Netflixable? Remembering a Massacre through the Actions of a Student Who Became an Icon — “Faraaz”

You’ve got to be careful about the liberties you take with the facts when you’re making a film about an infamous terrorist incident. Especially if you’re an Indian production and the movie you’re making is about an Islamist attack in neighboring Bangladesh, which is 90% Muslim. People are already wondering about your motives and agenda, after all.

“Faraaz” is about a 2016 attack on the toniest, most cosmopolitan restaurant in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Today’s “Around the World with Netflix” outing tells a fictionalized version of the tragedy from several points of view, most notably that of Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain, a privileged young college student celebrated for standing-up for two female friends he was dining with, and for standing-up for his version of Islam against the violent, primitive hate-mongering dogma espoused by the attackers.

He was honored with posthumous awards and became an Islamic icon, based on fact and a growing, evolving myth, much like Christian victims of the Columbine school shooting in the U.S.

Director Hansal Mehta’s film, based on a screenplay by Raghav Kakkar, Kashyap Kapoor and Ritesh Shah, shows us the five naive terrorists, led by Nidras (Aditya Rawal) bickering over their last big meal before cunning, call-center mastermind Rajiv (Godaan Kumar) sends them to commit mass murder and become “martyrs” to the cause.

Their “motives” are vague. None of the hostages they end up taking dares to ask “So, what’s your grievance?” And even the police and Army negotiators can’t get “demands” out of them. Reading the admittedly-scanty Wikipedia page on the attack doesn’t really settle that, either. They’re just ISIS inspired haters of “infidels” and “foreigners” who picked a fat, soft target in which to express their outrage.

Faraaz (Zahan Kapoor) is the youngest son of a wealthy South Asian Big Pharma empire whose politically-connected mother (Juhi Babar) is nagging him into going to Stanford and leaving their luxury villa behind. The real Faraaz attended Emory U. in Atlanta.

He winds up with other well-heeled Bangladeshis and rich foreigners at The Holey Artisan Cafe, dining with two young and very modern female companions. One is even wearing short shorts in majority Muslim Bangladesh.

When the attack begins, almost anyone looking European, Chinese or Japanese or Hindi is shot.

“Kill all those who are not Bangladeshi Muslims,” Nibras decrees (the film is in a mix of English and Hindi with English subtitles). And so it is.

Those taken hostage aren’t exactly “safe,” with some of the trigger-happy killers demanding that one man drop his pants to “prove” his faith, others ordered to “recite any surah.”

Faraaz is recognized as a “Prince of Bangladesh,” and offered the chance to leave. But his lady friends are not, so he refuses.

Outside, the police are alerted and stumble into a situation they don’t have the “gear” or the experience to handle and get themselves shot up. “Twelve” officers are slaughtered in the film, only two in the actual event. Perhaps that higher death count is meant to placate via “sacrifice” the incompetence depicted in the police leadership — Danih Iqbal plays the arrogant, trigger-happy police commisioner — and chain of command.

And Faraaz’s panicked mother gathers with the other relatives to demand action and call in favors to get it.

The action sequences are well-handled, and it’s standard operating procedure to show such incidents from these different points of view.

But the “debates” over “Your Islam” and “My Islam” are so on-the-nose as to make one question their veracity. Was Faraaz really this outspoken and ready to argue with armed rednecks who hated his very entitled existence?

As the movie has taken other liberties, you have to wonder. And that’s a stupid distraction to build into your thriller. If you’re depicting public officials as incompetent, changing their names isn’t really a proper cover. And were they incompetent? Don’t know that, either.

The cops, SWAT and Army turf wars are played almost for laughs, and their lack of urgency about this emergency robs the story of much of its power and pacing.

Even Faraaz’s point of view scenes are limited, as if the filmmakers didn’t want to tread on his legacy, no matter what they might have found out researching the script, which is based on a book by Nuruzzaman Labu.

“The myth” is what’s most important and the reason for “Faraaz” being made. But there’s a lot more going on here than him wondering “How brainwashed are you?” if he or anyone else staring down five AK-47s and grenades ever said that. In “Faraaz,” we just don’t know, and we kind of want to find out.

Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence, profanity

Cast: Zahan Kapoor, Aditya Rawal, Juhi Babbar, Sachin Lalwani, Nitin Goel, Danih Iqbal and Kaushik Chakraborty

Credits: Directed by Hansal Mehta, scripted by Raghav Kakkar, Kashyap Kapoor and Ritesh Shah. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:52

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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