Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

January 26, 2007

Hard truth

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:17 pm

January 26, 2007

Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Sarika, Parzan Dastur

Director: Rahul Dholakia

For at least a few days after I attended a screening of Parzania, I couldn’t stop talking about the film to everyone I met. It may not be the greatest film I’ve seen, and it’s not the kind of film I could watch over and over again. And yet, it’s a film I’ll recommend to as many people I can.

Directed by Rahul Dholakia, Parzania is a film set in post-Godhra Gujarat, about an innocent family whose sanctity and peace is lost forever, after the horrifying communal riots of 2002. Based on a true incident, the film follows the story of a Parsi couple Cyrus and Shernaz Peethawala, played by Naseeruddin Shah and Sarika, whose 10-year-old son goes missing in the riots.

The film tracks the couple’s repeated and continuing efforts to find their boy who seems to have vanished without a trace. The film also sheds light on the manner in which everyone from politicians to the police exploited that climate for their own personal benefit.

The thing about Parzania that makes it so relevant is the fact that such a tragedy could strike anyone. Worse still is the not entirely unjustified fear that we live in a country where a situation like Godhra and the riots that ensued could happen all over again. What you appreciate most about Dholakia’s film is its completely balls-out approach to be as upfront, honest and factual as possible, without mincing words, without trying to sugarcoat and without trying to soft-peddle the truth.

Having said that, it’s also true that Dholakia steers clear of sensationalism, and that whole beating-the-chest style of grabbing attention. Dholakia tells the story as it is, and because the story itself is so tragic, it doesn’t need to be dramatised for effect.

Now there’s no doubt that Parzania will throw up many questions about important issues like religious intolerance and communal polarisation, but sitting in that seat watching that film unfold, what you’ll find yourself being drawn into is the heart-wrenching human story that forms the film’s real core. Who cannot identify with the pain and suffering of a mother whose son is nowhere to be found? Who cannot relate to the helplessness of a man whose family is uprooted for no fault of theirs?

There’s no doubt whatsoever that much of Parzania‘s appeal lies in the superlative performances delivered by its protagonist pair. Naseeruddin Shah makes Cyrus Peethawala such a flesh-and-blood character that you can relate to his trauma completely. As a desperate father looking for his missing son amidst a heap of corpses, pleading to corrupt police officers, turning to faith to see him through difficult times, Naseer plays the part with instinct, bringing the kind of believability that only great actors can strum up. However it’s Sarika who truly steals the show, infusing her character with a next-door-housewife kind of authenticity, and then she backs it up with such spontaneous passion as the angry mother unwilling to give up the search. It’s a performance that stays with you long after the lights come back on.

I recommend Parzania because it documents a shameful chapter out of a past that cannot be erased. It’s a film that must be watched because it’s important to see what happens to innocent people when religious politics take over. I’m impressed by Parzania also because director Dholakia spares us the sermonising. Instead, he vents his own feelings through that character of the American student who hammers out diatribe after angry diatribe on his rusty typewriter, condemning the fanatical fire fueled by a selfish government.

There is great beauty also in the film’s title, derived from the name of the imaginary world that little Parzan creates for his sister and himself. I’m going to go with three out of five and a suggestion not to miss Rahul Dholakia’s Parzania, a chilling story about real human loss in the face of communal violence. It’s like that bolt of electricity that’s sometimes needed to shake you up and wake you up.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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