Iqbal Sign Language

I am an NRI, translated into: no-real Indian.  I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears.  I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati and other languages.

Iqbal, Nagesh Kukunoor’s film is definitely in my shopping cart about these original films I’m searching for before I lose interest in cinema.  It is original because I’ve never thought about the parents of someone who does not speak the traditional way.  How do they learn sign language if he did not speak from childhood?  I take speech for granted so it never crossed my mind until I saw Iqbal.

Iqbal played brilliantly by Shreyas Talpade cannot speak.  He uses sign language with his parents, especially his tough little sister Khadija, played by Shweta Prasad.  Both of them love cricket because of their mother played by Prateeksha Londkar.  She used to talk to Iqbal when he was still in her body, waiting to be born.  I found this very unique in a film, tha the mother that is cricket crazy not the father.

Iqbal’s father Anwar, played by Yatin Karyekar hates cricket because he feels that cricketers don’t contribute anything useful to India’s development.  He is having money problems but is too proud to take money from his sister-in-law and her husband.  He sells his motorbike and buys a bicycle. 

Anwar wants his son to stop dreaming about being a bowler in India’s cricket team and help him in the fields.  His wife encourages Iqbal to follow his dream.  Everybody in the house uses sign languages to speak to Iqbal, but Khadija is the expert.  His father sometimes gets frustrated because he has the feeling that Iqbal understands what he is saying.

There is a scene where the family is having a meal and Anwar gives him the deadline for achieving his cricket dream.  If that doesn’t happen, Iqbal must go to the fields and help him.  Khadija signs to Iqbal and her father says, “Don’t do that.  He understands.”

My favourite scene is when Iqbal is devouring parathi after parathi.  His mother keeps making them.  She looks at him tenderly and says,”I don’t know where it goes, but I love watching you eat.”

Iqbal takes the buffalos out every day.  He has given all of them names of famous Indian bowlers like Kapil, Kumble, Harbhajan, Balaji and Irfan.  He practises bowling when they are grazing.  There’s a cricket academy in the area.  Iqbal goes there every day and hides behind the buffalos and watches the coach and his players.

Khadija convinces the coach (Girish Karnad) to try out her brother.  The coach admits him but finds it difficult to speak to him.  They rope in Khadija, who skips school sometimes so that her brother achieve his dream. 

Iqbal now lives a double life of pretending to his father that he is attending the buffalos while he is playing cricket at the academy.  His mother even buys him cricket clothes and shoes secretly.  He used to bowl barefooted.

An arrogant boy with a wealthy father insults Iqbal calling him ‘deaf and dumb’.  Iqbal bowls to him nearly taking his eye out.  The coach calls Iqbal and says he knows it was no accident.  He also knows about the insults, but he tells Iqbal that he must go.  Wealthy parents sustain cricket academies, so his hands are tied.  Khadija and Iqbal leave.

Iqbal goes back to tending buffalos.  His mother always prepares extra parathis for me that he eats for lunch while out there.  He shares this with Mohit, an alcholic played by Naseeruddin Shah.  Iqbal tries to convince him to eat but he’s always sleeping with a bottle of hooch.

Iqbal burns all his cricket photos after being kicked out of the cricket academy.  He stops crying and rescues from the fire a sports magazine with Mohit’s photo.  He rushes to him the following day pointing at the magazine and pointing at him.

Mohit at first denies that it is him in the cricket team photo, but finally agrees to coach Iqbal.  Once again, there’s a communication break down and Khadija to the rescue.

Mohit did not sign but he eventually learnt sign language because Khadija could not be there all the time.  I realised that I don’t learn sign language because I don’t have to.  At the same time, I sign all the time.  A look at a petrol attendant tells me which petrol pump to use.  A child knows when a parent is angry. 

Baseball, which I loved when I lived in Canada supporting the Blue Jays, has its own sign language.  Soccer has its own.  Crooks and thieves have their sign language.  Here in South Africa you use certain hand signs to stop a taxi going to Sandton or Soweto.

Iqbal’s mother uses her fingers to show Iqbal eating.  Khadija twists whiskers when she talks about her father.  I have the capability to sign.  Thumbs up is a universal sign that shows everything is O.K.  Why don’t I take it to the next level, as African Americans say and learn sign language?

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