Why see 'Parzania', Gujaratis ask five years after riots

Feb 8, 2007 IANS


Ahmedabad, Feb 8 (IANS) As the fifth anniversary of perhaps the most macabre sectarian conflagration in Gujarat's history approaches, there is something eerily familiar about emotions surrounding the decision not to show "Parzania", director Rahul Dholakia's celluloid reminder of those events.

A bizarre cocktail of ideological conviction, commercial calculation, unstated fear and pure bigotry has upstaged the movie's release in the state. For most ordinary Gujaratis, the decision by cinema owners not run the movie has none of the lofty dimensions of a freedom of expression debate. For them it is just another movie whose screening or lack thereof makes no difference.

"Ema shun? Evun to chale (What's the big deal? It is okay)", is how a young woman at Wide Angle multiplex on the city's upscale S.G. Road reacted when asked what she thought of the decision.

Her young male friend was even more dismissive, albeit distinctly happy with his painful attempt at punning when he said, "We have seen the real riots. Why see reel ones?"

While these reactions may not be representative of what Gujaratis in general feel about the "Parzania" imbroglio, they certainly encapsulate the feelings of a very large section of people in the state.

"I am not at all surprised that 'Parzania' is not being shown. That is how Gujarat has become," well-known classical dancer Mallika Sarabhai, who has been at the receiving end of the Hindu fundamentalist wrath for the past five years, told IANS.

Sarabhai, who has often been reviled by the state's Hindu groups for her liberal views and liberal lifestyle, said people had become "quite shallow" when it came to such serious questions. "They are the kind who blow with the wind. Unless there is a change of government I do not see hope," she said.

It was in February 2002 that Gujarat witnessed raw terror in the aftermath of the deaths of some 50 Hindu train passengers. The incident set off a wave of coldly calculated murder and mayhem against the minority Muslim community in several cities and villages. Many critics believe the retaliation was at the very least connived at if not actively encouraged by the state's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. The BJP and its affiliates dismiss all such charges saying the violence was "spontaneous" and came in the face of the mass murder of Hindu pilgrims.

The timing of the release of "Parzania", which is based on the real life story of a Parsi family in Ahmedabad caught in the crossfire and which loses its young son, may have been entirely fortuitous but it has the potential to revive the memory of 2002.

While Dholakia says it is important for the people of Gujarat to see the film if only to remember history and not repeat it, anecdotal evidence suggests that a majority of Gujaratis do not want to be reminded of those days.

Another young woman at the Wide Angle multiplex who called herself just Ketaki said, "I am 17 now. When the riots happened I was just 12. I do not want to know what went wrong and who is to be blamed. We have to move on."

Himanshu Vyas, a spokesman for the Gujarat unit of the Congress party, said, "The people of Gujarat are open-minded. They should see this film made by a fellow Gujarati. It is not a communal film but it is a film about the tragedy of a single family against the backdrop of a larger issue."

Asked if the theatre owners were toeing the BJP line in not releasing the film, Vyas told IANS: "Many of them are scared of what the Hindutva forces might do. That is so wrong. Gujarat cannot afford any further reiteration of its image as an intolerant state. We have to change this mindset."

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