Since 2013, with varying levels of success, actor Vidyut Jamwal has been marking his outing in the theatres with different editions of Commando. This entails reprising his role as Karanveer Singh Dogra, a commando with the Indian Army, and being stranded in crises that range from black money trail to fighting the Chinese army. In the latest, he has been entrusted with the task of foiling a terror attack in India that is feared to be more heinous than 9/11. The present year being 2019, it is the adversary and not the problem who is more topical. The mind behind this potential havoc is an enraged Muslim man, sitting in London and determined to avenge the misgivings he and those with the same religious affiliation have to routinely endure.
Commando 3, the latest addition to the slew of patriotic films that are being churned out with astonishing speed, remains stubbornly similar in its narrative: a Muslim terrorist attempting an attack in India and a Hindu hero thwarting his plan. This Us vs Them trope, and using it to not revive but evoke nationalistic fervour, has been enacted and re-enacted in various films lately. But with Commando 3, director Aditya Datt pursues to introduce a nuance in this binary. The antagonist sounds similar but wears a different face. Buraq Ansari (Gulshan Devaiah), an NRI, is well turned out in his suits and shoes. Unlike his cinematic counterparts, he does not hide behind copious amounts of kajal (except when he is recording videos and provoking young minds to join him) and elaborate headgear.
This visual representation, a marked departure from the way a Muslim antagonist is generally presented in Hindi films, strives to defy the stereotype they have come to be associated with. This also becomes the director’s way of emphasising #NotAllMuslims, both in the way they look and the acts they commit. In fact, the film tries to make this point come across at various junctures, first subtly and later blatantly. In one of the instances, a maulvi is brought by the police to tell two impressionable Muslim boys (both converted Hindus), that killing others in the name of religion goes against its very ethos. Later, in his effort to mobilise the Muslims — residing in the different states where the attack is to happen during Dussehra — and seek their help, Karan records a video urging them to take things in their hands and save the Hindu(s). Commando 3 then intends to be that elusive secular nationalistic film which refrains from presenting Muslims in an unanimous bad light and it does so by segregating them into two broad categories: good and bad Muslims. Ansari is a Muslim gone rogue.
The problem with this seemingly well-intentioned film lies precisely here: it hides its divisive politics behind an apparent inclusive message. In its effort to dismantle the binary, it ends up creating another set of opposing groups, all the while doggedly treating both as the malicious Other. This is most glaringly and ridiculously exhibited when, in the same video, Karan reminds the Muslims how “when we killed” at Balakot, both Hindu and Muslims had united in celebration. But its vicious intent is mostly intensely revealed when Muslim men and women, paying heed to him, form a human chain outside the places of attack, brave few gunshots and then unite with the Hindu devotees to chant Jai Shri Ram.
It is not secularism that the film propagates but coerced patriotism. In a way, this makes Commando 3 not too different from the other nationalistic films. But it is more lethal, especially in the current political climate, for the way it hides its propaganda in plain sight. It refuses to stop at discerning a benign Muslim from a vindictive one but goes forth and lays out a narrative that needs to be complied by them in order to be identified as either. It is vile in the way it deceits the viewers by concluding not with an image of victory but of religious harmony, completely burying the violence that achieving the same “harmony” routinely triggers. And, ultimately, its existence is frightening for it reiterates the imperativeness of “good” Muslims to not just be patriotic but to prove it in a language decided by others.