Cast: Mohd Samad, Naseeruddin Shah, Raghubir Yadav, Shahana Goswami, Deepti Naval
Direction: Nandita Das
Rating: * * * 1/2
The film opens in a graveyard, with a truckload of corpses filling the screen. It is the aftermath of the Gujarat riots of 2002. A horrific event that has been dealt with in earlier films, most notably Parzania. Nandita Das doesn’t revisit the event itself; instead, she uses it to intertwine six stories that explore the different faces of hatred, love and friendship. Firaaq, we’re told, is a Urdu word meaning both quest and separation -- two underlying themes in these stories.
An orphaned child Mohsin (who sometimes becomes Mohan) searches for his father. Two young mehendi artists Jyoti and Muneera, share one bindi, some suspicion and lots of courage. A Hindu-Muslim couple is torn between escape and defiance. A middle-aged Hindu wife can’t stomach her husband’s Muslim baiting and her own guilt. A gang of hot-headed Muslims plot revenge. While Khan Saheb, the ageing musician, speaks the universal language of music and tolerance.
Some of their paths cross, some run parallel. It could have been a tangled mess. But debutant director Nandita Das, who co-wrote the screenplay with Shuchi Kothari, weaves them together in one flowing, moving narrative. Ravi K Chandran’s brilliant camera-work gives the film a raw, gritty character that elevates even the most mundane scene. And Sreekar Prasad’s editing keeps the film taut and tense.
With a starcast like this, the acting is expectedly good. All the same, some actors stand out. Naseeruddin Shah delivers yet another virtuoso performance as a musician gently oblivious of harsh reality. You can feel his disconnect and disillusionment, you can almost hear the music in his head. Raghubir Yadav as his man Friday is a worthy aide. Shahana Goswami and Deepti Naval, two wives haunted in their different ways, leave their mark. And little Mohamed Samad as Mohsin is quite amazing.
Though there are some heavy-handed scenes and characters, Firaaq scores in its overall restraint. It’s not often that an actress turns director; Nandita Das certainly gives us reason to celebrate with this film.
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