FIZA (2000), Hindi, 168
Directed by Khalid Mohamed. Music: Anu Malik. Lyrics: Gulzar - Sameer. Cinematography: Santosh Sivan.
This glossy, uneven
film promises a welcome break from recent feel-good saffron majoritarian
narratives -- in which Muslim actors like Shah Rukh Khan or Salman Khan
play a succession of upper-class Hindu boys named Rahul or Vijay -- by
portraying the life, or rather demise, of a middle-class Muslim family
in the aftermath of the Mumbai riots of 1993 (which were in fact largely
anti-Muslim pogroms); it does so, moreover, with a cast of mainly Hindu
actors, including current megastars Karisma Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan.
The film's opening
hastily sketches the life of the small-but-happy Ikramulla family, Fiza
(Kapoor), her aspiring-artist brother Aman (Roshan), and their widowed
mother (Jaya Bachchan); in the first scene they are bantering affectionately
while watching Raj Kapoor's Bobby on TV. Their comfortable world is abruptly
shattered during a night of communal violence, when Aman heeds a friend's
call to take to the streets and is drawn into a series of brutal encounters.
He disappears and is presumed dead, though his body is never found and
his grieving mother and sister cling to the belief that he could have
survived and will one day return. Six years pass, and Fiza, now a college
graduate, catches a glimpse of Aman on a busy street and resolves to go
in search of him.
Up to this point,
the story holds together fairly well; the poignant depiction of the women's
abiding trauma and their callous treatment by government officials and
calculating politicians and journalists echoes the reality experienced
by numerous female survivors of communal bloodbaths, and the song sequences
are at least peripherally relevant to the plot (A. R. Rahman's qawwali-style
contribution, Piya Haji Ali, celebrates Mumbai's most famous Muslim shrine,
to which Fiza's mother goes to pray for her son's return). But the gratuitously
fantastic soon takes over, as Fiza follows a tip to pursue Aman to Rajasthan,
where a group of Jihad-preaching Islamic militants lead by one Murad Khan
(Manoj Bajpai) engage in skirmishes with Indian security forces...on the
outskirts of Udaipur (!), a location apparently dictated by (a) its proximity
to the desert that ultimately leads to the Pakistani border, and (b) the
director's need to interject ersatz-ethnic spectacle in the form of camels,
turbaned Rajputs, and veiled belly-dancing girls writhing under parachute-fabric.
From here on, the plot unravels into a series of poorly integrated anti-climaxes that are high on histrionics but low on plausibility and cohesion -- disappointing, given the premise with which the film began, and to which its surprisingly dark and understated finale returns. The message, overall, is bleak: police and politicians are beyond redemption, but even their violent punishment cannot save the minority community from a personal and cultural loss so total that suicide (of one kind or another) offers the only out.