Firaaq opens with a grave diggers dirge. The pile of bodies in the pit is joined by another truckload,and we are sucked into the story with the unspeakable anguish of a man confronting the ultimate sin murder.
Nandita Dass fine debut feature,just out on DVD,deals with the aftermath of a communal riot. The city never named but distinctly Ahmedabad is falling apart,and the rift between Hindus and Muslims is bloodier than ever. An ageing singer wonders why no one turns up at his doorstep anymore,the mishti in his earthen cup as forlorn as his baithak. An autorickshaw driver comes back from a trip with his wife and baby and finds his little dwelling burnt and ransacked. A well-to-do middle man and his brother participate in the looting and the rape thats been going on in the city.
Though there have been several films on the devastation caused when humans turn against humans,Firaaq stands out. Das junks melodrama and keeps it muted. She also handles her characters deftly: it helps that they are played by pros. Naseeruddin Shahs old ustaad,who lives with his loyal retainer (a splendid Raghuveer Yadav),represents an old order that is dying. He is asked if he is sorry at Hindus killing Muslims,and Khan Saheb says,Insaan insaan ko maar raha,is baat ka gham hai.
Thats the metaphor for Firaaq,which has a twin meaning both separation and quest. A young married couple (Tisca Chopra is a true-blue Gujju Desai,Sanjay Suri is half-Muslim),in the process of fleeing to an ostensibly safer Delhi,discover that their happiness lies in staying close to their roots. And an oppressed housewife who lives in terror of her brutal husband leaves him,and finds peace: both Deepti Naval and Paresh Rawal are terrific.
Very few films stand the test of repeat viewing. Firaaq is every bit as good in its second round as it was in the first: when it released early this year,it left theatres too soon. It should live in its DVD run.