I am neither an activist (not even the arm-chair/facebook/twitter/etc. kind) nor an Egyptian, and yet, I found myself visibly shaking as I was watching “The Square“. I went through a roller-coaster of emotions through the 95 minutes of this extraordinary film – I was exhilarated, shocked, enraged, overjoyed, frustrated – I felt utterly hopeless and extremely hopeful – I felt defeated and I felt victorious.
The film shows the tumultuous period in Egypt’s ongoing revolution over the past two and a half years. It’s primarily focused on the happenings in Tahrir Square in Cairo – beginning from the first gathering of people in 2011 to protest against the 30 year totalitarian regime of Hosni Mubarak (which was heavily supported by the “pro-democracy” West), to the Egyptian Military taking over after Mobarak’s fall, to then the Muslim brotherhood seizing the power with Mohamed Morsi as it’s leader and to the latest departure of Morsi. The revolution continues.
The film depicts how a movement with no clear leadership is shaping Egypt’s history at this very moment. It shows how people unite on a singular idea of “basic rights and fair governance”. How the fall of one regime brings out the opportunism in another faction leading to a newer version of the very thing the people protested against in the first place. It also shows how these opportunistic leaders pit people against people – a friend against a friend – to foster their hold on power. (None of this should be new news, the leaders of the free world and the not-so-free world have been doing this for years). What makes watching it unfold in this film so impact-ful is because it’s happening NOW – and not just in Egypt. Its happening across the globe – its happening in India. There is similar movement of the people for “basic rights and fair governance” – a movement which is chaotic, which lacks a clear leader, which lacks a clear direction. But there is a sense of restlessness in the people. There is a need for change. What ‘The Square’ demonstrates is that this ‘restlessness’ this ‘need for a change’ is enough. So what if there isn’t a clear path, so what if there isn’t a clear leader! Ahmed, a bright eyed boy, with a sunny disposition and a fire in his heart, who is a key character of the film, says something to the effect that “just the fact that people have realized that they can do this…is for him hope enough”.
That was the hopeful side of these events. But revolutions are never without a cost. The collateral damage in the power struggles of the power hungry are almost always people. The Square shows this with a stark nakedness – it has some incredibly shocking scenes of everyday people being literally run over and crushed by military tanks. I do not mean to romanticize these events by writing about them here. I am barely qualified to write anything about what people who are actually fighting across the globe are going through. I am a mere observer. What I want to say is, across the globe, its these people who just want to lead a peaceful life are the ones who bear the brunt of the greed for power of the few. It reminded me of a few lines from a song from one of Gulzar’s long forgotten movies “Hu tu tu”:
tin tin taare, log bechaare,
til til marne waale, til til tarne waale,
keedon aur makaundon jaise log bechaare…
tin tin taare log bechaare…
ghiste ghiste fat jaate hai..jooton jaise log bechaare..
tin tin taare log bechaare…
pairon mein pehene jaate hai jalse aur julooson mein,
sageenon se seele sipaahi wardi ke malbooson mein,
goli se jo fat jaate hain…..cheethadon jaise fenk diye jaate hai saare…
tin tin taare…tin tin taare…..log bechaare.
This film has been nominated in the best documentary category in the 2013 Academy awards. Whether, the film wins this award or not is entirely besides the point. As mentioned above, I am neither an activist nor someone who has had to fight for anything remotely close to what people are fighting for. I almost feel guilty writing about this film, but yet, I want to urge each one of you out there to watch it. To watch it just for the sake of those who are literally laying their lives for nothing more than basic human rights.