Alifa: The fear, trauma and desire

FILM REVIEW

NAMRATA PATHAK

Alifa offers a cross-section of a marginal society of the “Miya” Muslims, a space that is at once insular and unhinging. “Otherized” and constantly living on the edge of a world that is under threats of many kinds and intensities, Alifa projects the fears, trauma, and desires of a poverty-stricken family. Alifa throws light on a subaltern’s life and how his social space is dictated by a constant defacement and forced obliteration. Ali, Fatima and their two children ravaged by the tumultuous and wild Beki, a tributary of Brahmaputra, migrated to Guwahati and started living in a patch of land that belonged to the forest department of the government of Assam. The family left Barpeta unable to withstand the trials and tribulations, the afflictions that life offered. After relocation, their hut overlooks the starry, luminous city of Guwahati, a city that is distant and cold—a city that expels them like foreign particles, or diseased realities. Not only the city cuts itself off from them or disengages itself, but it also refuses to take them in its folds. The film employs various modes of alienation that strengthen the line of division between an insider and outsider, a binary that is immensely political and slippery. 

Deep Choudhury’s debut venture revolves round the difficult life of Ali and Fatima, daily wage earners, whose narratives pivot on rafts of displacement and subjugation. Also in the underbelly runs a disciplinary agenda of silencing them by branding them as outsiders, the Bangladeshis. This, in one sweeping stroke, is an attempt at negating the community’s labour, network of work distribution, and productivity. To lend a touch of authenticity, Alifa is filmed in Assamese and Mymensinghiya, the Bhatiali language. The movie has a polemical bite. It mirrors the ongoing struggles over illegal immigration, encroachment, and land rights policy in Assam. It shows how politically laden the eviction drives are. It questions the nexus between powerful political parties and the corrupt government officials. It exhibits the complacency of common people at the face of nepotism and high-handedness of the ones in authority. It showcases the nefarious power play at work in a society, both overtly and covertly. Paradoxically our social fabric displays a riot of colours and variety. Racial purity being a myth, the blind and one-sided tendencies to isolate the “impure, unwanted elements” in our society needs a thorough interrogation. Alifa throws different questions pivoting on these thoughts.  

Ali is shown to face criticism in different zones of life. He is ridiculed, laughed at, and sharply attacked for being a “Miya” Muslim. His wife, Fatima, is shown to have an extra-marital relationship. This further adds to his gloom and creates havoc in the life of the man, who is already struggling in myriad ways. “Miya” Muslim— this is a marker of identity that he wears on his sleeves— a tag that incurs wrath in others, a label that normatively projects him as a non-state entity. Alifa, Ali’s dreamy-eyed daughter, played by Pakija Hasmi, steals the show. A sensitive girl of a poor father, one of Alifa’s desires is to go to a school that is under inception in her adjacent locality. Alifa and her brother roam aimlessly the entire day while their parents are at work. They explore the rugged wilderness of the place, peers through the beautiful pucca houses in the vicinity, dream of a better existence. Soon nature revolts against the settlers of the forest in the guise of a ferocious leopard. Unable to fend for themselves, the settlers approach the government. The forestry department washes its hands off from the whole affair. Ironically, the officials of the forestry department make their presence felt in their lives only when it comes to extracting money from the poor settlers. In the name of eviction drives, they mince a huge chunk of money. Those who pay a ransom are allowed to stay and those who do not are driven away.

Tragically, young Alifa is preyed on by the leopard. She has to yield to the dark forces of Nature. Unfortunately Nature, too, rises in a rebellion against these potentially helpless people. Nature is merciless. These homeless refugees could not even find a warm, healthy place to thrive, to live. Alifa’s death symbolises a fruitless existence of a life at margins. This is a life that is emptied out or turned upside down. Along with her dies the last ray of hope— a hope of resuscitation and revival; a hope of survival and growth.

Towards the end, Faizal, Alifa’s younger brother darts into the forest with a bow and arrows. His thudding footsteps and a resolution in his firm gaze, opens up many vistas for us. Keen on avenging the death of his sister, his little body melts into a tangle of green, the thick forest, and the unknown danger lurking there. At this point, a strange uncertainty looms large. Is Faizal going to meet with the same fate? Is this an onset of a harrowing journey, the little boy’s initiation rite that marks his entry into a cold world of facelessness and oppression? Does the ending hinge on a point of contact between two planes of existence, two slices of realities? Where do the two worlds meet, the world of experience and innocence? What do we gain here? Or what do we lose here?

Producer – Armaan Ahmed
Director – Deep Choudhury
Writer – Deep Choudhury
Screenplay – Deep Choudhury
Music – Bickram Ghosh, Subir Kumar Das
Cast – Baharul Islam, Jaya Seal, Victor Bannerjee, Prasun Gayen, Satya Ranjan, Pakija Hasmi as Alifa and Rayan Abdul.

(Dr Namrata Pathak teaches at NEHU, Tura campus)