Synopsis Of The Films

Both films in my analysis show the immense influence Islamic radical groups have on teenagers. The first film, al-Abwab al-moghlaka (The Closed Doors, Egypt, 1999, Arabic), portrays the life of young Mohammed in Cairo. It is the first feature film directed by Atef Hetata (b. 1965), who is a student of Egypt's well-known director Youssef Chahine (b. 1926) (Fawal). Hetata himself is the son of two renowned Egyptian intellectuals: his father, Sherif Hetata, is a famous civil rights activist, and his mother, Nawal El Sadaawi (b. 1931), is one of the most popular feminists and female rights activists in Egypt (Malti-Douglas; Roger). Like his parents, Atef Hetata fights constantly against the growing influence of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt.

Al-Abwab al-moghlaka is set during the Second Gulf War (1990-1991), when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Mohammed's father has divorced his wife, leaving 15-year-old Mohammed (Ahmed Azmi) alone with his mother Fatma (Sawsan Badr). Mohammed's brother Salah left Cairo some years earlier in order to work in Iraq. He has not been heard of since the Iran-Iraq War.1 Fatma has to earn some money for her son and works as a maid for a rich Lebanese family. Mohammed strictly disapproves of this, as he considers them to be materialistic, westernized, and decadent. He also fears that Fatma's employer may sexually harass his mother—a fear which later turns out to be justified.

Mohammed attends high school because his mother wants him to become a pilot. But life at school is hard. The classes consist of almost 50 boys each. The teachers hardly know their pupils' names and are always ready to punish them. Mohammed does not have any friends at school, mainly because his parents are divorced. Thus, Mohammed feels alone, and he does not have anyone to talk with about his awakening sexuality. He feels intrigued by almost every woman near him, even by his mother. Mohammed is confused by his feelings and tries to find a new orientation. When Hasan, one of the teachers in his school, tells him that a certain mosque is offering courses for the preparation of examinations, Mohammed joins the radical group of young men in the mosque. He hopes to find understanding, sympathy, and explanations for his sexual desires. Indeed, Shaikh Khalid seems to be an ideal father figure to Mohammed, as he seems to be both gentle and a man of great moral values. Shaikh Khalid tells Mohammed about the impurity of his sexual desires, especially when his mother is involved. He further advises Mohammed to show responsibility toward his mother as well as for his own life and to marry at a very early age. Later, he even arranges a marriage between Mohammed and one of his relatives, and between Fatma and one of his supporters.

At the same time, Mohammed is attracted by another group of young men: the street children of Cairo. With its population of almost 16 million people, Cairo is the biggest city in the Middle East. The number of street children is constantly growing, a fact which is heavily criticized in the film. Mohammed befriends a young dropout named Awadine. Awadine persuades him to play truant from school. The boys go to the cinema instead, or hang around in cafés watching the street life. They also work as street vendors. Awadine becomes the only friend Mohammed ever had. Mohammed considers his new life on the streets to be exciting and full of a freedom he has never known before. On the other hand, he knows that this is not the life his mother or Shaikh Khalid wants him to lead. His mother is afraid that Mohammed may become a criminal because of the bad influence Awadine has on him. After meeting Awadine for the first time, she tells Mohammed that she would prefer that Mohammed go to the mosque. Later, when she finds out that Mohammed has completely come under the influence of the Islamists, she definitely regrets her earlier wish.

When Fatma finds out that her own son wants to force her into a marriage, she is extremely shocked, because she has other plans. She has begun to meet Mohammed's teacher, Mansour (Mahmoud Hemida), at school. Mohammed is shocked as well as jealous: he tells his mother not to leave the house without a veil and forbids her to work. He tries to find further "Islamic" rulings stating why she should not go out on the streets and contact Mansour. When Fatma refuses to obey these "Islamic" rulings and begins a love affair with Mansour, the situation escalates and ends up in a tragedy: Mohammed kills Fatma and Mansour.

The second film, Khalid Mohamed's Fiza (India, 2000, Hindi), is about the tragedy of the middle-class family Ikramullah in Bombay, consisting of the widowed mother (Jaya Bachchan), her daughter Fiza (Karisma Kapoor), and Fiza's brother Amaan (Hrithik Roshan). The film opens six years before the main action; the family idyll is destroyed one night in 1993 when communal riots shock the city of Bombay, following the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya (Noorani). Amaan follows a friend's call to the street and is involved in Hindu-Muslim fights. He vanishes into the darkness and disappears. When the story resumes six years later, Amaan is presumed dead, but his mother and Fiza still believe he is alive and will return one day. Fiza, who has graduated from college and plans to be a journalist, one day believes that she sees her brother on the streets and decides to search for him. She finds him in a camp in Rajasthan which is used as a base for terrorist activities. Fiza persuades him to return with her to Bombay, but problems arise. Amaan cannot reintegrate into his former life and again joins the jihad group. Khalid Mohamed wants to show that the problems that the Muslim youth have might drive them into terrorism. Hindu as well as Muslim young people face the same situation in modern India—unemployment or violence. In the end, young people like Amaan have to realize that religious sentiments and communalism are only exploited by political leaders betraying the masses. By the end of the film, everyone in the Ikramullah family except Fiza is destroyed.

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