He may be a despised man in the Western world, but even folks in the United States have found a way to humorously mock Osama Bin Laden, despite the despicable actions he has been accused of masterminding. Yet no one in Hollywood has capitalized on a satirical film about the issues surrounding one of the most wanted men in the United States. Leave it to Bollywood to actually be the pioneers in producing such a movie, as the National School of Drama graduate, Abhishek Sharma, has pulled out all the stops in directing a political parody about the fallout surrounding 9/11. Entitled Tere Bin Laden and starring acclaimed Pakistani singer Ali Zafar and Praduman Singh, the film, which releases on July 16th and is produced by Walkwater Media, satirically delves into a very serious subject matter that is as sensitive as it is controversial. What a way for Abhishek to make his directorial debut.
Still, Abhishek says his film about a small-time television reporter from Karachi, Pakistan who tries but fails to legally obtain a visa to enter the United States is meant to be a lighthearted parody that has also serves as a social commentary of the world around us. The debutant director also said he did all he could to ensure his first film — while focusing on a controversial and divisive personality — is not meant to be offensive to anyone affected by the tragic events in New York City and Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001.
“It is a satire on the situations. It talks about the post-9/11 world and how it has changed us. It is a comment on the great American dream and the war on terror,” Abhishek told the press about Tere Bin Laden. “I was not apprehensive to pick up a serious topic like this and give it a humorous tone. It is not insensitive or offensive to anyone. We are not making fun of Osama Bin Laden.
“I Shot Osama was the original title I contemplated for my film, but it fell through because we felt that it was not comic enough. We needed a comic title in Hindi because we wanted to communicate with the layman.”
In telling a story to the layman, the story of Tere Bin Laden features the small-time television reporter (Zafar) being rejected entry into the United States but then fatefully meeting a man who looks just like Osama Bin Laden (Singh). Light bulbs flash in the reporter’s head and he decides to film a mock interview with this fake Bin Laden, hoping the tape could be his (the reporter’s) ticket to the United States.
What ensues is a series of comical and satirical events that presents the post-9/11 world in a less serious, tongue-in-cheek perspective. If anything, Tere Bin Laden is not at all intended to resemble other films based upon significant terrorists attacks, such as Yash Raj’s New York or Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday — both films have very dramatic and somber overtones.
“We have seen a lot of serious films, but this was a subject which deserved a satire,” the debutant director informed the press. “It has dominated our psyche for so long that we need to see it in a funny way.”
In order to achieve his purpose, Abhishek needed casting to produce the ideal actor to play the Bin Laden look-alike. The director informed the press that such casting was the most enduring and difficult aspect of production.
“That was a long process. We auditioned many actors but no one fit,” he candidly informed the press about the pre-production challenges of Tere Bin Laden. “I knew Praduman for a long time because we had done theatre. I knew he was a good actor, but one day I thought that, maybe with make-up, we can manage to make him look like Osama, and my hunch was right. He (was) perfect.”
As for the film’s story itself, Abhishek told the press that what makes Tere Bin Laden work so well is that it is more than a goofy spoof. Instead, it offers layers of meaty substance underneath the cover of satire. Specifically, Abhishek said Tere Bin Laden focuses on both the international perception of the American dream and the politicized responses by the United States in the aftermath of 9/11.
“America is the key part in the film because, like many youngsters from the (South) Asian subcontinent, (the) film’s hero, Ali too, is chasing the great American dream and is ready to go to any extent to realize his dream,” Abhishek said. “It also talks about how the George Bush era affected the world. The film is set in that era.”
Of course, it will take some time for audiences in the United States to chime in on what they think about Abhishek’s take on 9/11, George W. Bush, and Osama Bin Laden, as the release date for Tere Bin Laden in that country has been postponed. However, traditional Bollywood markets in the Eastern hemisphere, including India, Pakistan, Dubai, and Australia, will have an opportunity to watch the film when it releases in those countries on July 16th.
Until Tere Bin Laden is released in the United States, folks in North America’s most populous nation will have to hold judgment on the film and just rely upon what folks on the other side of the world are saying about it.
Either way, Abhishek definitely made a bold move in making such a dense and controversial issue the centerpiece of his first feature film. Hopefully he could parlay the film’s subject matter into a budding career as a filmmaker.