmakers to the event. This trend is evident in the large-scale participation of these filmmakers in the India Pavilion, Cannes Film Bazaar, and various activities organized by the Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association (IMPA) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). Their enthusiasm is further fueled by the fact that around ten Indian filmmakers from across the globe have films in the official selection at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

One film that has garnered substantial attention is Kamal Chandra’s debut film Hamare Barah. Praised for its unique content, the film delves into the question of which interpretation of Islam is correct, focusing on whether Islam has different standards for men and women. The protagonist, a devout Muslim bound by his religious beliefs, is depicted not as a villain but as someone who never had the chance to learn about the progressive traditions of Islam beyond the teachings of religious gurus. The film poignantly addresses these themes through the tragic death of the protagonist’s wife during childbirth due to his fanatical adherence to his beliefs. Her death is narrated through a voice-over, expressing that she found freedom in death but left many women in the captivity of pain.

The cast of Hamare Barah includes seasoned actors like Annu Kapoor and Manoj Joshi, alongside a host of newcomers. The film had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Market, where lead actor Annu Kapoor, director Kamal Chandra, and producers Sanjay Nagpal, Virendra Bhagat, and Shiv Balak Singh shared insights about the film. Initially titled Hum Do Hamare Barah, it was renamed Hamare Barah following pressure from the censor board.

At first glance, the film might seem to blame the Muslim community for the country’s population growth. However, it unfolds multiple poignant stories in the background, addressing the issue without offending any community. Producer Virendra Bhagat emphasizes that all characters in the film are Muslims, making it inappropriate to view it through a Hindu-Muslim lens. Producer Sanjay Nagpal highlights that population growth is a global issue, explored here through a touching narrative. The film is set for premieres in London and Dubai post-Cannes, with a scheduled release in India and overseas on June 6.

Director Kamal Chandra and the film’s producers assert that the audience should be the ultimate judge of whether the film offends any religious sentiments. Annu Kapoor believes that while the truth might be hard to swallow, the Muslim community might not be ready to accept it. Kapoor’s portrayal of the protagonist, Lucknow’s Qawwal Mansoor Ali Khan Sanjari, is particularly noteworthy for its depth and authenticity, as is Manoj Joshi’s performance as a Muslim lawyer.

The plot centers on Mansoor Ali Khan Sanjari, a 60-year-old Qawwal from Lucknow with eleven children from two wives. His first wife died after giving birth to six children, and his second wife, Rukhsana, who is thirty years younger, has five children and is pregnant with a sixth. Mansoor proudly talks about their growing family but restricts his children from receiving any formal education, citing religious reasons. This rigid adherence to his interpretation of Islam creates significant tension within the family.

The story takes a dramatic turn when a doctor warns that Rukhsana might die if she doesn’t undergo an abortion. Mansoor’s elder daughter, Alfia, bravely files a case in the Lucknow bench of the Uttar Pradesh High Court, demanding her stepmother be allowed to abort the child. This legal battle reveals many heart-wrenching stories of women suffering under religious fanaticism and patriarchal oppression. While the film focuses on a Muslim family, it subtly suggests that such issues are not exclusive to one religion.

The narrative highlights the protagonist’s misguided interpretation of Islam, leading to his family’s suffering. Despite his claim of loving Islam, his children lament that they received only strict rules instead of paternal love. The film, devoid of overt violence, poignantly portrays the silent suffering of women under patriarchal dominance, especially through scenes like the reading of Rukhsana’s diary in court, which are likely to evoke strong emotions in the audience.

Hamare Barah stands out for its bold exploration of sensitive themes and its call for introspection within religious practices, making it a significant addition to the discourse on religion and gender equality.