31st October: Genuine effort wasted

MUMBAI: Rather late in the day, 31stOctober is a film about the Sikh genocide of 1984 in Delhi in the aftermath of assassination of the then prime minister of India Indira Gandhi. She was killed by her security guards, who happened to be Sikh. That assassination, again, is attributed to the anger of the Sikh community following an army operation in the precincts of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. It has been 31 years since the episode and the relevance of this film and, what it wants to convey would make sense to few if any.

It is pre-October 31-1984 Delhi (mainly East Delhi as depicted in the film) where things are normal. People are going about doing their business, there is bonhomie. There never was a feeling of a divide between Hindu and Sikh, neither the issue nor a reason to think of them as different persons or of community was considered.

Vir Das is shown as a simple family-loving Sikh working for a government enterprise and has Soha Ali Khan as his wife and three children making up his family. He is a sincere worker and is much respected by his colleagues as well as friends.

It is another day at work and Vir is on his desk. But, unknown to him, things seem to have changed suddenly as even the office peon fails to respond to his calls, and there is an eerie silence around him. As he soon finds out, the whole office has gathered around a transistor radio; the news is not good. PM Indira Gandhi has been shot.

Suddenly, everybody has turned cold to Vir. He is advised to leave immediately. The offices are closed, shops down shutters and a pall of gloom and fear envelopes the air. Two lookalikes of prominent politicians are seen inciting the crowds (of Hindus) to go out and seek revenge from Sikhs.

What follows is a massacre of Sikhs all around the city reminiscent of Hindu-Muslim clashes of the Partition era. No Sikh seems to be safe, on the road or hidden at home, nor ones in the refuge of Hindu families.

Since this is not a documentary, a hint of a story and to balance things as well as to showcase a semblance of sanity among Hindus, comes in the form of Vir’s Hindu friends coming to his rescue risking their lives and braving police (which sided with the rioters) and the goons killing people indulging in arson mercilessly.

31stOctober is a sketchy, half-hearted effort to depict the genocide. As numerous Sikhs are slaughtered, an operation to save one family has little effect on the viewer. The direction is patchy; few films have succeeded in showing riot scenes convincingly in Hindi films and this film ranks at the bottom. What is bad about the film is the casting of Vir Das as the Sikh in danger. He carries his deadpan standup comedian look to this rather serious role. Add to that his characterization, which is of a Sikh who breaks down instead of standing by his family while his friends take the risk and one of them also sacrifices his life for the cause. Rest of the actors make a sincere effort.

If 31st October has an audience to cater to, it is unlikelyto be found in cinema halls.

Producers: Harry Sachdeva.

Director: Shivaji Lotan Patil.

Cast: Vir Das, Soha Ali Khan.

My Father Iqbal: No drama in Indian Muslim's honesty

‘My Father Iqbal’ is like recreating the life of an honest man from Jammu & Kashmir. It is unlike any film as it is neither a potboiler nor cinema. There are no twists and turns, no villains nor a drama or a dramatic ending. It is the documentation of the life of a man and his circumstances. It is supposed to be a real-life account.

Iqbal Khan, played by Narendra Jha, is a family loving Muslim in Bani, a township in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, surrounded by Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and close to the Pakistan border. Jha is an engineer in the PWD and is a caring man to his wife, Komal Thacker, and his daughter and son. Jha is also sincere with his work, held in high esteem not only by his bosses and colleagues but also by people of the area for whom he always goes out of his way. 

Jha, a man who is devoted to his family, lives like any normal, law-abiding and patriotic citizen despite the circumstances of terrorism and violence surrounding him and his town. He is probably traditional in the local sense because, while he dreams of sending his son to a high school in a bigger city, his daughter stays put in this small place.

Time passes by with Jha and Komal tending to the family, romancing and singing while the son on whom they hang much hope has grown up. He has decided to opt for a career in media and, much against his parents’ hopes, has decided to move to Mumbai. His concern for his family comes in the form of regular remittances of money.

Terrorism, which was lurking on the outskirts, has now invaded the town. The terrorists confer with Jha’s boss, the town police chief and the local MLA, to find a man with a clean image to store a bag full of RDX. The honest man in their sight happens to be Jha. Why do they need an honest man when the cop and the MLA are a party to the plan?

Jha’s refusal to accept the bag is countered by a threat of harm that can be done to his son in Mumbai. With his loyalty at stake, Jha asks his son to return home instantly. He wants to share his dilemma with his now grown-up son. The son is on his way and his train is running late by a couple of hours. But, Jha, who has made his decision not to betray his country, takes the ultimate step of not waiting for those two hours for his son to return.

That is about all as, if one is waiting for a traditional ending to the story, there is none. It is about a patriotic man who was a Muslim and from Jammu & Kashmir, who was neither a terrorist nor a supporter.

Besides the scenic beauty of the area of Bani and its surroundings, My Father Iqbal has some soothing music in a couple of ghazals. Performance-wise, Jha is impressive and Komal supports well.

Producer: Paresh Mehta.

Director: Suzad Iqbal Khan.

Cast: NarendraJha, Komal Thacker, Paresh Mehta, Raj Sharma, Amit Lekhwani, Sudam Iqbal Khan.

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