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Parzania : Cinema That Questions
The Spectator…..

By Anita Ratnam

28 February, 2007

It 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?


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