Saturday, January 16, 2010

Firaaq 2008--"in camera"

*Nandita Das ( director )* Gujarati, English, Hindi*101m*Deepti Naval, Tisca Chopra, Naseerudin Shah, Raghuvir Raghav, Paresh Rawal*

Perhaps the best film about the holocaust is Alan Resnais' Nuit et Bruillard ( Night and Fog ), in which the tragic events are examined in a very indirect manner as reflections, and we see no brutality on screen. Similarly, the same director frames the nuclear holocaust in a melodrama Hiroshima mon Amour, and the actual tragedy ( transcending the power of imagination ) comes to our consciousness at a degree of separation, through a corner of the eye as it were, that makes it all the more unforgettable. The maybe one minute sequence of charred two legged creatures as they lurch towards the river is a permanent image in my mind. More recently Munyurangabo, from the Korean American director Lee Isaac Chung relates the Rwandan genocide in a retrospective story about two teenagers, which leaves a more powerful impression than the older bloodsoaked Hotel Rwanda, which covered the same ground.

The post Godhra events have deeply scarred the subcontinental psyche, and one may be grateful to the maker of Firaaq from sparing us the gruesome details which we can more easily imagine, rather than have them rubbed in once again. Instead, she skillfully focuses her camera on the society of Ahmedabad a month after the pogrom, and examines the volcano through it's aftermath. Interweaving several strands of narrative into a  rivetting movie experience, one is left with a graphic and authentic picture of the ghastliness of what must have been. The strength of the movie is the authentic under current of humanism.

Arti (Deepti Naval) is married to the brutish Paresh Rawal, trying to save his younger brother from prosecution on charges of involvement in a gang rape during the carnage. Arti herself is unable to forget her failure to rescue a woman fleeing from the marauding mob. Anuradha Desai (Tisca Chopra)  is married to a well-to-do Muslim businessman, contemplating a shift to Delhi. Muneera ( Shahana Goswami ) is a Muslim lady whose house was burnt down. Comically, a group of Muslim friends fight for the ownership of a pistol and a single over-sized bullet, which occidentally goes off, provoking a police chase sequence. Khan Sahib, a somewhat demented music teacher, lives in isolation, with his faithful attendant Karim ( Raghubir Yadav ) till he begins to understand that the world which was his has ceased to exist. And there is an orphan child Mohsin ( Mohammad Samad ) who has seen it all, the killings and burnings, but too small to undestand it--perhaps he thinks that is what life is. The film ends on a faint note of optimism as Mohsin is returned to the refugee camp.

The film is alive, cinematographically. The suburban landscape with our ubiquitous three-wheelers, the narrow lanes flanked by avenues of multistoreyed, old, ornate and ramshackle dwellings give true three dimensionality to this stage of erstwhile carnage. The cocktail of languages and endless variety of dialects is our very own and familiar tower of babel.  Nowhere does it strike a false note. Form is seamlessly blended with content, faulting towards restraint rather than excess.

A remarkable debut which succeeds splendidly in what it sets out to achieve. This places Nandita Das squarely as an emergent force in cinema.
Review: Gaurav Malani


Ronak M Soni said...

Sounds interesting. I'll probably watch it this week.

Anonymous said...

Somewhat I haven't managed to watch it yet. Nevertheless Nandita Das had to move on from her dazzling and courageous performances to a higher ground - directing. I find myself putting her into line with great Aparna Sen but most with gorgeous Shabana Azmi. So I'll definitely watch it this week.