- Published on Thursday, 27 January 2011 01:28
While many now argue that the once volatile and vibrant Punk ethos has been all but reduced to a timid, votive candle amid ceaseless corporate gales (‘Hey bro, Target’s having a sale on Ramones shirts!'), Punk's history, at the very least, remains a vital and potent source of inspiration.
The roots of Punk go back to Woody Guthrie and Jazz, The Beats, and early Rock and Roll. The initial defining sound of Punk rock erupted in the 1970’s with such proto-Punk bands as MC5, The Stooges, and The Dead Boys. While the Punk ethos and aesthetic are not in anyway monolithic, with such seemingly divergent bands as the speed-induced Metal of Motorhead, the heady Hardcore of Minor Threat, and the majestic Post-Punk of Joy Division, the general impulse has always been a brazen disregard for convention and, more importantly, commercialism.
Unfortunately, writer and director Ehad Zahra (and, perhaps, Michael Muhammad Knight who wrote the novel the film is based upon) woefully neglects this history in his film “The Taqwacores," a story supposedly vested in Punk ideals. Sadly, it feels like Zahra is simply trying to cash in on Punk in order to make his film seem rebellious and ‘cool.’
Aside from the inherent incongruity and lack of any discernable narrative structure in Zahra’s film (and saying, ‘but that’s Punk rock, bro!’ is not an excuse), the characters and the Punk ideals he attempts to personify are garish caricatures of a scene and sound that has been a vital, necessary part of the American and global counterculture.
The gross superficiality that informs Zahra’s film borders on the ridiculous. The affected posturing and style of, say, the characters Jahangir and Umar seem compelled by exhaustive research done at the local Hot Topic rather than a vested interest in the often disparate scenes, ideals, and sounds of Punk music. A mohawk and a pair of Docs does not grant instant credibility to a character, especially when such stylistic preferences are now indicative of mainstream commercial norms. In this sense, Zahra’s film and its characters are unwittingly derivative of Pop Culture. They’re fashionably ‘Punk’ in style and behavior as though they’ve been cast in a commercial for some sort of energy drink. One can’t help but cringe when the characters randomly (and I do mean randomly) quiver with the junkie shakes or suddenly erupt with spastic excess as though they’ve been stricken with St. Vitus’ Dance.
There’s scant evidence throughout “The Taqwacores” that any sincere effort was made to examine the social impact of Punk in the Greater Middle East and how it could genuinely inspire Muslim youth throughout the world currently battling with their own identities and ideas of faith. Instead, Zahra’s rendering of Punk entails meaningless provocation and an infantile discontent with the formalities of a faith, in this case Islam.
For instance, in the final climactic scene Zahra has the main female character, Rabeya (fully clad in a burqa throughout the film) openly fellate her roommate in the middle of a crowded mosh pit on, essentially, a whim. Is this scene supposed to trigger some deep examination of Islam and sexuality? Are Muslim women supposed to walk away feeling empowered by this? It’s nonsensical especially when the film is supposed to somehow be a rumination on faith and identity.
“The Taqwacores” could’ve been so much more. I hoped that it would follow along the same lines of such great films as Hanif Kureishi’s, “My Son The Fanatic” or Ayub Khan-Din’s “East is East” in terms of honesty and depth. Instead, Zahra’s film is a series of jumbled histrionics and pointless soliloquies that fail to redress Islam through the medium of Punk music in any meaningful way for countless young Muslims throughout the world. Even worse, the fierce vitality of the Punk ethos that’s inspired so many against oppression, isolation, and mindless conformity is hijacked by Zahra (there, I said it) and foolishly presented as an invitation to the narcissism and the self-absorption that’s all too prevalent in this day and age.By Kashif Ghazanfar, Aslan Media Contributor Watch the video here