Firaaq is not as much of a turn-off as the fact that it has won 6 international awards would suggest. Perhaps that is because you go prepared for the fact that it has won 6 international awards and so keep your expectations at the, er, expected level, or it is because people who knowingly go to movies that have won 6 international awards are the kind that would enjoy them anyway. Anyway, it is better than Aamir
, even if that's not saying much.
To be fair to it, Firaaq is not made for mainstream audiences - it is made for critics and film festivals, and if it can find people who will pay to watch it, that's a bonus. It has all the ingredients that would make a movie from India win international awards - i. e., poverty and slums. And the main faces in the cast are Deepti Naval, Naseeruddin Shah and Paresh Rawal, which make its case irrefutable.
A movie showcasing the profiling and terrorising of innocent Muslims post the Godhra attacks of 2002, Firaaq does an excellent job of being judgemental while looking completely non-judgemental. On the face of it, the film showcases the lives of everyday Muslims in Ahmedabad in the weeks immediately after the attacks, including an auto-rickshaw driver and his wife, an aging singer, a kid who's been orphaned by the riots, and a new-age businessman whose shop has been looted.
They are all victimized both by the administration and by ordinary citizens who are wary and almost xenophobically intolerant of Muslims after the attacks. The movie has no specific story, and like a true art film, ends totally randomly, unless, of course, you are willing to dig really deep to activate that part of your brain that handles subtle metaphors.
Sure, Firaaq is not made for entertainment; its maker - Nandita Das - has a point she wishes to make, and a style she chooses to do that in. By those parameters, any movie would be a good movie, of course, but even giving her the benefit of that doubt, you can't help see the biases inherent in her take of a very sensitive subject, which is essentially what makes this a less-than-haloed movie.
The biases come out in how naively anti-Muslim sentiments are denounced in the movie. For example, a universal gripe in India - that the English TV and print media give more footage and sympathy when Muslim/Christian victims are involved than when Hindu victims are involved, thus appearing "psuedo-secular" - is made to look despicable because it is a despicable person in the movie mouthing it.
Then, every time a point is made about how it was some Muslims that started it all - again a point that Das has
to address given how many people feel that way - it is made by someone portrayed as coarse (a street-side vendor once, and an opinionated housewife at another time), in the direct presence of a silently-suffering victim, and quickly put down through sound arguments by educated and statesmanly hangers-around. Hardly the most mature way of handling the issue.
There are 2 commonly-held opinions of the Godhra riots (fullhyd.com endorses neither of them). The first is that the riots were heinous, quasi-genocidal acts of rape, mutilation and murder of innocent people, planned and executed by ruthless communal politicians interested in consolidating their votebanks and nothing else. The second is the more complicated, and seemingly insensitive, argument that the riots were a necessary evil to protect innocent Hindus from future attacks.
People of this opinion hold that the original perpetrators who torched a train targeted innocent Hindus themselves due to a traditional perception that Hindus are weak, and that these criminals can never be punished directly by the law (since no one knows who did it or where to find them).
The only way then, they argue, to ensure that they never do it again and that more innocent Hindus do not die as such criminals get emboldened, was to unleash a backlash that serves as a deterrent against such attacks again. For fear of what would happen to innocent people of their own community if they targeted innocent people of another community, they would not repeat, is the argument. Before calling us primitive, suggest an alternative, is their stance.
The problem with Firaaq, given how consistently it focuses only
on the victimised Muslims (however much they deserve such focus), is that it is blatant in wearing its support for one stance on its sleeve, showing only one side of this complicated debate and belittling the other instead of suggesting any sensitive solutions.
Naseeruddin Shah is brilliant as an aging Muslim artist who won't see evil, and the film in general has good performances and intelligent portrayal of emotions - and good dialogues for Bollywood standards. A low-budget movie that shows it by appearing in 35mm, this one may not be the greatest of arthouse flicks, but is rather okay from a debutante director. Hopefully Das will present more balanced views hereon.