The Taqwacores – DVD Review

Conflicting religious ideologies clash with dangerous results in this drama that sparks debate about whether strict rules and collective notions of worship should matter when an individual has faith. Eyad Zahra, the producer and director, has stated: ‘Spirituality is not an all or nothing game – it’s yours to make your own.’ The script is adapted from a novel of the same name by Michael Muhammad Night.

Bobby Naderi plays Yusuf, a prim, traditional Pakistani Muslim and engineering student who moves in with a group of Muslim punks; members of the ‘Taqwacore’ Muslim punk rock scene that exists solely on the West Coast. There is a vivid contrast between these ‘orthodox’ and ‘unorthodox’ ways to live as a Muslim and gradually Yusuf is opened up to new ways of approaching his religion. He begins to question elements of his faith as he examines his cultural identity from a wider perspective. The group use their grotty living space as an alternative mosque during the day, teaching each other through speeches and music, and host wild punk parties at night. It is an extreme way to live and show their faith, and many are strongly opposed to it. The penultimate scene, at a punk gig held at their home, ends in tragedy and some surprising vulgarity.

The undesired location (it is set in Buffalo, New Jersey, but had to be filmed in Cleveland, Ohio due to the low budget) means the film feels claustrophobic. Scenes are mostly confined to the grimy hovel where they reside and as the setting does not have much to offer, the camera gets too comfortable in close up shots, rarely moving far from its subject and providing little visual variety. Occasionally there are brief scenes shot in black and white – it seems to be an attempt to look more artistic – that show one of the punks asleep on a sofa with the light of a television reflecting on him. From the box-set we hear passionate patriotic American voices conveying their derogatory opinions about Islam. The punk either swears at the TV or continues sleeping, and it is intended to manifest their otherness, their inevitable dismissal of the country that rejects them. They must construct an exclusive home, as their punk group leader, Jehangir (Dominic Rains), candidly puts it: ‘we’re the ones that are always excluded and afraid to be ourselves’.

It is interesting that the film represents a counter cultural musical movement that has recently graduated from fiction to a reality triggered by the 2002 novel. Yet the film was just not. The direction was stale. The stock, stereotypical characters were one dimensional and appeared to exist solely to have a place within the web of conflict (particularly the homosexual Muslim Muzzamil, complete with fishnet tights and a face plastered in colourful make up, played by Tony Yalda ) and the acting was disappointingly wooden, not that the actors had much to work with as the screenplay was predictably obvious and uninspired. The film failed to entice as the anger and passion that is so integral to the narrative was poorly conveyed. It’s a pity, as the intrinsic subject matter had potential to be powerful.

The Taqwacores is released on DVD in the UK on the 24th October

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