Every now and again comes a film that shakes you. A film that deeply affects you and the core purpose of the film goes beyond the realms of cinema as being just “entertainment” as the purpose then turns into “education”. Yes, the best of commercial director’s ala Santoshi is able to merge commercialism with realism, portraying the social message in a commercial format, however on the other hand we have directors like Rahul Dholakia who take an event/issue and portray it with utmost reality, conviction without adding any commercial elements into the movie. These movies are usually a bleak watch; nonetheless prove to be a rewarding and eye-opening experience and PARZANIA falls into the same category. Dholakia brings to screen the Godhra riots and the aftermath of the riots. Inspired by a true story the movie narrates the heart breaking story of a Parsi family, living in a Muslim colony in the state of Gujarat. The riots break out and the family lose their 10 year-old son. A simple story on paper by Dholakhia turns into one of the most hellish and horrific films I’ve seen in recent times. The screenplay by Dholakia and David Donihue starts off establishing the milieu of where the horror is about to take place as well as establishing the key players of the movie.
The build-up to the actual riots is slow allowing enough time for the viewers to build a bond with the family. Once the riots begin the movie takes a gripping and shocking turn which in many instances is a hard watch. The pace does flounder a little in the second half; however the movie still manages to retain the viewer’s interest as the viewers are given an insight into the scars left by such a tragedy. First, Mr. Dholakia certainly deserves all the accolades he has been getting for his sheer courage in choosing to portray this extremely delicate flash-point episode in India’s recent history. Dholakia made his debut with the inane comedy KEHTA HAI DIL BAAR BAAR, however after watching PARZANIA it’s evident that his forte lies in handling a complex, and realistic film like PARZANIA.
The movie is constructed in three acts. In the first, the main characters are set up — the happy family of Cyrus comprising himself, his wife Shernaz, daughter Dilshad and son Parzan, the disillusioned American studying Gandhi and the rest of the residents of the Muslim-dominated chawl including the sole Hindu family that lives in harmony with the others. In the second act, we see elements of brief consternation shown in the first act coming together and exploding into the pogrom that comes to wreck the lives of Cyrus and his family. The third act is a soul-searching exercise following the aftermath of the first violent 72 hours leading into the denouement of the NHRC hearing — first the faked exonerating testimonies, then the inevitable admission of guilt by a Hindu followed by a pouring forth of searing indictments. The first act is dated and perhaps the subject matter exonerates the lack of creativity but the overdose of the ensemble introducing itself into the movie in brief flashes/cuts with doses of naive humor made me queasy. That’s not to say the first act didn’t work, but in a film of this nature, the first act becomes a cliché of sorts as the viewer knows exactly what is about to unfold next.
The next two acts on the other hand must be commended till eternity. The actual riots sequences are portrayed in searing reality and utmost conviction. Dholakia and vet action director Sham Kaushal create a stunning 20-minute sequence of frenzied rioting, torching and mass destruction as a group of Hindu radicals goes on a bloodthirsty rampage that targets anyone who isn’t of their faith. As mentioned before, I found these scenes to be some of the most affecting, and thoroughly horrific scenes I’ve seen in a while. The realism and barbaric brutality that happened in the riots have been shown with unflinching honest and Dhoalkia must be given full credit for NOT deviating from his core aim. Now there is a section of people who will question WHY IS THE HINDUS SHOWN AS VILLAINS AND MUSLIMS IN A SYMPATHETIC LIGHT? Frankly, if you’re questioning that after watching PARZANIA, then you’ve missed the point!! It wouldn’t have mattered whether Dholakia chose to portray the movie from the “Hindu” or “Muslim” point of view, as while watching the movie I (as a Hindu) simply didn’t care! The movie goes beyond religion and in many ways questions the reasoning behind our beliefs. The chants of JAI SIYA RAM sound equally scary as the chants of ALLAH HO and to think any “religion” or “god” condones acts of violence like this is pure inanity to say the least.
Having the movie from a Parsi stand-point is also a masterstroke as they are neither Hindu nor Muslim which adds to the blindness and fanaticism of such tragedies. The third act though slow, still manages to leave a hammer-strong impact as it examines and studies the after-math of the riots. One of the most startlingly beautiful moments in the movie which again questions the reasoning behind our belief is when Sarika holds her daughter closely to her and prays to god. On one hand our faith is what keeps us alive, our faith is what confirms us, our faith is what gives us hope and also gives us strength, and at the same time all the violence and horror around her is being caused in the name of the same “god”? Searingly beautiful! The expose of the politics involved with the riots too is an eye-opener right from the involvement of the police to the politicians, truly a tragic state of affairs. The court-room scenes towards the end are excellent to say the least. A film like PARZANIA will also evoke arguments, discussions and also raise some excellent points for debates. The film in many ways raises more questions than it answers and in my view for the better. The biggest crime is that PARZANIA has been banned in the state of Gujarat. The people of Gujarat need to see this movie as the movie is about, for them!
