SHOOT ON SIGHT. Director: Jagmohan Mundhra. Producer: Aron Govil. Line Producer: Antara Bhardwaj. Players: Naseeruddin Shah, Greta Scacchi, Alex McSweeney, Brian Cox, Om Puri, Mikaal Zulfikar, India Wadsworth. DVD Release.
In the wake of the London subway bombings of 2005 comes this sensationally-titled film with even more sensational taglines: Is it is a crime to be a Muslim? and Inspired by True Events of Underground Bombing (sic).Helped by elevated production values and a gifted cast, Mundhra’s 2008 entry Shoot On Sight, recently released on DVD, registers a sizable ping on the radar.
Shoot on Sight steals almost the entire script directly from recent news headlines—albeit with a slight twist. Shah is Police Commander Tariq Ali, a crime-fighter working for Scotland Yard and a Muslim. Inspector Ali is drawn into a web of intrigue after his superior (Cox) intentionally assigns Ali to investigate the tragic police shooting of an unarmed Muslim student in the London subway not long after the 7/7 events. Is Inspector Ali put in charge of the investigation to placate the Yard’s race-baiting political critics? Or is Ali a scapegoat, appointed as part of a conspiracy by intra-agency sinister forces with hidden agendas?
On a personal front, meanwhile, the Pakistan-born Ali’s devotion to Susan (Scacchi), his English wife, is only complicated by the angst of their teen daughter’s (Wadsworth) growing up in a bi-cultural household. Their houseguest, Ali’s nephew (Zulfikar), who is visiting from Pakistan, finds a welcome home in his new surroundings. To keep in touch with his Muslim roots, Ali frequents a local mosque that has for a preacher the fiery Junaid (Puri), whose loud sermons, advocating violent responses to his perceived persecution of Muslims in the West, begin to raise alarms everywhere.
Smart casting—especially Shah in the lead, Scacchi as Ali’s dedicated non-Muslim wife, and Puri as the firebrand Islamist preacher whose friendship with Ali becomes a political and social tightrope for both men—makes Mundhra’s film float. Ali’s wife, their two bi-cultural children, and a comfortable suburban home, which are symbolic of western affluence and Ali’s assimilation into his adopted homeland, are in stark contrast to the divided world invoked by the preacher’s diatribes.
Mundhra, who was famously allowed to film actual footage inside the London Underground right before a ban on “foreign” filmmakers filming took effect, makes the most of the tightly enclosed set. The race relations at the heart of the script are also exploited just enough to uncover hints of both tolerance and intolerance in some unexpected social nooks and crannies. This is watchable contemporary lore, well-worth seeing.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.