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Powerful and heart-wrenching.
Parzania is a powerful and heart-wrenching movie that is based on a true story about a Parsi (It is intriguing how the best of Indian literature and films are based on the Parsis. Parzania perhaps was happenstance, but surely not Pestonjee, Being Cyrus, Such A Long Journey etc.) family trapped in the line of fire in the tragic Gujarat riots of 2002. Mr Dholakia certainly deserves all the accolades he has been getting for his sheer courage in choosing to portray this extremely delicate flash-point episode in India's recent history.
The movie is constructed in three acts. In the first, the main characters are set up -- the happy family of Cyrus comprising himself, his wife Shernaz, daughter Dilshad and son Parzan, the disillusioned American studying Gandhi and the rest of the residents of the Muslim-dominated chawl including the sole Hindu family that lives in harmony with the others. In the second act, we see elements of brief consternation shown in the first act coming together and exploding into the pogrom that comes to wreck the lives of Cyrus and his family. The third act is a soul-searching exercise following the aftermath of the first violent 72 hours leading into the denouement of the NHRC hearing -- first the faked exonerating testimonies, then the inevitable admission of guilt by a Hindu followed by a pouring forth of searing indictments. The first act is dated and perhaps the subject matter exonerates the lack of creativity but the overdose of the ensemble introducing itself into the movie in brief flashes/cuts with doses of naive humour made me queasy. The editing could also have done with some.. well, editing. But, needless to say, the powerful pieces of searing human drama follow in the next two acts. Mr Dholakia must be commended till eternity for his decision not to intrude into the story that unrolls slowly with the confrontation between the American and the 'census-takers' and hurtles then on -- the kitschy music in the first act dies out to stone-cold silence, the camera angles are objective and all-encompassing and the actors take control of the movie. The third act is a lot like the quiet sea after a deluge -- the wreckage and flotsam is unmistakable, the cause still lurks within and yet the spite and the rage is painfully bottled up. A final nitpick I had with Mr Dholakia has more to do with the screenplay as such -- chiefly, the necessity of introducing the American into the story. While it may have been done with the intent to appeal to an overseas audience (and that can scarcely be blamed, given our own reluctance to admit folly), it deserved more treatment -- the American's disturbed childhood (believe me when I say however, that it was not as disturbed and as tragic as I had been led to believe and as I have known of some others), his introduction to Gandhi, his impotent, drunken rage and finally -- with a mere sob -- the disavowal of liquor and embrace of Gandhian values was somewhat hurried and jarring.
Next, we come to what really made Parzania work -- the actors. Naseeruddin Shah's portrayal as the patriarch and Sarika's role of the mother were two of the most compelling performances I have seen on screen in a very long time. From a veteran of theatre and film like Naseeruddin Shah, it should come as no surprise how he played the doting Parsi father of Parzan, his 'Tiger', the dutibound cinema projectionist, Shernaz's ever-loving husband, and then a distraught and disparaged human being who has been stripped of his dignity, his faith in humanity and his mental balance from having failed to protect his family -- all to awe-inspiring perfection. Sarika's performance then, is what is a stunning revelation. Her Shernaz is a woman whose universe is snugly wrapped around her husband and her two bubbly kids, and which is mercilessly shorn asunder when the rioting mob invades her chawl and burns it up. Yet, she displays phenomenal strength and resolve hiding her anguish in the innermost vestiges of her heart and only once sobbing uncontrollably (and even then, so as not to add to all that her daughter has been through, locking herself in the bathroom). And while her husband has emotionally detached himself from her and Dilshad following the trauma, it is she who must be brave and unshakeable for Dilshad. Sarika as Shernaz is easily the strongest essay in that role that I have seen. To add to all that, is her ageless, poetic, iridescent beauty -- merely looking at those green eyes are adequate in knowing her joys and her suffering. More than Perzan Dastur's Parzan, it is Pear Barsiwala's Dilshad which impressed me most as the adorable young daughter who plays a foil to Parzan during the happy days, then comes into her own when she escapes the clutches of the fanatics with her mother. She successfully persuades Shernaz to stay with her instead of going to look for Parzan. The shock is surely indelible, but she displays unfathomable pluck in clinging to her innocence and childhood -- she still yearns for the day when her brother will come back to her so that she can tie raakhi on his wrist and waits for nine days in tandem with her father; a penance of her own in desperation. Corin Nemec as the American that stands by Cyrus and family performs capably but as mentioned earlier, is only peripheral to the real drama that unfolds. Raj Zutshi, Sheeba Chaddha and others (particularly the mother who talks of her daughter being raped and gruesomely murdered at the NHRC deposition) embellish Parzania with all their acting prowess.
Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda (1993)
Among Benegal's masterpieces
The movie revolves around the romantic involvement of the protagonist -- Manik Mulla (brilliantly essayed by Rajit Kapur) with three women from different strata of India's social hierarchy: the lower-caste, the middle class, the intelligentsia. The movie is consequently laid out in three parts which are excellently woven together to form a wonderful story with lyrically humorous dialog and excellent performances. Shyam Benegal's direction is flawless and one can notice the characteristic complexities he infuses into his characters. Also, typical of Benegal, is the portrayal of the family co-existing synchronously with society and the protagonist in a perpetual surrealistic state of mind. The finale will leave you dazed and in awe of Benegal's story-telling prowess.
Il postino (1994)
Poetry in motion
A beautiful movie that does an excellent job bringing to life Neruda's love poems and how they touch the life of a simpleton postman. It inspires in one, a spiritual and sensual love for poetry. The music is intricately woven into the fabric of the story, and is surely a high point in the movie. Great cinematography, matched frame by frame with the splendid acting, especially that of Massimo Troisi and Philippe Noiret. Watch this movie if you are disillusioned with the notion of romance, and need some succour.
The movie once again reinforces my admiration for the Italian film-makers. What amazes me is their simplicity in relating a tale, and how subtly pathos is displayed in their movies. This is also evidenced in "Life is Beautiful" and "The Bicycle Thief".
Boys Town (1938)
A fine story of one man's love for the forlorn and another's discovery of humility
A classic tale of one man's belief in the inherent goodness in every human being. Spencer Tracey, in one of his finest performances, essays the role of Father Flanagan who, in spite of mounting pressure from society, champions the cause of juvenile delinquents and gives them a shelter and some much-needed care. But the order in Boys Town is marred by the reluctant entry of Whitey Marsh (played effortlessly by Mickey Rooney), a cocky street-smart urchin who loathes having to adjust his ways to suit the others. However, as the events unwind, Whitey slowly starts loving Boys Town so much so that he stakes his life for it. What impressed me about the movie most was the brilliant performance from Spencer Tracey - a delicate balance of charm, wit, care and enormous willpower.