The best thing about Tere Bin nee Laden was its indefatigable hype machine. It produced the best — if ultimately misleading — trailer of the year, casting non-actor Ali Zafar as the lead and choosing a subject that ensured attention from even the most jaded connoisseurs of Bollywood slapstick. Then, Tere Bin got a boost from Pakistan’s censor board which, in an overreaction almost as incomprehensible as the film, decided to ban it. And as with all outlawed material, Tere Bin suddenly became ubiquitous in the media and on file-sharing websites.
Publicity aside, Tere Bin did get one thing right. When making a satirical movie, your premise should be wildly implausible, but also one that can be mined for laughs while being socially relevant. Like Dr Stangelove with its automated nukes and Wag The Dog’s Hollywood-engineered war, Tere Bin’s central plotline of a television reporter who stumbles on an Osama Bin Laden lookalike and then uses him to sell a taped OBL message could have commented on our irrational, fearful world and the media circus without being overly didactic. Yet the movie manages to be both wildly unfunny and excessively preachy.
The fault lies exclusively with writer-director Abhishek Sharma who chooses to pile one stereotype on top of the other without consideration for character development, logic or narrative. The character of Ali Zafar, reporter Ali Hassan, may be the most thinly sketched of all. He seems too dim to ever stumble upon the idea of selling fake OBL tapes, too naive to ever pull it off and too witless to deal with the inevitable pitfalls. He is the kind of character who can never do anything right, except that which he does for the sake of plot convenience. While Zafar may not possess many, or even any, acting skills, he wasn’t given great material to work with. His boss at the TV station is a villain straight out of central casting missing only a moustache to twirl in self-satisfaction as he torments his hapless employees. There is not much to say about the rest of the characters simply because they are not characters. They serve only as props to propel the plot to its unsatisfying conclusion.
It would be too much of a stretch to say that a movie as turgid as Tere Bin has a saving grace but the acting of Pradhuman Singh will at least awaken viewers from their torpor. Singh has a lot of fun with his role as Noora, a bumpkin who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Al Qaeda leader. He is a simple man, content to rear his prize-winning rooster and invokes not only humour with the incongruity of being mistaken for a terrorist but surprising pathos in a scene that involves his rooster, a hand grenade and super glue.
Tere Bin is not a movie that aspires to verisimilitude so it may seem churlish to moan about its portrayal of Karachi. Just for the record, though, Karachi is not inhabited exclusively by bearded Taliban wannabes who motorcycle their way through backstreets and alleyways that are as dusty as they are narrow. This mis-characterisation is hardly surprising given a report in an Indian newspaper which quoted a crew member as saying, “The costumes were brought in from Pakistan, the costume designer, who went to markets in Pakistan that women normally do not venture out into just to source authentic clothes for the film.” If the makers of Tere Bin think there is a single market in the country that can keep out women they obviously don’t understand Pakistan at all.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2010.
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