The major nitpick I had with Dholakia was the inclusion of an American character in the movie. The character’s thoughts and ideals I found absolutely fantastic, Corin Nemec as Allan gives a brilliant performance. While it may have been done with the intent to appeal to an overseas audience (and that can scarcely be blamed, given our own reluctance to admit folly), it deserved more treatment — the American’s disturbed childhood (believe me when I say however, that it was not as disturbed and as tragic as I had been led to believe and as I have known of some others), his introduction to Gandhi, his impotent, drunken rage and finally — with a mere sob — the disavowal of liquor and embrace of Gandhian values was somewhat hurried and jarring. On another ironical level, having a “white outsider” being prevalent when such an event occurs watching the nightmare unfold is insightfully strange to say the least. There was a time when the “whites” were our enemy, and here is a time when we’re our own worst enemy! Dholakia himself a Parsi makes it no surprise that he is an ardent follower of Gandhi’s values and ideals. The movie is laden with Gandhi’s famous quotes (AN EYE…FOR AN EYE..AND THE WORLD GOES BLIND which was also used by Kashyaps BLACK FRIDAY).
The other slight problem I had with the movie was that the entire movie was in English for the most with some Gujarati and Hindi thrown in. Once again I believe this is Dholakia’s way of appealing to a wider audience, however in this case it does stand out in many ways for the worse as the dialogues don’t sound natural in all places. The film also has a HEAVY usage of expletives which makes OMKARA look like play-school and words like “fuck” and “ben-chod” are used frequently though I should add that they only add to the authenticity of the movie and are NOT there for gimmick purposes.
Next, we come to what really made PARZANIA work — the actors. Naseeruddin Shah’s portrayal as the patriarch and Sarika’s role of the mother were two of the most compelling performances in recent times. Nasseruddin Shah’s has played a Parsi to perfection before in THE ENCOUNTER and BEING CYRUS, yet he still manages to add another facet to the persona, and in turn brings the character of Cyrus to life! Shah brings so much warmth and sincerity to his “everyday guy” performance, that when the riots to occur your heart cries out for him. Given the stature and talent of Shah, I actually found his performance in a first half a little subdued, however he makes up for it in the second half. The affected Cyrus when he goes on his 9 days of solace is simply startling and Shah’s ability in portraying Cyrus’s unrest mind is amazing. The scene in the cinema hall as the “truth” comes to him is just amazing, and Shah’s facial expressions will evoke a tear. Undoubtedly one of India’s finest actors; Shah strikes again with a performance that makes us sit up and take notice. However it would be unfair to say the film is dominated by him, as Sarika is equally (if not more) powerful here. Sarika’s performance is a stunning revelation. Her Shernaz is a woman whose universe is snugly wrapped around her husband and her two bubbly kids, and which is mercilessly shorn asunder when the rioting mob invades her chawl and burns it up. Yet, she displays phenomenal strength and resolve hiding her anguish in the innermost vestiges of her heart and only once sobbing uncontrollably (and even then, so as not to add to all that her daughter has been through, locking herself in the bathroom).
The courtroom scene in the climax is yet another testament to Sarika’s acting ability and she doesn’t disappoint. Parzan Dastur’s Parzan is an innocent and unforgettable performance as the face of the young boy haunts you long after the final reels are over. For those that don’t remember this is the same little boy from Karan Johar’s KUCH KUCH HOTA HAI who had the famous lines to Kajol “Tussi mat jao”! More than Dastur’s Parzan, it is Pear Barsiwala’s Dilshad which impressed me most as the adorable young daughter who plays a foil to Parzan during the happy days, then comes into her own when she escapes the clutches of the fanatics with her mother. She successfully persuades Shernaz to stay with her instead of going to look for Parzan. The shock is surely indelible, but she displays unfathomable pluck in clinging to her innocence and childhood. Colin Nemec’s performance itself is praiseworthy and the actor does a fine job. His out bursts at the India, the politics and his thoughts on Gandhi make-up for an interesting watch to say the least, but as mentioned earlier the character at times sticks out.
Raj Zutsi, Sheeba Chaddha, Asif Basra are all superb in their respective parts. This is Zutsi’s best performance in a long time. Pushpendra Saini who plays the Gandhian in the movie is outstanding to say the least. The movie features an array of supporting actors who play the residents, policemen, politicians etc and they are all spot on. Technically the cameraman has tried to be as authentic as possible when capturing the movie on celluloid which works well here. Sham-Kaushals riot sequences are award worthy as mentioned earlier. Zakir Hussains music too is masterful and soulful PARZANIA is a far cry from the commercial cinema that Bollywood is for the most made-up of and the scene where a huge poster of Karan Johar’s KABHIE KHUSHI KABHIE GHAM is burnt and tattered serves as a reminder that the world of PARZANIA is entirely different. a must-watch. All up PARZANIA is highly recommend, be prepared for an incredibly real and deeply impacting movie which makes us question...WHY?