Film-makers across the globe have often told stories of calamities/riots/disasters -- natural and unnatural -- and the aftermath. FIRAAQ, which marks the directorial debut of actress Nandita Das, also looks at the lives of common men after the riots in Gujarat.
More of a docu-drama, FIRAAQ narrates six different stories that are not connected with one another. Nor are they similar, nor do they meet towards the culmination. Told with utmost sensitivity, the film pricks your conscience at several points of the narrative and when you make it to the Exit after the film has ended, you carry the burden of a lot of questions on your mind.
FIRAAQ is disturbing. It makes you remove those blinkers and experience the truth. FIRAAQ is purposeful and powerful and drives home the message in the most convincing manner, without taking sides.
A middle class housewife [Deepti Naval] closes the door on a woman desperately seeking refuge and then struggles to overcome her guilt... The loyalty of two best friends [Shahana Goswami] is challenged in times rife with fear and suspicion... A group of victimized young men seek revenge as a way out of their helplessness and anger... A modern-day Hindu-Muslim couple [Sanjay Suri, Tisca Chopra] struggle between the survival instinct to hide their true identities and the desire to assert them... A boy having lost most of his family in the riots wanders through the streets searching for his missing father... A saintly musician [Naseeruddin Shah] clings on to his idealism until an evidence of civil strife shakes his faith.
The opening sequence of FIRAAQ says it all, when a truck empties dead bodies as if it were emptying debris or rubble. It hits you more sharply than any weapon. Subsequently, you are introduced to the assorted characters that have been affected, directly or indirectly, to the riots. The six stories run concurrently, raising so many questions all through.
Nandita Das gets it right, except for the open end which doesn't really have a culmination like most Hindi movies. One aspect that could go against the film!
Nandita is a competent storyteller and her choice of stories as also the actors is just right. The actors only carry the film to dizzy heights with splendid portrayals. Ravi K. Chandran's cinematography captures the mood brilliantly.
FIRAAQ has an ensemble cast and each of them sparkle in their respective roles. But the faces that continue to haunt you even after the film has ended are that of the child actor, Deepti Naval and Shahana Goswami.
On the whole, FIRAAQ is one of the finest docu-dramas made in India. It's disturbing. It's powerful. It's thought-provoking. A film for the discerning viewer who likes to go beyond the stereotype.