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Recent films such as Kashmir Files, Kerala Story and Burqa have courted controversy because of their anti-Muslim bias. The trailer of the Tamil film Farhana which also had stereotypical visuals of people praying five times-a-day, women in burqa, and religious curbs, had sparked concerns that it would be yet another in the same mould. And even after the movie was released there were rumours that the film depicts Muslim women in a bad light. As a precautionary measure, police protection has been provided to Aishwarya Rajesh, who plays the eponymous lead Farhana.
However, while people who have watched the film say it has no controversial scenes denigrating Muslim women, director Nelson Venkatesan seems to have missed an opportunity to raise issues of concern to Muslim women.
The plot goes like this: The protagonist Farhana is a homemaker in a typical middle-class family; her husband’s income barely covers the expenses of their family with three children. Struggling to maintain a decent life, she decides to find work and supplement the family’s income. The film then chronicles the challenges and trials of her work at a call centre, aspects of which conflict with her religious identity.
One cannot help perceiving a subtle tinge targeting Muslims in Farhana. It seems that director Nelson Venkatesan has deliberately created and crafted the eponymous character Farhana
The film takes the viewers on a deep dive into the life of the long-established Muslim community in the Triplicane area of Chennai: from the narrow streets to the importance of prayer, the unique cuisine etc.
The story, in itself and of itself, is not offensive. In fact, it’s something of a template except that it takes the Muslim angle to forge the protagonist’s identity. But the problems that a Muslim woman faces at the workplace are not unique. When it comes to workplace challenges, working women of all religions and castes are subjected to the same ordeals in their pursuit of economic wellbeing. Why then has Nelson Venkatesan chosen a Muslim woman as the focus for this movie? There’s nothing Islamic about the heroine in the film except her dress.
And that is an issue that remains unexplored in the film — the fact that Muslim women are often forced to wear the burqa. The conservatives in the community say the burqa is a measure to keep women safe from stalkers and eve-teasers. Unfortunately, women in burqas are as likely to face unpleasant attention and misogyny as those in other attire.
Nelson Venkatesan has missed an opportunity to go beyond the faddish anti-Muslim slant of recent commercial cinema which does not auger well for the social fabric, though it might keep the box office happy
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