Shoot On Sight makes you look back once more at other recent statements on terror and violence, like the urban-thinker's A Wednesday
and the potent and sensitively adorable Tahaan, for the sheer substance they had. The film is not trying to make a point on terrorism as much as it is on the brown-skin prejudice surrounding terror suspects. Still, it is a movie completely devoid of personality, save for the open references to a certain country where, understandably, the film was banned. And lack of personality will just not do at a time when the entire nation has been watching some intelligent cinema.
The movie is based on the true incident where policemen in London shot and killed a man of Brazilian descent after mistaking him for a terrorist, in 2005. So, basing it on the 7/7 London bombings, the film opens with a few English policemen following a shoot-on-sight order on a Moslem (as the West writes and pronounces it, too) in a London station. The man doesn't surrender in response to police's commands because he was listening to an MP3 player, and in a fit of blindingly stupid paranoia, the police shoot him.
A straightforward Lahore-born police officer Tariq Ali (sincere-as-always Naseeruddin Shah) is put in charge of investigations into the shoot-out, and, along with assistant Ruby Kaur (Laila Rouass), he discovers that the slain man was innocent - a discovery that was expected right from the start, and one that could shame Scotland Yard forever. Tariq is your rational thinking Asian (for fear of labelling him anything more), who is married to a white woman Susan (Greta Scacchi), and who has two children - a teenage daughter, with whom he has a dysfunctional relationship, and a younger, football-fan son.
Tariq's nephew, Zaheer (Mikaal Zulfikaar) from Pakistan, comes to London to study, and stays with his family. The trouble, and the film's plot, are clear when an Islamic fundamentalist Imam (Om Puri with that fake Indian crossover film accent) who Tariq knew from his Lahore days, is busy influencing young minds that include, unknown to Tariq, Zaheer's.
The film is a compilation of two-dimensional characters, whether it is the British housewife, the sulking daughter, the police force trying to cover up their backsides, or the Imam's potent instigations to violence. Tariq is not your superhumanly sensitive benevolent cop - his life is also driven by career aspirations, just like the rest of us - but there are feeble attempts to portray him as 'normal'. When his daughter is caught doing drugs, all Tariq manages to chide her with is a "Do you know what this could mean to my career?" Ah, the angst of an Asian father of an identity-searching, rebellious, half-white teenage daughter.
Also, the film does exactly what it is talking against when it says the West sees a cold-hearted terrorist in every coloured human being - the film sees an insensitive, stony racist in every Westerner, specially a cop. The tension between Tariq and other cops, and Tariq himself ending up as a victim of the racism of the police force he so loyally served for years, are, by themselves, predictable angles, and the film makes these issues look petty and casual. And we have no clue why there is a reference to the Asian practice that makes most cultures squirm - that of marriage between close relatives - along with an uncomfortable budding friendship between Zaheer and Tariq's daughter.
The film could have at least made a statement through the all-too-obvious moral and ethical decision that Tariq must make when he realizes terror brewing in his own house, but by then it is probably too late to add any kind of meat to the proceedings.
Performances are not quite the problem here. Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri are expectedly good, but they don't seem to believe much in the film, either. Gulshan Grover plays Tariq's meat-shop-running, London settled friend who hasn't much of a role here. The story is not much of a surprise, and though it flows decently enough, it is not handled with any kind of finesse.
The dialogues are second-grade-textbook lame. When Naseeruddin Shah ticks off Gulshan Grover for his kebab-fetish, asking him how he can eat such rubbish, Gulshan Grover's witty comeback is a "One man's rubbish is another man's cuisine." And when Greta Scacchi asks her nephew to pick up her son from school, because she has to go out, her request is preceded by, "I have to pop up to the shops and do various things..." Watching the British mouth grammatically questionable lines like that, you cannot but cringe with embarrassment.
Shoot On Sight is not the thinking audience's film, even when not compared to the ultra-powerful cinema we have recently been treated to on similar subjects. Not by a really long shot.