The HanSarang Activist
Posted: 2010-05-23
Categories: Projekt NewSpeak

Yusef (Bobby Naderi) with Jehangir (Dominic Rains)

One of my most anticipated films for the 2010 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, The Taqwacores (directed by Eyad Zahra) is a bold work of cinema that demands to be watched.

What is the Taqwacore? It is a punk Islam movement which has spread throughout the West Coast and has inspired many young Muslims to challenge their ideas of faith and ideology.The film explores the question of what it means to be Muslim, not only to the Muslim communities in America and worldwide, but to non-Muslims who mostly rely on the media to inform them what being a Muslim is all about. At the heart of it all, the film explores what it means to be human and the courage it takes to express all that is ugly and undesirable within us.

Based on Michael Muhammad Knight’s 2003 seminal novel of the same name, the film adaptation introduces the audience to Yusef (played by Bobby Naderi), a first-generation Pakistani who is attending college at Buffalo, NY. As an orthodox Muslim, he responds to an ad seeking roommates in an apartment of other Muslim college students but little did he know that his roommates would be unlike anything he ever expected. In short order, Yusef enters into a world in which his traditional Muslim beliefs come into sharp conflict with the decidedly unorthodox lifestyles practiced by his housemates, a combination of revised Muslim tenets consistent with how they live their lives and of Taqwacore.

The ensemble performances are stellar and one of the main reasons why this film worked so well. I’m going to have to take some time to acknowledge all the people involved.

Our world is seen through the eyes of Yusef and despite his character being the straight-edged individual out of the entire group, actor Bobby Naderi holds his own ground and allows us to sympathize with him as we see through the unique Taqwacore world through his eyes.Actress Noureen DeWulf was given the immense difficult challenge of playing Rabeya, a riot girl who dresses in a full-length burqa and despite all her facial features being covered, DeWulf manages to fully convey her character’s spontaneous emotions and nuances with absolute ease.

I was incredibly moved by Jehangir (played by Dominic Rains), a Mohawk-wielding rocker who carries the emotional story of this film. It is his journey of being a punk and a Muslim that is carried through the film and is done magnificently by the actor’s magnetic personality. Rains allows the audience to channel with his character’s lion-esque pride in his Taqwacore belief and the passion and torment that drives him to create a form of expression that he can be most proud of. Special recognition also goes out to Nav Mann for his intense tortured portrayal of Umar, who is an outcast like everybody else yet strictly adheres to his traditional Muslim principles, Tony Yalda’s wonderfully fierce take on Muzzamil, Ian Tran as steadfast and resolute Fasiq, and Volkan Eryaman as one extremely strung out ‘Amazing Ayyub’.

By daring to express itself without any fear, this film will be controversial. The subject matter and the characters themselves will provoke many audience members, Muslims and non-Muslims, to have a definite reaction. Yet the film never stoops to sensationalism as the director carefully reveals a world filled with memorable, three-dimensional characters who are desperately trying to find a way to express the angst and ugliness inside of them. The audience member does not have to be Muslim to relate to the frustration that these characters are feeling and as such, that is where the true beauty of this film lies.

This film swept the LAAPFF awards with Best Director, Best Ensemble Cast, Grand Jury Best Film, and the Audience Award. What does that say? It means you should go watch this film as soon as possible.