This movie had been into my list for long. Based on Godhra riots, this was probably the only movie in the last decade to have been banned in Gujarat. While the government, officially, did not ban it but cinema owners, in anticipation of violence, refused to screen it and the government did not provide any specific assurance to protect them in case such thing happens.
While I was not sure how correct or incorrect the decision was, it couldn’t be confirmed without watching the film. There were two major purposes to judge this movie – first, to judge the movie from the technical point of view if it did justice to the issue – and second, to see if there was anything in the movie that posed an eminent threat of violence in the state.
It was one of the finest pieces of cinema I had seen in the last 10 years. Sarika and Naseeruddin Shah give their best performances till date along with all the other actors. There were some gripping moments in the movie which swings along three dimensions – the main story of Parzan, the conspiracy theory and the journey of Allen. The de-glam and de-dramatized (something which can’t be expected, had this movie been made by any Indian director, especially Prakash Jha) depiction of the events instantly connects with the audience and holds you to your breath till the end. Although, one spoiler in the movie is the stereotyping of the characters – the ministers, the police and the right wing extremists – which sometimes goes to the extent of being cheesy.
However, the movie offers some shots to ponder about.
- Asif – because of few Muslims, the entire community gets disgraced
It was one of the scenes that projects how an entire community suffers because of act of few. This fact not only holds true across religions but also across nationalities, castes and states. The same scene also links to the conversation between Asif and Nikhat in the later part of the movie, where Nikhat explains Asif that replying back to the massacre by another massacre of innocent people is not the right way. Fight between few people of two communities should not consume lives of other innocents who live peacefully. If we really want to end this, question should be asked to the actual people who did this – and not with a sword or a gun in hand.
- Plight of Chhagan – dilemma of humanity vs. own life
While people might hate the character of Chhagan, in general, but I would believe there would be many who would understand his situation. When the rioters moved to kill him, he used his advantage of being a Hindu and was forced to help them to see them kill hundreds of people in front of his own eyes. The question we need to ask ourselves is what we would have done if we were at his place – as the dilemma is not whether you should be secular or not, but whether we put our life before others or the other way round. Majority of us would go for the first option – very well knowing that it will also put us in the same league as the culprits. And that was exactly what he said during his testimony in front of NHRC (National Human Rights Commission).
- When a Hindu rioter saves the life of Nikhat
This was one of the most inexplicable scenes in the movie – even though it was merely about a 5 second shot without much of a dialog. It showed the presence of humanity even in chaos that prevailed. While emotionally, it was as touchy as it could have been but the message was not very clear on why it happened what it happened.
- Conversation between Allen and Dr. Jairam Uncle on Gandhi’s response to 1919 Jaliawala Bagh massacre
One of the sub-plots of the movie, which was very well executed, was the story of Allen. Particularly, the scene between Allen and Dr. Jairam where he explains how, after Jaliawala Bagh massacre, Gandhi prevented himself from becoming a terrorist even with anarchy all around him or going into self-destruction but instead, he made himself stronger on his path of non-violence. Although it is very difficult to develop this kind of mentality for an average person who is struggling with the basic necessities of life and is not sure about his or his family’s security itself. However, it is the best right path to go about. I would deliberately use the “best right” since humans are the product of their surroundings and you cannot expect everyone to react in one single way nor you can say a particular reaction as absolutely right or wrong.
- “Lord only gives a person a burden that they are strong enough to handle. That the burdens must fall somewhere in this world, and when they fall on you, it is not just a test but a symbol that life knows you have the strength to endure them. Never in my life I would’ve guessed that the religion can be both, the cause and the solution to the problem”
This is one of the best lines on life I have heard till date. While watching Shernaz holding together her family in the crisis while simultaneously swallow up the pain of her missing son, Allen realizes that a human receives only the amount of pain that he/she can endure. I am not sure how true it is. If it was completely true – there wouldn’t be any suicides. On the contrary, it probably depends on the amount of faith you have in God that your problems will definitely see an end one day and that everything will be alright.
- Testimony of Shernaz in front of Human Rights Commission
There couldn’t have been a perfect end to the movie than this. It was one of the best performances I had seen on a movie screen. While Shernaz starting objectively describing the entire incident, it was a seamless transition to where she vented out her grief and emotional stress a mother goes through all the time while searching for her only son. The film effectively captures the grief of a father (Cyrus) as well – something Indian directors struggle to do.
However, the dialog that struck me was “They were coming from all directions and it was impossible to go anywhere. We could not defend ourselves. We had no weapons. We were middle class families depending on Police to protect us and they did not do that”. It is very tragic that we Indians have to depend on our government and police to protect and defend ourselves and our families. There cannot be a more sorry state than this. Unfortunately, even the government does not encourage our citizens to self-defend. Why aren’t there mandatory self-defense classes in our schools? Why don’t we encourage women to have at least some kind of weapon in their purses instead of a makeup kit? Why don’t we educate our children on our rights as a citizen? Following non-violence is a good thing but when you’re out on your own in this world, only the power equality will be your key to survival.
It was very difficult to decide whether the movie was a story teller or a conspiracy theory or a mix of both. The focus of the movie was to depict the plight of the family who lost their only son in the riots and how they have been doing everything they can to find him ever since. However, at times, the movie has drifted away from its original purpose, to portray that the entire incident was essentially right wing Hindu extremists’ conspiracy – completely discounting the train burning incident.
The movie shows the incidents of kerosene being ordered in large quantities in the city of Ahmedabad, saffron flags being placed outside Hindu houses to separate them from Muslim houses, adverts of Muslim businesses in plenty in the newspapers and Hindu extremists posing as population census officials just few days before the riots broke out. The director tries to tie together all this to build up a story that this was something the Hindu extremist groups had been planning for long and they just awaited an incident like Godhra to happen so that they can do, what is called “ethnic cleansing”.
However, plans cannot be made without set dates. In this case, the Human Rights Organizations call the train burning incident as a “spontaneous reaction” of minority groups against the eve teasing incident that happened on that fateful day at the Godhra Railway station, in spite of knowing the fact that:
- The fire fighting system available in Godhra was weakened and its arrival at the place of incident willfully delayed by the mob with the open participation of a Congress Councillor, Haji Balal
- The emergency brake was engaged by members of the mob, bringing the train to a halt
- The coupling between the bogies S-6 and S-7 was subsequently cut and the doors of the bogeys were locked from outside and
- 140 liters of petrol had been used to set the train on fire
On the other hand, the instant reaction within a day of the train burning incident has been termed as “well planned”. While the train burning incident can be planned knowing well that trains are scheduled to arrive on a particular day (if not particular time), how can reaction be planned? Did the right wing extremists knew in advance of when the train was going to get burned?
The movie also completely plays down the depiction of train burning incident while focusing only on depicting the other side of the story. Ideally, the director should not have got involved into the conspiracy theory itself, if the idea of the movie was to portray the story of a family who lost its dear one in the unfortunate massacre. Focusing the movie on what it is made for, would have made it a far better movie than what it is now.