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Review: Do not miss Firaaq

Review: Do not miss Firaaq

Source: General

By: Sonia Chopra

Critic's Rating: 3/5

Friday 20 March 2009

Movie Title

Review: Do not miss Firaaq

Director

Nandita Das

Star Cast

Naseruddin Shah, Paresh Rawal, Raghuveer Yadav, Deepti Naval, Sanjay Suri, Shahana Goswami, Tisca Chopra

Genocide throws up a some typical reactions: Absolute disapproval from those who manage holding on to their senses. An ascending sense of hatred by those whose personal prejudices find reassurance in numbers. And then there are the others who choose to remain indifferent, largely because they can.

Of course, emotions are far more layered and cannot be compartmentalised into a few zones. But these three reactions are wonderfully explored in debut director Nandita Das?s Firaaq. Das is clearly inspired by actual incidents and has folded in her own perspective summing up the `Firaaq is a work of fiction, based on a thousand true stories? tagline.

'Firaaq is pro-humanism, not pro-Muslim'

So you have a high-profile wedding a month after the Gujarat carnage in 2002. The sangeet party is on, and the bride who has had to tone down the celebration a tad says, ?these bloody riots have ruined everything?. Not quite the same reaction from a man in front of whom a truck dumps a bunch of dead bodies, including those of children.

One wonders what kind of mental scars witnessing such an incident can leave on a person. Mental scars ? perhaps the scariest remnants of genocide that leads to further hatred, an inevitable division between people, and a thirst for irrational revenge. Talking of which, what to say of the little boy (Mohammad Samad, endearing as only children can be) who recounts the killing of his entire family and stripping of the women members before their murder (only the women were stripped, not the men, he clearly narrates).

He?s describing this brutal happening to Aarti (Deepti Naval), a Gujarati housewife who has her own personal demons to deal with. Out of numbing fear, she had closed the door on a Muslim woman who was being chased by a mob. This act of weakness prompts her to burn her hand with a drop of scalding oil every day.

Perhaps out of that guilt, she wants to help this boy. Her physically abusive husband Sanjay Bhai (Paresh Rawal) is a businessman so crooked, when he smashes his speeding scooter into couple, Anuradha Desai and Sameer Shaikh?s car, he demands (and gets) money for repairs. Later, Sameer (Sanjay Suri) watches on a CCTV tape, his entire shop being burgled by well-to-do citizens and spots Sanjay there too. ?She has a Honda City waiting for her,? remarks Sameer?s friend watching a woman with her hands full of loot loading it into the car.

If you think this is a stretch of the director?s imagination, this writer, unconcerned about such things at that time, had heard rumours about a neighbourhood family comprising regular business folk, bringing back such loot from Gujarat. Which is why, this story found an instant connect.

Nandita Das sees 'no reason' to screen Firaaq for Modi

So while Anuradha and Sameer wonder if they should settle in another city or stay back, since ?mota bhai has records of all Muslim-run businesses?, their friend blurts out that the carnage is a two-sided coin, and something done by Muslims must have caused it. This was a largely heard reaction at the time. Shocked by this justification of the unbelievably cruel violence, Anuradha shoots back with, ?when your maid ran away with your jewelery, did you torch her entire community??

But sadly, during carnage, the masterminds will always have excuses to justify it, and there will be enough people who buy their argument. Many such stories are explored deftly in the film, and you instantly connect with the characters. Kudos to the first-time director for deftly slipping in and out of stories, maintaining the story?s momentum. However, the pace becomes stagnant momentarily, in the second half.

Das?s choice of avoiding showing mobs carrying weapons to create a sense of fear is laudable. She chooses the other, more difficult, path of creating tension by making us feel for the characters and fearing their safety.

She makes a strong point about class divides showing that riots usually affect the poor the most, and stop at the doors of the affluent. Das also brings forward the importance of the television in such times, portraying it both as a vital medium and an evil addiction. You hear the most chilling accounts from victims as the television in on in the background; stories so brutal, you?d think they weren?t possible.

Dialogue, consistently engaging, throws up some gems. When Khan Saab (Naseeruddin Shah), a musician is asked `aren?t you feeling bad that Muslims are being killed?, he replies that he feels miserable that `people are killing people?. In one of the film?s most moving scenes, a local omelet-pav vendor speaks authoritatively about how 'violence is there in their blood' not knowing that Sameer is a Muslim.

Indeed, what Das seems to be doing is asking us to evaluate our own reactions to violence, rather than pointing fingers at those who spearhead it. Firaaq had this writer think back to the eye-opening Hotel Rwanda that also dealt with the horrors of ethnic cleansing.

Firaaq?s entire cast gives a performance from the heart and enacts their characters with complete honesty. If you fear that the film may be overtly violent or disturbing, overcome your trepidations. You don?t want to miss this one.

Verdict: Three-and-a-half stars

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