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Firaaq- Movie Review - Gujarat Riots, Muslim discrimination and Violence

Category: , , , By Manu
Firaaq is an Urdu word that means both separation and quest. Firaaq is an ensemble film takes place over a 24-hour period; a month after a horrific communal carnage of the 2002 Gujarat riots, where as many as 2,000 people–mostly Muslim–were killed. The riots were a Hindu backlash to the Godhra train burning where Muslims were accused of burning up a car with 58 Hindu pilgrims inside.

The film traces the emotional journeys of 'ordinary people'. A middle class housewife closes the door on a victim and struggles to overcome her guilt. The loyalties of two best friends are tested in the times of fear and suspicion. A bunch of young men having suffered the riots seeks revenge to fight their helplessness and anger. A modern-day Hindu-Muslim couple struggles between the instinct to hide their identity and the desire to assert it.

Nanditha Das, the debut director and acclaimed actress, has dealt with the human side of this sensitive issue and pulled off an incredible feat of giving it the depth it needed within a timeframe of 24 hours. Firaaq grew out of Das' persistent social engagements with human rights issues as also her own concerns about the impact of violence on all of us, our lives and our relationships.

A film which portrays the atrocities that were going on in post riot Gujarat- the hunting of Muslims by Hindus as well as Law enforcement agencies, the fear in Muslim minds, the discriminatory social injustice towards Muslims- must be shown to a broader audience, at least, to enlighten the common man about what is going on in Gujarat.

The Hindu-Muslim couple in the movie(which according to me was the most striking story along with the boy Mohsin), especially the Muslim(Samir), is divided on where to stand when it comes to his identity. He is scared to say he is a Muslim, but yet in his heart he wants to assert it. This character shows how the middle-class Muslim in India feels. He says he has to think twice about praising some Pakistani cricket player, lest he is branded as a Pakistani spy. The Hindu Fascists in India have created an atmosphere in which it is impossible for a Muslim to lead a normal undiscriminating life.

The feeling that all Muslims are Pakisthani spies, or terrorists is spreading through the Indian psyche, unconsciously, and its an alarming trend. The Muslims in India are no less Indian than all the rest of them. Just because a minority in the Muslim community resort to Jihadi ways doesn't give us the right to brand the whole Muslim community as Terrorists. The film has brought out the common Indian psyche through the character of a tea shop owner who thought Samir a Hindu. Towards the end of the film, the character decides to assert he is a Muslim. The tea shop owner who was very cordial and friendly to the character turns on his heels and became indifferent to him the moment he learned Samir is a Muslim. This is something that could very well happen in India provided the massive brainwashing going on here.

Of all the characters in the movie, the 8 year old Mohsin was probably the most heart wrenching with his sorrowful eyes which speaks more than anything. The movie brings out clearly how a 8 year old is introduced to the intricacies of religious divide and how he absorbs the calamities around him. He gets taken into a home by a housewife to take care of him and she introduces him as Mohan(a Hindu name) to her mildly Hindu Fascist family. Mohsin soon leaves the house in fear of the husband, and when confronted by some Hindu bullies in the street he tells them his name is Mohan. Can you imagine a state in which even a Muslim name is dangerous? And more importantly, a mere 8 year old knows this. That is the deteriorating condition in India(not the whole, but some parts).

The final act was actually quite chilling, and I felt it could cut either way, depending on your outlook. One, that it is of hope, that with the next generation lies opportunity to bury the past and forge a new future ahead filled with better understanding, and the appreciation that such violence should never occur again. On the other hand, it reminds of how impressionable a young mind is, and through the wandering within a camp, taking in the sights of the aftermath of atrocities committed, that the seeds of revenge could have been innately planted, and being ready for improper indoctrination for further atrocities to be committed, some time in the future.

A little discussed fact of massive violence is that it’s not over when the fighting stops. It’s just smoldering like a volcano returning to dormancy after an eruption. There’s a haze of fear and loathing still thick in the community. It happened with Jews who survived the camps trying to return home after WWII only to find they weren’t anymore wanted then they were during the war. The enduring displacement was maybe the biggest reason for establishing Israel, which shifted the war to a smoldering tension, and occasional eruption, with Palestine. It’s the same five years after the Gujarat riots between Hindu and Muslim Indians. It's extremely difficult, but not impossible, to break the stranglehold that violence begets more violence.
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2 comments so far.

  1. redial December 31, 2008 at 3:12 PM
    this movie is from the heart of the director.u can see it on its every frame.the message addressed is so disturbing that u take back the movie with u wen u leave the theater.
  2. Manu January 2, 2009 at 7:42 AM
    So true.. I sat in the theatre even aafter the film was over just taking in the ramifications of what I have seen.. Great movie addressing a right cause..

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