Power to the Parsis

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By PRATIM D. GUPTA
  • Published 14.03.09
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There are 250,000 Zoroastrians left in the world. Little Zizou is about 25 of them, who stay in a Mumbai neighbourhood. Yes, it’s about the good ol’ Parsis, the same people who make the Coen Brothers characters look so much saner.

Sooni Taraporevala, the director, apart from being a Parsi, is the woman behind the scripts of Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay and The Namesake. She has also documented “the Zoroastrians of India” in her book of photographs titled Parsis. Clearly Little Zizou resides in a world close to her heart, nests in a milieu she is familiar with.

But it couldn’t have been an easy task. How do you stay clear of the countless cinematic cliches synonymous with the Parsis and yet not lose the endearing quirkiness inherent to them? Do you tell the story of a community or do you place them in the context of the greater world outside, a world at war?

Sooni does manage to strike a balance. Little Zizou is about people you might not encounter everyday but it’s a world that doesn’t alienate you. It tackles a problem specific to Parsis — holding on to their faith in fear of an imaginary Russian invasion — but rubs in enough of global agenda to make the film contemporary and thought-provoking.

So, we have the two big players on the two sides — Cyrus II Khodaiji (Sohrab), the religious fanatic who claims to be the messenger of god and is starting his own military outfit Parsi Liberation Organisation (PLO!), and Boman Pressvala (Boman), the editor of Rustom-e-Sohrab, a liberal Parsi newspaper, who takes a dig at every move of the PLO.

And when you look at the action through the eyes of an 11-year-old football fanatic, things look more than a little strange. Cyrus’s son Xerxes (Jahan), our narrator, wants his mother in the photo frame to fly in Zinedine Zidane on her angelic wings to Mumbai. Till that happens he is happy to be Little Zizou in the FIFA computer game and net a few goals for France. Even if that means disturbing guys surfing porn in the cybercafe or hijacking his brother’s blog-happy laptop.

The brother Artaxerxes (Imaad) imagines a life with Boman’s daughter Zenobia (Dilshad) when he is not sketching cartoon characters. But he is also stealing his father’s money to make a Boeing Jumbo Jet in some Canadian’s house.

Don’t go ‘huh?’ yet! We haven’t even mentioned Boman’s mother-in-law (Mody-Kotwal) who lives in a deserted hotel called Majestic and takes everyone on a tour of the rundown rooms and wants to let out the honeymoon suite for Rs 25 a person!

Yes, Little Zizou is a mad, mad film where every character is wackier than the other and every scene more bizarre than the one before. Yet it’s not engaging all the time. At just 100 minutes, the film feels too long. The seasoned screenwriter in Sooni does manage to tie all the threads in the end, but the tale’s drifted way off by then.

You can see the effort that’s gone into developing every character but there is no solid hook to make you asking for more. The little vignettes are fine but Little Zizou doesn’t have the pulse of Salaam Bombay to keep the plot going. It’s at best an innocuous weekend watch — funny at times, freaky at others and way too listless overall.

But it’s still a commendable debut at 51. Just like Mira, Sooni has the eye to shoot random images of city life and blend them seamlessly with her screenplay. She is helped by cinematographer Himman Dhamija’s warm tones and fluid camerawork.

Bickram Ghosh is the other technical highpoint of the film. Besides a couple of tracks from Rhythmscape, our master percussionist does a detailed background score highlighting some of the film’s best moments. Watching Little Zizou playing football to the strains of Rhythm Speaks is bound to give goosebumps to anyone familiar with Bickram’s work.

But the ensemble cast of Little Zizou is your best reason to spend some time with the Parsis this weekend. And yes, barring Imaad (whose father Naseeruddin Shah played that brilliant Parsi in Pestonjee), they are all Parsis playing Parsis.

Everyone’s very good but there are a few who stand out. Boman is brilliant. Watch him in the scene where he does the Mambo Italiano and try to keep your two feet still. Playing his harrowed wife, Zenobia Shroff is an absolute delight. And the kids are terrific. Sooni’s own children, Jahan and Iyanah, are complete naturals and the real stars of the show.

Little Zizou is bit of an acquired taste and may not suit many a palate. It can try your patience on more than one occasion but it can also turn out to be that crazy dream worth chasing. And as Boman says in the film, sometimes it’s good to be crazy but it’s always good to dream.

Which of this week’s new releases did you like most? Tell t2@abpmail.com