Gujarat, the much-maligned land of the Mahatma, refuses to move ahead on the path of tolerance or the road of repentance, at least officially. The unofficial ban on the controversial new film Parzania was a crude reminder to those who have joined the chorus of Vibrant Gujarat, led by Chief Minister Narendra Modi, of the state’s unaddressed demons. The timing could not have been better. It was mid-February and the media was busy counting the amount of investment proposed at the recent Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors’ Summit. The air was thick with a sense of euphoria manufactured by the state machinery and propagated by the mainstream press, when suddenly Parzania appeared on the scene.
The subject matter of Parzania – a film about hell on earth, in which a family loses a child in the 2002 Gujarat riots – was no secret, as it came to Gujarat after winning a number of accolades on the festival circuit. The film is based on a true story. Fourteen-year-old Azhar Mody, son of Rupa and Dara Mody, went missing in the carnage of February 2002, in which ex-MP Ehsaan Jaffrey (in whose house the family had been hiding) was burnt alive by a mob, and the police chose to stay away. Azhar’s mother is still waiting to find her son. It was the suffering of the Mody family, friends of his, that moved director Rahul Dholakia to make Parzania.
The film was made in English, probably keeping the international circuit in mind, with noted actors Naseeruddin Shah and Sarika in the lead roles. There was no sign of protest when Shah and Sarika, on a pre-release tour, visited Ahmedabad and spent time with Rupa and Dara Mody. Indeed, the media had a field day with their visit. Even the announcement of the film’s release date did not create much of a stir. Things started changing mysteriously only thereafter.
Gujarat ni asmita
The burden of banning the film fell to the very people who were supposed to screen it in the first place, the Multiplex Owners’ Association (MOA). The MOA was put on the defensive from the start. News of the association’s meetings with Dholakia and the postponement of Parzania’s release appeared prominently in the English-language press. During the course of the meetings, however, the name emerged of Babubhai Patel – aka Babu Bajrangi, a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader. Thereafter, Bajrangi was projected as the saga’s main villain, threatening theatre owners and forbidding them from screening the film.
The MOA tried to persuade Dholakia to invite Bajrangi to a preview show to get his clearance. When asked by a reporter about whether Parzania should be screened, Bajrangi simply said, “I need to watch the film first.” After Dholakia refused to invite Bajrangi to a preview, the MOA turned to the police commissioner of Ahmedabad and asked him for a certificate of clearance for the film. He said that was not his job.
That proved to be the end of the road for Parzania in Gujarat. The MOA ended its efforts in resignation, and Dholakia flew back to Bombay disheartened. But the question remained: Who banned Parzania? It is hardly a mystery. None can be blamed other than Narendra Modi, firmly in saddle in Gujarat. Nonetheless, some NGOs and sections of the media have pretended naiveté, accusing Bajrangi and the MOA of playing ‘super-censor’.
But would Bajrangi really be able to issue such diktat in Modi’s Gujarat, when his onetime-almighty boss, VHP supremo Praveen Togadia, had been dumped by the chief minister? The activities of the Rashriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat, after all, revolve around Modi completely. Nobody challenges the man’s word, and those who try to, inevitably fail. Modi may also be interested in sending strong signals to both his cadre and his detractors: Here I am, the sole protector of Gujarat ni asmita, the pride of Gujarat. Don’t try to mess with that pride or you’ll meet the same fate that this film did.
The Ahmedabad government has not claimed responsibility for the ban on Parzania, as it did in the case of the film Fanaa. The latter was banned due to the public sympathy the film’s hero, Aamir Khan, had expressed for Medha Patkar, the longtime critic of the Sardar Sarovar Dam project. But such formal measures were entirely absent in the case of Parzania, where the ban was promulgated by an entirely predictable yet invisible presence. While murmurs of discontent are being heard from some sections of the Ahmedabad intelligentsia, at press time these have not gone beyond armchair activism. The Congress party, meanwhile, continues to act clueless, perhaps seeking to champion the cause of ‘soft Hindutva’, while the dictator of Gujarat stands by watching smugly.
~ Urvish Kothari is a journalist based in Ahmedabad.