Saturday, May 02, 2009
I want to applaud Nandita Das to have chosen a complex theme—the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots—for her directorial debut, Firaaq (2008). As a (co)writer-director, her heart is certainly in the right place but the film as a narrative (structurally) does not work for me.
The four or five story tracks, all dealing with one or other aspect of the Gujarat riots, muddle the flow of the narrative. The problem is not with the editing or how the sequences segue into each other but with the choice of the stories and their episodic nature. Each story seems to be a stand alone piece. As the narrative progresses, they all hurtle towards climaxes of their own, frittering away the combined tension (and its resolution) that could have resulted had they all converged into a confluence. Would that be too tricky or clichéd (a la Priyadarshan)? That is certainly debatable.
The tracks themselves are fascinating on their own. I loved the Naseeruddin Shah/Raghuvir Yadav track. Naseer plays the Muslim musician’s character with so much depth and dignity. The portrayal was so poignant (especially the conclusion where Naseer finally admits: Music does not have the power to transcend such great communal hatred). To which Yadav’s character, the ever so scared and paranoid Muslim assistant, says: If you start thinking like this, what hope is there for people like me?
While watching the film, I was as aghast as Naseer’s character was when we found out that Wali Dakhni’s grave had been razed and a road had been built on that ground by the government of Gujarat. If Wali, a part of our history and heritage, is not important in India, then what place is there (in modern India) for insignificant souls like me?
The Deepti Naval/Paresh Rawal track is saved by the small boy whose haunting eyes ask all viewers at the end of the movie: what wrong did I do? Why is my present pathetic and future bleak? Why am I in a ghetto? Gosh, who can stand those innocent searching eyes?
The Tisca Chopra/Sanjay suri track (the use of a neutral name Samir in a communally charged city, Hindu Muslim marriage) was interesting. What Samir does at the end really required a lot of balls. In real life, as a Muslim, it would be hard for me to admit what he admitted. The autodriver and his wife’s track is perhaps the most muddled one. So many things happen to them on screen and yet their characters are not that well developed. The director also shows a little weakness in executing some scenes in this episode.
Firaaq means separation in Urdu. The film shows the separation of the two communities—Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat. Where are the villains who are creating this communal rift, who control the mechanics of the flow of hatred in the birthplace of Gandhi? The film does not ask this question and that perhaps has enfeebled this entire project. But, honestly, I can’t even blame Nandita for not taking this route to tell her story. Till today, even after the Tehelka expose, the Godhra incident remains an unsolved mystery and many of the perpetrators of the Gujarat communal carnage still remain unpunished. Nandita Das , through the depiction of the human condition in her film, reminds us of the injustice of Gujarat, a witness to her moral strength, courage, sense of justice and noble-mindedness.