'Parzania' - Gujarat Burning

By Sanket Vyas

Parzania is an unflinching account of the communal violence that erupted in Ahmedabad (my birth city) after the Godhra incident in 2002. It tells the true story of a Parsi family who lost their son on that fateful day when their livelihood was destroyed by right wing Hindu mobs in what can only be described as planned genocide. It shows how the government & police (later verified by multiple eyewitness reports & the International Human Rights Commission) stood by while their citizens were looted, raped and murdered. Nearly 1000 Gujarati Muslims lost their lives that day and 100,000 were rendered homeless. This movie was incredibly difficult for me to watch as I was brought up in a very secular household and the fact that the atrocities were being committed not by 'foreigners' but by Gujaratis to other Gujaratis. Parzania was directed by an LA based Indian filmmaker, Rahul Dholakia. After incredible resistance in finding distributors for this movie it was finally released worldwide and in India this January - everywhere except Gujarat. Sharmila Tagore (current Indian Film Board Censor Chief) has blasted the Gujarat authorities who have refused to provide extra security to the theater owners who want to show the film but are afraid of reprisals from Hindu fundamentalists.

The movie is mostly in English and while it is lacking at times technically, like the legendary director Satyajit Ray said, those flaws are "like spelling mistakes in a beautiful sonnet". The two main actors, Nasureedin Shah & Sarika, deliver extraordinary performances. This is expected from Shah but the performance delivered by Sarika (an 80's Bollywood glamor girl) is incredibly poignant and makes you numb with grief. Corin Nemec portrays an American journalist who has come to India to complete his thesis on Gandhi's teachings of non-violence. His character is quite jarring and comes off as an alcoholic boor who drops the 'F' bomb entirely too much in the beginning of the film. By the end though he is more restrained and does well as the narrator to the story that he was not yet ready to see. 50 years ago the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, while flying from Delhi to Ahmedabad, told reporters "I came to India as a tourist. But I go to Ahmedabad as a pilgrim." These days many say that no one associates Gujarat with Gandhi. In fact, Gujarat and communal madness seem to now be sadly and permanently intertwined. Filmmaking is about telling a story, but every now and then the story is so strong that the telling isn't as important anymore - this is one of them. Parzania.

When I last went to India in 2005 I was determined to see my Gujarat as a tourist would and to that end bought the 2005 edition of 'Fodor's India'. Imagine my surprise when I got home and realized that out of every state listed in the book - Gujarat didn't even get a mention. I realize that Gujarat doesn't have the glitz and glamor of other Indian states but to not even include it just seemed downright rude! A friend of mine, Anjali Desai, has been living India for the past four years and has published one of the first guidebooks to Gujarat that I know of, check it out here. The song for today is a Gujarati folk song that called 'Ramo Ramo' by Meena Patel and it reminds me of some of my happiest trips to India to see my family. Despite the problems that face it, I truly believe a visit to Gujarat is still one of the safest and most tranquil journeys a tourist can make to Gandhi's ancestral home.

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