Written by Anna Harrison
Asad Farooqui’s smart and deftly funny short Congratulations (originally called Mabrook, an Arabic word meaning largely the same thing) opens with Amir, played by Farooqui himself, filming a self-tape for a movie, hoping to land the lauded role of… Terrorist Number Two. Amir is a struggling actor, trying to make it in a world where Muslim performers are delegated to suicide bombers and hijackers; on top of this, Amir still lives at home with his badgering but well-meaning parents (Rajiv Vora and Rabinder Campbell) who like to keep interrupting his audition tapes.
The family is getting ready for Eid, the celebratory breaking of the Ramadan fast, and are joined by Amir’s uncle Abbas (Navin Gurnaney) and his family, including nephew Dr. Jameel (Manahar Kumar), who respectfully looks down upon Amir’s soon-to-be MFA, and Jameel’s fiancée (and cousin), Maaria (Nasim).
Farooqui milks the awkward family dynamics for all their worth, creating an instantly familiar feeling for anyone who has ever had any sort of family gathering. Here, the lines in the sand are drawn not between generations, as often happens, but between geographic locations: Abbas and Jameel, who have both lived in Pakistan, versus Amir, who has not. Abbas and Jameel both praise former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif and insult Hindus, and Amir’s criticisms fall on deaf ears, his comments weightless because he has not lived in Pakistan himself. (Farooqui milks humor out of these conflicts, too, not only through the script but through the shot setups and staging, so we squirm along with Amir and his father as Jameel and Abbas judge us from above.)
Farooqui is careful never to let any of his characters drift into caricature, unlike whoever wrote Terrorist Number Two: Jameel and Abbas are not the hyperconservative, misogynistic monsters that many Western movies would have us believe. Their flaws come out in smaller ways—a comment here, a snide glance there. They are the family members whom you encounter every Thanksgiving with outdated and problematic beliefs, not cartoonish cronies. Nor is Amir hyper-Westernized; he prays with his family in traditional clothing, embracing his faith while simultaneously advocating more liberal ideas.
Therein lies Congratulations’ biggest success: it juxtaposes the players in Amir’s real life—educated, civil (by and large)—and Amir himself with those he has been delegated to play in the movies—unnamed, fanatical. And, as Congratulations shows, the former proves far more interesting and watchable than the latter. We watch Amir interact with his family, watch conflicts and personalities that mirror everyone else’s, and then see the MFA hopeful trudge back upstairs to resignedly refilm his audition for Terrorist Number Two, a role that strips him of all the humanity we have just witnessed.
It’s funny, but it’s a punch to the gut, too.
Congratulations is currently playing at the 2021 Atlanta Film Festival until May 2. Click here to buy a ticket to its virtual screening.