Reviewed by: Val Kermode

In Gujerat, India, in March 2002 a shocking episode of sectarian violence saw some 3000 Muslims brutally murdered and countless women raped. This film is based on those real events and in its strong opening scene a truck dumps a pile of bodies at a mass grave.

First-time director Nandita Das ambitiously tries to bring together the stories of several fictional characters one month after the riots. A young Muslim couple with a baby return to their home to find it burned out. A Hindu housewife is struggling with her guilt because she failed to open her door to a desperate Muslim woman. A wealthier couple in a mixed marriage have issues of identity. An aged musician cannot take in what is happening around him, and a group of young Muslim men plot revenge.

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Into all this wanders a small boy who is looking for his father, having seen the rest of his family killed. He becomes a link between several of the other characters. The Hindu word “firaaq” means both separation and quest.

Even in the hands of a more experienced director this would have been a difficult feat to pull off, and here it only partially works. There simply isn’t time to get to know these characters in depth. I would have liked more focus on the Hindu wife (Deepti Naval), who takes in the Muslim boy (Mohammed Samad) and begins to make her first steps towards redemption. But this touching relationship is abandoned in the interest of the wider story.

Both the style and the quality of the acting are somewhat uneven, giving the impression that more time and care was taken with some story strands than others. The issues of the mixed marriage are dealt with in a simplistic, heavy handed way and this is the least successful part of the film.

We are not told how many Hindus died in the riots, and for giving only the figures of Muslim deaths Das has been accused of bias. But she has obviously set out to show the wide-ranging repercussions and has wisely kept violent scenes to a minimum, so that when we do see one of the main characters murdered it has much more impact.

Das is to be commended for taking on this worthy subject matter. She conveys the fear and panic of the survivors, the antipathy of the police and the deep rooted prejudice which can set friend against friend. One of the best moments in the film is when the little Muslim boy, listening to the young men arguing and almost forgotten by them, suddenly brings them all to silence by innocently saying: “Bloody Hindus!”

Reviewed on: 29 Jun 2009
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The story of how the Hindu-Muslim riots that ravaged Gujarat in 2002 altered the lives of a number of different characters.

Director: Nandita Das

Writer: Nandita Das, Shuchi Kothari

Starring: Tisca Chopra, Shahana Goswami, Deepti Naval, Paresh Rawal, Naseeruddin Shah, Sanjay Suri, Raghuvir Yadav

Year: 2008

Runtime: 101 minutes

Country: India

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