We gathered in the darkened hall in preparation for what was sure to be another impassioned, moving experience. Suddenly, we’re transported into an interrogation room, as the young Muslim taxi driver Omar is being treated harshly after having guns found in the trunk of his car. The audience quietly wonders if this man could be a terrorist. We quickly discover that Omar is being set up by the FBI in order to convince him to infiltrate a suspected terrorist ring.
New York was the third of four films that are to make up the sixth annual Ehsaas South Asian Film Festival put on by the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies (CICS) at the University of the Fraser Valley. All of the films have been played at 6:30 p.m. in B101, the theatre near the cafeteria on the UFV Abbotsford campus, on Wednesday evening. The theme of the festival this year is “related to the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City,” according to the CICS. The first two films shown were Shoot on Sight, on October 13; and Of Land, Labour and Love, on October 20.
The 2009 Bollywood film New York was shown on October 27 to a small crowd. The storyline, primarily told through flashbacks, was engaging and had the audience questioning their preconceived notions of terrorism and the treatment of terrorist suspects. Directed by Kabir Khan, writer and director of the 2006 hit Kabul Express, the film deals with the aftermath of 9/11 and the inherent problems with the way the United States government goes about looking for answers; they locked away thousands and thousands of innocent people and tortured them purely on the basis that they were of Muslim faith. The major theme is injustice, as we watch innocent lives destroyed by the pursuit of revenge.
Once close friends in university, Omar is forced to befriend Samir Sheikh and wife Maya, Omar’s old crush. In the process, we learn of the hardships Samir has faced, and why the FBI has narrowed their sights on him. Though the film portrays Muslims as victims, it also seeks to portray some in the FBI as victims as well. Agent Roshan, a Muslim FBI agent, heads the case, and though he comes across as a villain in the early part of the film, it becomes clear that he is victimized by the situation as well, and is trying his best to resolve the situation ethically.
The film indicates that by locking up innocent Muslims and abusing them for months and months in search of clues, the government was actually creating the hatred that could lead to crime and terrorism. Though it was perhaps overly cheesy in parts, the film exposed an important issue and shed some light on the unacceptable crimes committed at the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.
Exactly two weeks after New York, the festival will wrap up with A Dream for Kabul on Wednesday, November 10 at 6:30 in B101. The documentary follows the life of Haruhiro Shiratori, a man who lost his son in 9/11 and travels across three continents speaking about the hardships children in Afghanistan face, fundraising to build a cultural centre in Kabul for kids. Admission is free, but the CICS says that donations are welcome. Students and non-students are encouraged to attend and to participate in the discussion after the film.