Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I happen to be a fan of the films of Indian born director Jag Mundhra, though I must admit the scope of this fandom extends from two of the movies of his that I have seen, those being the wacky sex farces ‘Natasha’ and ‘Private Moments’. So I was curious to see how Mr. Mundhra would handle the deathly serious subject matter in his latest, somewhat controversial film ‘Shoot on Sight’. I believe the film is a success on some levels, but definitely one with mixed results on other levels.

The film starts with some text informing us of a policy put in place by British Law Enforcement after the events of 9-11, and activated after the subway bombings, which authorizes the use of deadly force by officers when deemed necessary to stop similar situations from occurring. With this knowledge we are thrust right into the action as a man follows another man, obviously of Muslim faith, into the subway and contacts his superiors as to what should be his next move. Eventually the decision comes from the top of the chain of command to stop the man from boarding the train which leads the commanding officer at the scene, PC Brian Andrews (Alex McSweeney) to fire on the man since he seemed to refuse the command to stop and made a sudden movement towards something in his pocket.

Unfortunately the only thing man seem to have on him was lunch as the police department is now being accused of hunting Muslims. To help quell this fire Department chief Tennant (Brian Cox) has enlisted the help of Muslim police commander Tariq Ali (Naseeruddin Shah) to be his front man in this investigation. To get a better feel how Commander Ali is going to handle this situation we spend time getting know him and his family which include his loyal non-Muslim wife Susan (Greta Scacchi), his young son Imran (Arrun Harker) and precocious teenage daughter Zara (India Wadsworth). Soon Ali’s nephew Zahir (Mikaal Zulfikar) will be joining the family to continue his graduate studies, or so he claims.

The challenges for Commander Ali are daunting as he has deal with the violent rhetoric coming former childhood friend and radical Iman Junaid (Om Puri), he’s not getting the respect or cooperation that he needs to complete his investigation from PC Andrews who Ali believes to be a racist and he’s also getting no respect at home from his western boy loving daughter. Ali has become upset with his wife for suspecting his nephew to be a terrorist, which he be believes is based solely on the fact the boy is a Muslim and he is struggling internally between his faith and his job. All of these resolutions will come to a head forcing Commander Ali to make the most difficult decision that he probably will ever have to make.

The controversy from this film stems Mundhra having a lot of difficulty finding someone to distribute this film, due to what had to be its perceived subject matter, until Aron Govil came on as producer and secured some distribution. I say ‘perceived’ because there’s nothing particularly ‘explosive’ or controversial about this film at least as far as I can see. The story itself is fairly straight forward with a clearly defined hero, a less well defined villain, even though he is certainly there. Mundhra’s story and Carl Austin’s script doesn’t broadly paint these characters as merely good or bad which I would think is a good thing when tackling a subject such as this, and whatever controversy has bubbled around this film is probably undeserved, plus I don’t even think the film is good enough to warrant any controversy.

SPOILERS TO FOLLOW: The basic story of ‘Shoot on Sight’ is a good one. Naseeruddin Shah did an excellent in job creating and portraying the character of Tariq Ali and effectively captured all of the emotion and conflicts that the man had to be dealing with. Same for Mikaal Zulfikar who on lesser scale did the same for his character of Zahir. It’s the stuff on the movies periphery that complete distracts from the main story and adds little to overall movie. The side story involving Ali’s daughter and her western boyfriend added nothing to the story and was basically tossed in as some melodramatic theatrical nonsense. Ali accuses Constable Sweeney of being a racist, which he clearly is, but then we see that he’s married to a Black woman so all of the sudden he’s not a racist anymore? No, he’s simply a racist who’s married to a Black woman. Then Ali’s wife sends his partner Ruby (Laila Rouass) to tail Zahir on a seek and follow mission with an ending to the mission being terribly obvious the minute she agreed to accept it. There are other little frayed elements and issues in the story which don’t service the story and detract from what the movie should really be about.

However when the movie is focused, it is a good movie. I know Islam, and practically all religions for that matter decry violence and this film goes a long way to explaining how these individuals are able to rationalize what they do. The film manages to avoid taking sides and does a fine job of simply telling a story, the issues that are raised are compelling ones and the acting overall is uniformly very good.

With ‘Shoot on Sight’ Jag Mundhra has created a very uneven film that does raise some interesting, difficult issues but in what I’m guessing was an attempt to make the film more accessible and more entertaining, it introduces other elements that detracts from the core of the film. This is too bad as ‘Shoot on Sight’ all on its own had a lot to offer.

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