'Such movies should not be made when it is peace time!' ~Mom
'How come they release such movies just before the elections?' ~Friend 1
'Pure exploitation. People suffered, yaar and these people want to make money out of it...' ~Friend 2
This is what happens when you do not watch the movie before your environment does. Rare occasions these, where I get so many opinions. All hinting at the same thing - yet another riot movie. So there I was, almost 2 weeks since the movie released and already put off by these comments. The only factor that would tickle my decision making faculties was the fact that it marks Nandita's debut as a director. They finally decided to give a nod ahead.
And what a good decision it was. What a movie – I was totally blown away. The movie is much similar in thought and intention as a Mumbai Meri Jaan (or a Parzania even) - to some extent in treatment as well. But, I felt this movie was tighter in narration and notches better in direction. Where a Mumbai Meri Jaan ropes in some amount of commercialism in the form of heavy dialogues and light humor, or a Parzania grips you by showing explicit scenes of rioting, Firaaq revels in subtlety. The plot drives the movie – no story with a start and a finish – is a day; yes, just one day; in the lives of 10-12 people 1 month after the shameful riots in Gujarat. It talks about people in varying age groups from various strata of the society both economically and socially and their ‘day in the life after riots’. Much like Mumbari Meri Jaan - where the director quite nicely portrays the lives of ordinary Mumbaikars after 7/11. Firaaq talks about a young Muslim couple from a lower economic background who have their house burnt, a Hindustani classical singer (lost in his own world refusing to accept the existence of evil) with a loyal helper and a (Hindu) doctor who also forms his only audience, a higher middle class Hindu-Muslim couple, a set of 4 Muslim friends from the botttom social strata, 2 friends - a Hindu girl and a Muslim gir, a Gujju couple and a common friend & of course the little boy through whose eyes we quite start seeing the movie in the latter half.
Where a Mumbai Meri Jaan leaves us with a communally unbiased taste, Firaaq concentrates on the minority group and its suffering, much like Parzania. Time and again the question of ‘Why not cover Hindu’s losses’ is raised; both by the characters in the movie and by our minds in the audience - and Nandita puts a stop to all such questions when one of the character mentions – ‘Yes, our losses – covered by insurance!’ While not all might agree to that statement, I thought the statement in itself is much loaded.
With little or no background score, the onus was on squarely on the director, actors and the cameraman to build tension. All of them do it with ease and élan. Nandita has got her touches in quite a few scenes and certain frames stick to the mind like photographs, long after the movie is over. Not a single riot scene is shown, though the opening sequence is quite bold. Yet, throughout the 2 hours Nandita is able to maintain the tension amongst the audience. The curfew due to a possible riot that evening is shown – and you find yourself just short of gripping the arm of your chair. The scene where a set of young and inflamed Muslims see the pistol for the first time - they place it on a table and gather around it like little children to marvel at the newfound symbol of power. The childlike glint in each eye is superbly captured. The touch lies not here - but in showing the little kid walking across them in the background as if to contrast the blisfully ignorant child's mind to the power-corrupt minds of the youth. The closing scene where the child go backs to the camp, refusing to take part in a game of marbles and taking his seat near Nasser, each looking once at each other, and then the camera zooms in to the child's face as it begins to accept the new changed life is a beauty. The movie is punctuated with profound and poignant dialogues. There is this wonderfully crafted dialogue where Tisca Chopra says 'Our life is packed in boxes...' which seems like a nod to the famous 'Life is a box of chocolates'. Then there is Nasseruddin Shah exclaiming 'The giver (God) is blind!' And, these dialogues bewarned wouldn't come with crescendo backed music or be preceded with pregnant silences. They would be spilled out in the most obvious manner - like you or I were to be in their shoes.
Where in a screen time of 120 minutes one chooses to fit in an array of powerhouse performers - most established directors would struggle to do justice to each. And this is one area where Nandita decides to let the narrative decide. And what a touch of class this move turns out to be. Barring Nasser, each one of the actors shares near equal screen time and establish their characters effortlessly in less than half a minute. Tamil actor, Nasser – one of the most irrationally underused and wasted actors of all time, is seen in a delightful 2 scene cameo – opening and closing. Performance wise – almost everyone comes up aces. Paresh Rawal, Nasseruddin Shah seem to be doing a daily chore while portraying the respective character – excelling in a delightfully non-chalant way. Sanjay Suri essays a character which, if the budget permitted, would have been bagged by Madhavan. Raghuveer Yadav is brilliant in his little character, as is Dipti Naval as the troubled soul. The young Muslim couple is the only underfit (not a misfit, mind you, they were sincere and in any other assembly would have been stand out - but here they fade) amongst this ensemble of brilliant performers. Due credit to Sreekar Prasad who has edited the movie in as crisp a fashion as seen ever. Not a single moment of wasted screen time. Nandita, in yet another display of amazing maturity makes a brilliant film making decision; she restrains from interlocking the lives of the plot holders leading to a high tension climax, which I thought added much more realism while compromising on the masses. The emotions are under check - and the result is a most objective display of a 'work of fiction - inspired by a thousand true stories!'
Overall – for its many moments and freshness in spite of being a follower to Parzania and MMJ; Firaaq stands on its own. It is not as hard hitting as a Parzania. It doesn't have the national/ mass appeal of a Mumbai Meri Jaan. It has its share of charm - not in conten - but in style.
Into the night we all go
Troubled minds and bags
Life as we know, no longer so
Little faces wake up with a grin
The scar from yesterday fades
A new life begins!