Saturday, January 31, 2015


On 28 February 2002, a crowd of extremists attacked the Gulbarg Society, in a neighborhood of Ahmedabad. While Gujarat was then plagued by violent inter-communal tensions that caused the death of several hundreds if not thousands of people. That day, in the chaos caused by the fire in the neighborhood, a young Parsi boy disappeared. This is the story of his family that tells Parzania.

Parzan Pithawala, ten years, dreams of cricket. He also invented with his little sister, an imaginary country, Parzania, where he would be forbidden to listen to games on the radio during class. He is pampered by her parents, Cyrus, projectionist (Naseeruddin Shah) and Shernaz (Sarika, popular actress of the 80s and ex-wife of Kamal Haasan). Cyrus became friends with Allan, a young American came to do his thesis on Gandhi, who hopes to find in India, spirituality and non-violence, a certain inner peace.

But on 28 February, the world of Pithawala family collapses. Shernaz and children are trapped in their building stormed by the crowd. She managed to escape with her ​​daughter, but Parzan. Cyrus will now devote all his energy to try to find his son. Elsewhere in the city, Allan is also witnessed atrocities that upset him and threaten his sanity.

The massacres of 2002 are still a sensitive issue in Gujarat. The debates are raging to determine the responsibility of everyone. To summarize briefly, the violence were the result of the burning of a train in Godhra, which had claimed the lives of 58 people.

In this context, even the most neutral film, the least committed, would likely have caused controversy. Or Parzania, first film on the subject, takes a clear position. Officially, it was to avoid triggering further unrest. But it is likely that one of the reasons of this censorship is the look worn by Rahul Dholakia on violence.

It is interesting to note that the film is in English, and is primarily intended for an international audience, which is not necessarily well known in India. This results in some simplification, and will in the first part of the film to clearly present the political and religious situation in Gujarat which sometimes gives the impression of being in the audience during history and geography. This desire not to lose the Western public is the only reason for existence of the character of Allan, to guide the Western viewer through the film.

The process is not unusual and would be effective if Allan was not an unbearable character. It is not credible (the type is doctorate in history, but takes a representation of Zarathustra, the founder of the religion practiced by the Parsis, for an image of Allah, Problems of alcoholism, difficult childhood are terribly clich├ęs, and very immature attitude, makes unsympathetic. He smeared ash for example the wall of his room, like a wayward kid expressing his unhappiness and revulsion at the horrors that he saw.

The contrast with the dignity of the family Parzan is striking. Corin Nemec does what he can to make it interesting a poorly written role, and its interpretation is quite honorable, but it is a waste: the scenes where appears Allan is the worst of the film. Above all, once it appears, the film moves away from his real subject, which is the disappearance of Parzan and its impact on his family. Too bad that the director has not seen this story strong enough and universal to spend that kind of strings.

A particularly striking example. A few days after the disappearance of her son, Cyrus will seek help from the police. It tends to the agent his wallet, containing a picture of Parzan. Without looking at the photo, the officer gets the money it contained, and without showing any compassion, Cyrus leads to the courtyard. It stops on the doorstep, horrified the court makes outdoor morgue office. Then began the grueling search for the body of his son.

The sequence is particularly striking. But now, Rahul Dholakia us abandon Cyrus among the dead to find Allan, drunk, causing stupidly activists burning posters. Thus put on the same level the pain of a father who looks for his son and the existential crisis of Allan tourist is quite awkward. And stretching in this way the suspense over the fate of Parzan, inserting this unnecessary scene is not in the best taste.

But when Allan disappears, and Rahul Dholakia focuses on Cyrus Shernaz and their daughter, the film regains its interest. The characters and their evolution are finely depicted. Naseeruddin Shah is excellent, but the real surprise comes from Sarika, who appropriates a difficult role and gives flesh to a beautiful figure of a woman and mother. Shernaz, despite the pain, continues to live and support his family, and beyond even finds the strength to bear witness to all the victims, while Cyrus, lost in grief, unable to cope.

The plot of Parzania, the loss of a child, is universal. But the film is original in that it describes a particular medium, rarely represented in cinema, the Parsi community. Family Parzan practice Zoroastrianism, a multi-millennial religion from Iran. Rahul Dholakia uses this context to express very concrete, very physical, changing the character of Cyrus, is practicing an exhausting purification ritual supposed to return his son (nine days of deprivation of food, drink and sleep, isolated, thinking entirely focused on God) that he finally accepted his disappearance.

It is tempting to compare Parzania in Firaaq. They are currently the only two films about the massacres of 2002. Parzania does not win. There is much that the film formatted by Nandita Das, suffers from the faults that I mentioned. But it is a sincere film carried by the indignation of its director, for his willingness to let the world know what happened in Ahmedabad, the end of February 2002.

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