: Cinema That Questions
By Anita Ratnam
28 February, 2007
is not easy to go and watch a film like Parzania without a heavy heart.
Or without curiosity about how the film would treat a subject so complex
and so recent in our collective memory. The Bajrang Dal wants the film
banned and it is not being screened in Gujarat – facts that have
generated a nation wide debate on the implications of such a film for
our society. Even those who have no basic disagreement with what the
film says, are sceptical about whether it will reopen old wounds, frighten
minorities or provoke Muslims into retaliation. Yet, what the film has
to say to the larger "Hindu" audience is what makes this a
powerful and significant film.
With the facts of what happened
in Gulbarg Society that day in 2002 forming the backdrop, Parzania comes
across as a straight talking film, not budging from the reports that
have emerged on that carnage. No attempts at either adding masala or
toning down the gruesomeness; and the filmmaker has not diluted or soft-pedalled
on the gory and violent nature of what happened in Gujarat in 2002.
Its honesty is brutal.
More than that, it is the
way the characters emerge, the brewing of hatred, the complex and compassionate
interplay between the insiders and the foreigner, the mothers guilt
at "losing" her son, her dilemma when the distraught and shaken
daughter cries "be alive for me, mama", the attacker who in
a flash of kindness lets a young Muslim woman escape, Chotu's moments
of bravery and anguish, that makes this a special movie. The film does
not flinch from looking at pain squarely and slowly- a father's coming
to terms with loss of a son, a son who wants to take revenge for his
fathers murder (but finally lets his girlfriend's sense prevail), a
young man who tries to drown his pain in self-destruction and finds
his peace in reaching out to those in despair. It is these nuances that
make Parzania both wholesome and sensitive.
As scene after scene unfolded,
one sensed a very brave and passionate film, with delightful detailing
from the broken bumper on Allen's car to Parzaan's cricket commentary
to the jars in Shehnaaz's kitchen.
In many ways Parzania is
the anti-thesis of Bollywood fare. The women in the story are not mere
decorative objects, but pillars of strength and wisdom, even while the
male characters are trying to cope with their rage and sorrow by "going
away", planning counter attacks or drowning in alcohol. The villains
are not all evil looking monsters, but angelic neighbours, police who
pretend to help and benign looking politicians. The victims do not take
law into their own hands and wreak righteous vengeance as in many blockbusters.
The heroes are not larger than life, just ordinary people, parents,
a sister reconciling to the loss of her dream-maker brother and little
boys who deliver newspapers (and hooch) on bicycles. On all these counts,
Parzania, despite its tragic content, is a delight.
In terms of philosophical
underpinnings the film is able to highlight both the value and the incongruity
of Gandhi's ideas. The power of religion to arouse hatred and to comfort
the broken hearted. The strength and the vulnerability that comes from
loving. The power and the powerlessness of the judicial process in the
face of life-threats that witnesses face. It tells you, without preaching,
that ideas, emotions, principles and systems are what we make of them-
nothing more, nothing less.
And finally, the audience
is compelled to leave the cinema hall without a contrived "happy
ever after ending". A happy placebo finale would settle well with
a popcorn munching audience emerging from a PVR multiplex into the bowels
of one of our sanitised malls where goodies of all kinds lull you into
thinking all is well with the world. In fact, the film confronts the
audience with the long-term schisms in our world as it dwells on the
aftermath of the violence and unhurriedly explores its impact on individuals,
families, and whole communities.
A comment on the film must
also touch upon how the audience reacted to such an open indictment
of the Hindutva Brigade? During the film, one heard laughter a few times,
silence that almost screamed at other moments.
Halfway through, there were
sounds of sobbing from the row in front of me. Was this a "Muslim"
who had lost a loved one in Gujarat? When the lights came on, I discreetly
looked to see who it was and saw a young woman (definitely not Muslim)
sobbing and unable to get up from her seat. I hung around a bit and
realised she had come alone. She was too disturbed to even stand up.
I went and put my arm around her silently. She just buried her face
in my bosom, held me tight and cried like a baby. After a while, this
young woman looked up and said-" am not crying because the movie
is sad. Am crying because I am feeling so useless- have been a spectator
too long - not just inside the cinema- but in life too.. Cant live like
this any more" …
We all know that Secularism,
sanity, safety cannot become real, if we remain "spectators".
But how many movies remind us of this, and so poignantly?