A movie hitting the big screens in Uzbekistan this week is a fresh attempt at driving home the risks of terrorism and religious extremism.
Speaking at a preview of his movie, “Dadam Betob" (“Dad is Sick”) director and screenwriter Zulfikar Musakov told reporters he had presented the idea to state-run film company Uzbekfilm five years ago.
“My script only got the green light last year. This is my personal statement on the theme of religious extremism. I wanted to make a movie about the people that I love and that I don’t love,” he was cited as saying by news website Podrobno.uz.
At the center of the movie is Aziza, a mother to several children who decides that to raise funds to pay off the medical bills of her ill husband she must go work as a cab driver for a day. Her final customer of the day turns out to be Pokiza, who the film shows as having embraced religious extremism. Needless to say, it all ends in tears, kidnappings, gas pipelines being blown up and declarations of jihad.
The trailer for the movie — set most oddly to the music of Tanita Tikaram’s 1988 hit Twist in My Sobriety — indicates filmgoers are in for a deeply melodramatic affair.
Film critic Aziz Matyabulov told EurasiaNet.org that Uzbek cinema rarely touches on the issue of religious extremism, so this should be considered something of a rare event.
“Movies like these have a good budget from the state and are filmed with professional actors, unlike [privately funded] movies,” he told EurasiaNet.org.
Then again, while films about religious extremism might be rare, “Dadam Betob" is the second on the theme made in 2016 alone.
Last summer saw the release of “Sacred Desire,” a movie charting the lives of Ferghana Valley militant Islamist leaders Tahir Yuldashev and Juma Namangani.
And in 2015, a fictionalized retelling of the 2005 unrest in Andijan, entitled “Traitor” and directed by Rustam Sagdiyev, depicted those events as the handiwork of Islamic extremists.
Creation of movie propaganda marks a slight recalibration of the state’s anti-extremism policy away from the exclusive use of the stick. In addition to unsubtle movies warning of the dangers of religious fanaticism, the state has also set up educational programs aimed at “debunking extremist ideology, supporting traditional Islam” and “promoting harmony among members of different faiths.”
Musakov is well known on the Uzbek film scene and works regularly for the state movie production house Uzbekfilm. One of his most recent movies, “Svinets” (2011), won the grand prize at the inaugural Golden Cheetah film festival, which was held under the patronage of the late president’s daughter, Gulnara Karimova.
“Dadam Betob” will be released on January 20 and will also eventually be dubbed into Russian.
Uzbekistan has a lively local cinema industry. Some 80 films are produced annually — with around a dozen or so usually financed by the state.