Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Firaaq: A hard-hitting debut by Nandita Das
The camera moves breathlessly through the dark alleys, following the two men as one chases the other. An old man watches flickering images on television, his face revealing myriad emotions every second. A group of men argue in a dingy, ruined shop, even as a child watches wide-eyed.
These are some images from Nandita Das’ “Firaaq” which will stay with you long after you have left the theatre. These are images that have been shot with as much passion as skill, both of which come through on screen.
Das uses the technique of an ensemble film, centred on one major incident. Nishikant Kamat used it in “Mumbai Meri Jaan”. So did the Brad Pitt-starrer “Babel”. In this case, the connection is the aftermath of the Gujarat riots.
The entire film spans over a period of 24 hours or less, and provides a glimpse into five families, so to speak, each of whom are connected one way or other to the riots of 2002.
There is the scared housewife Aarti (played with élan by Deepti Naval) who finds the courage to stand up to her abusive husband (Paresh Rawal), the young couple who have overcome their fears (Tisca Chopra and Sanjay Suri), and Muneera who finds her friendship with a Hindu tested during those 24 hours.
There is also Naseeruddin Shah’s character, a musician who appears seemingly disjointed from reality, but finds solace in the end.
Das has a real affection for her characters and Ravi K. Chandran’s camera takes the film to another level. Also, each of the stories have their own compelling moments.
My only problem with “Firaaq” is that at the end, I didn’t come away with the feeling that I had watched an entire film — it seemed like too much of a disjointed effort to me, and this is a thin line that you tread while watching ensemble films like this one.
The subject of the film, I must say is a tough one to handle and Das does so with great maturity, rare for a first-time director. There is hardly any violence shown in the film, and yet it is conveyed really effectively. Also at a running time of two hours, this isn’t too long.
Watch “Firaaq” for some sensitive stories and get a sense of how communal riots affect people on the ground. After last week’s “Gulaal”, this is another hard-hitting film that will expose you to a reality you may not have known exists.