“Firaaq” is a commendable first attempt for actress turned director Nandita Das. It starts with very potent words – “This film is a work of fiction based on a thousand true stories”. Set a month after the violence in Gujarat, India in 2002, during which thousands of people, mostly Muslims, but many Hindu’s as well, were killed or lynched for being who they were – Muslims or Hindu’s.
The film shows us that the casualties of this tragedy were more than the dead – many of the living were forced to live in isolation or persecution. It successfully traces how people’s lives continued to be affected because of their interdependency on each other. In a country of many diverse languages and persuasions, rickshaw could be driven by Muslims and stores owned by Hindus and if any one side rejected the other, paralysis would set in because people would rely so intimately on each other. We see this by way of a slice of life approach of interconnected stories, proving how well integrated any tolerant society can be unless that calm is disturbed. In violence and madness there is no rationality and India’s secularism and tolerance was put to the test during this period.
Of all the different people we follow, the most interesting plot thread is what happens to an interfaith couple. How they deal with the aftermath with friends and immediate family is examined with sufficient depth. The husband, whose name Sameer is common (and very popular) as both a Muslim and Hindu name, has some truly great moments of introspection that reflects one of the challenges of the diversity. Veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah is also outstanding as a Muslim teacher of music to a mostly Hindu student base, who seems shielded by the extent of the riots thanks to his protective servant.
That the film is just and fair in many of its portrayals is unquestionable. Because Muslims were more severely persecuted and were also the racial minority, their suffering was enormous; this film acknowledges well. The choice to set the film a month after the actual event is unique but also thematically timid however in the grand scope of things. As powerful as the film was, I was left wondering how much more it would have conveyed if it had been made in the spirit of Paul Greengrass’ “Bloody Sunday” or even the French film about the Paris massacre “October 17th 1961”, both of which share similarities with Firaaq in structure and tone. For audiences unfamiliar with the history behind the event or its background, opening title cards may not be enough to make them understand why whatever happened occurred in the first place. Had the film, through its various narratives, explored this, which I think it didn’t, it may have had more resonance.
- by Faizan Rashid [Rated 3 out of 5]