Bollywood industry have been criticised by viewers for its Islamophobic portrayal. Be it woke series like Family Man or commercial flicks Batla House and Sooryavanshi, Muslims are always portrayed as sleeper cells, terrorists or smugglers. Films always acted as an integral compound for the Hindutva nationalist project. Only a few films stood as exception. This year, May 27 witnessed a unique release.
An industry, which parroted the state narrative of Muslim being the terrorists dared to tell the story of an innocent Muslim teacher Wahid Shaikh who was falsely implicated in 7/11 Mumbai train blast and spent almost nine years in jail to satisfy the ‘collective conscience’ of the state. Haemolymph movie, directed by Sudarshan Gamare, got released in more than 120 theatres across India in its initial phase.
“The title Haemolymph, loosely translated as the ‘blood of the ant’ symbolises how the life of a common can be easily crushed by the authorities similar to how an ant can be easily crushed,” the director Sudarshan Ghamare said to Maktoob.
Wahid Shaikh, a primary school teacher respected in the neighbourhood, got picked from Mundra as an accused in the 7/11 Mumbai train blasts of 2006. Shaikh had to spend almost nine years in jail to prove his innocence. Of the 13 accused charge sheeted by the Mumbai Anti-Terrorism Squad, Wahid was the only one to be acquitted of all charges.
Wahid Shaikh was not excited when he got a call from Sudarshan Gamare asking permission to make a biopic on him. ”Many people had contacted me telling their interest to make movie on my life. But all of them got dropped in the midway. I guess nobody had the courage to tell my story,” said Wahid Shaikh.
Sudarshan Gamare got hooked to Wahid’s story after reading NDTV journalist Sunetra Choudhury’s book “Behind Bars” which featured a chapter on Wahid Sheikh . After completing the book, Gamara read Beguna Qaidi( Innocent prisoner), a book wrote by Wahid Shaikh on his experience inside the jail. The book was a documentation of the torture, fabricated charges, forced confessions, prejudice from the investigative agencies and jail authorities and the deep rooted Islamophobia.
“His life story was very horrifying. I can empathise with his pain and I felt so guilty after reading his story. I realised that this is an important story and it need to be shared with the public,” Sudarshan Gamare said.
Gamare discussed the story with his friend Riyaz Anvar, who later played the lead role of the film, and decided to meet Wahid.
The filmmakers met Wahid at a hotel in Mumbai and had a long chat with him. Later, they travelled to Wahid’s home in Mumbra, talked to his friends and family. The team went through the chargesheet of 20,000 pages and the copy of the judgement. They referred all the case-related documents available in public domain and the articles written on the case. The crew even contacted Mumbai Police and the family of victims of the bomb blast to extract their version on the incident.
”It took us almost 15 months to finalise the script; 11 months for research and 4 months to write the screen play. Wahid gave suggestions through out the process,” the director and the screenwriter Sudarshan Gamare said.
“It was really a difficult task to show nine year’s story in two hours. I had to recollect many important incidents happened in those nine year period for the movie. Many unpleasant memories flashed through my mind. It reminded me of the grave injustice done to me. It was not an easy task to revisit those traumatic experience. But I want people to understand what happens to innocent people like me in Indian prisons,” said Shaikh.
The lead actor Riyas Anwar, who was with the crew since the research stage, described the process as an emotional journey.
Riyas talked with Wahid for hours and prepared notes on Wahid’s life, interests, habits etc. “The character preparation started from the very soul of Abdul Wahid Sheikh. I started interacting with the people he was close to. Practised writing with the left hand. I wore the type of clothes Wahid loves to wear and travelled in crowded local trains. We sat for hours outside the Arthur road jail to get an idea on what Wahid might have gone through,” said Riyas.
“The film is a labour of love by my friends. It’s the debut project of cinematographer Rohan Mapuskar and editor Hemant Mahajan. I and three other friends started the production house, Ticketbari. Later, Adiman studio and AB Films Entertainment joined the production,” the director said.
Wahid Shaikh said that there are hundreds of similar stories to be told. “A state sponsored terrorism exists in this country. Most of the victims are Muslims. Be it a blast in a temple or Masjids, Muslim youth were picked as suspects. SIMI, ISIS, Al Qaeda are used as excuses to vilify Muslims,” Shaikh said to Maktoob.
Following his acquittal, Wahid Shaikh, with the help of rights activists, retired judges and lawyers, started an organisation – The Innocence Network.
The organisation mainly works on prisoner rights and exonerates prisoners wrongfully accused by providing pro bono legal services.
“We organised a tribunal in Delhi in 2017 which demanded compensation for the acquitted prisoners. The network organises lectures on Mumbai bomb blast anniversaries and advocates for prison reliefs,” Shaikh said.
Wahid Shaikh, the teacher who wrote major chunk of his book Begunah Qaidi inside the Arthur Road prison, pointed the deep rooted Islamophobia in the state institutions and the effects of the war on terror following the 9/11 attack as the reason behind the wrongful incarceration of Muslim youths.
“The Home ministry of the Union government maintains a war book. It contains name and other details of all Muslims arrested or charged in terrorism related cases in India. My name is still in the book. I got to during a hearing with the National Human Rights Commission,” Shaikh said.