Tag Archives: Partition

Sunny Jain’s Quarantet Inspired By Punjabi History

Performing artists have been hard hit during the pandemic. With nowhere to go and no space to perform at, Sunny Jain, Red Baraat‘s founder, drummer, and composer has turned to the social distanced visual medium for expression. He began the Quarantet series engaging with different emotions and movements occurring in our current timeline.

His second video in the series, Heroes, was released on Breonna Taylor’s birthday and addressed the Black Lives Movement. Fusing his music with a moment, singer John Pfumojena bellows in the language, Shona, “There are rebels and mighty people out there.”

When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of LBGTQ anti-discrimination legislation, Sunny Jain, Brinda Guha, Rajna Swaminathan, Chris Eddleton, and Harris Ansari came together to create the video, Rhythm and Pride – an expression of joy in a dismal time.

August 14th-15th marked the anniversary of the partition and independence of India and Pakistan. The state of Punjab was split up by the British upon exiting the subcontinent. This caused the largest mass migration in world history, something Jain’s parents went through themselves.

Sunny comments, “Punjabi people and really the entire subcontinent have so much shared culture that’s often pushed aside for political and/or religious reasons. It’s a shame, but I’m thankful the many people I know of the South Asian diaspora feel more as one, than not.”

Rhodes to Punjab was released in celebration of the ancestors, people, and culture of Punjab on the 73rd anniversary of India and Pakistan’s independence. Raaginder‘s violin croons as images of Punjab in 1947 splash across the screen and we are transported to another time.

In his most recent video, Family, Jain’s young twin daughters sing Hai Apna Dil To Awara from the 1958 Bollywood film, Solva Saal. He remembers his father jamming out to it when he was a child.

“My twins heard it for the first time last year as I was working on my Wild Wild East album. They fell in love with Ganavya’s voice, who recorded a version of it. Family, chosen and/or blood, is everything, and maybe some of us are lucky enough to have people that are with us through the many phases of life. We hope you all are finding love and support with your family during these times,” Jain notes.

Music has the ability to unify, evoke, support and Sunny Jain capitalized on that. The Quarantet series is innovative and finds ways to connect with diverse voices, giving sounds to emotions felt during the pandemic. Find the entire series here!


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Gandhi by Naatak: the Man Behind the Legend

“No man’s life can be encompassed in one telling. There is no way to give each year its allotted weight, to include each event, each person who helped to shape a lifetime. What can be done is to be faithful in spirit to the record and try and find one’s way to the heart of the man…”

Thus begins Richard Attenborough’s epic 1982 film Gandhi with the extraordinary Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. The much-lauded film, a deeply moving homage, was made by an Englishman, for an international audience. Every word spoken in that film is in English. Even Gandhi’s unforgettable words on being shot, “He Ram!” known to every Indian, are spoken as “Oh God!” in the film.

In pleasing contrast, Naatak’s play, Gandhi, musical theater in the tradition of Naatak’s own “Mahabharat,” is multilingual, capturing India’s vibrancy in its many tongues. Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil are spoken, Bengali is sung along with Hindi and Gujarati, and we even see a couple of signs in Malayalam. Supertitles in English make the languages accessible to all. I watched it on September 20 at the Cubberley auditorium in Palo Alto.

In writer and director Sujit Saraf’s telling, the story begins with Mahatma Gandhi‘s journey to England, where he went to study law.

He returned to Bombay as a barrister, and after an unsuccessful 2-year stint, left for Durban, South Africa for work. Armed with his legal degree, he successfully represented oppressed Indian laborers, and gained stature and respect, both in South Africa, and in India. On returning to India as a well-known figure, he took on his historic role in India’s independence movement, transforming in time to “the little brown man in a loincloth who led his country to freedom” in the words of American broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow at Gandhi’s funeral.

Attenborough’s film has been criticized by some as hagiography. as it unquestionably and admiringly portrays the saintly qualities of the man. Gandhi also had his eccentricities and odd, extreme behaviors. Sujit Saraf’s telling paints a more balanced portrait of the man, with his idiosyncrasies. He was not born, after all, as the Father of the Nation. In a few clever scenes, Naatak shows Gandhi’s foibles. He stops drinking cow’s milk, believing that the milk meant for calves is taken forcibly from a mother. When asked why it was OK to drink goat’s milk, and why he didn’t have the same reservations, he smiles and shrugs.

Then, the experiments with celibacy. As asked in the play, “Shouldn’t his wife have a say in the matter?” The play shows his early life and career in great detail, and humanizes the legend. Listen to more about this portrayal at KQED radio, where Sujit Saraf spoke with Michael Krasny on Forum earlier this month.

Naatak presents with fitting respect, Gandhi’s coining the term Satyagraha, the force of truth: the term for peaceful protests and civil resistance that are among his greatest contributions to society. Gandhi emerges as a man of conviction, a believer in fairness and justice, a calm, skilled negotiator in the face of racist opposition.

What runs most deeply through the play, as in his life, is Gandhi’s deep desire to unite Hindus and Muslims. On being told that “there is too much bad blood” in Noakhali, Bangladesh, he responded movingly “It is the same blood, good or bad.”

One of the most egregious and dishonorable attacks by Britain on Indian soil, the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, is depicted with tremendous artistry and power. As General Dyer commands his troops “Take your positions!” and continues with “Fire!”, the dancers fall to the ground, one by one, until none are standing. This, for me, was the most powerful scene in the play.

It was on the anniversary of this day that Gandhi planned to peacefully protest British oppression by marching to the coastline and making salt from the Indian Ocean. With civil resistance, he broke the British resolve.

In addition to NehruJinnahMaulana Azad, and Sardar Patel, Naatak’s play is inclusive of more of the major historical figures and freedom fighters of the time:  Bhagat SinghRabindranath TagoreSarojini Naidu, and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.  Soon after Tagore appears, we hear one of his most famous patriotic songs “Ekla Chalo Re” (“If no one comes when you call, then go on alone”).

Then independence and the bloodbath following Partition, was shown with a stage lit in blood-red.

The play ends with Gandhi’s assassination, the shock of the nation and the heartbreak of his loss permeating the audience. He fell to the volatile religious sentiment and animosity that he worked so hard to quench.

The play focuses much time on the making of the man. I wondered if a trade-off could have been made with more time devoted to the independence movement.

The acting overall is impressive and moving, even though some attempts to show his culture shock when he arrived in England to study law, being taught how to dance and play the violin, were a little slapstick.

The set is made of newspaper reports from Gandhi’s times: a period of extraordinary historic importance, World War II, India’s independence and Partition. The mood and import of the scenes are accentuated by the changing lighting that one sees through the set pieces.

The inclusion of live music and dance continues to enrich Naatak’s impressive productions. The dances are colorful and engaging, complementing the seriousness of the lyrics, set in South Africa in the early 19th century, and pre-Independence India. The music was extraordinary. Music director Nachiketa Yakkundi and his troupe are jewels at the edge of the stage.

Performances continue for the next two weekends, with a special performance on Oct 2, 2019, the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth. Tickets are available (if any are left!) at www.naatak.org.

This article was originally published at www.rajiwrites.com and is included here with permission.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.

Cover photo credit: Kyle Adler

Finding Sindhusthan

I remember Sapna Bhavnani from party circles in Mumbai in the mid 2000s. Her salon Mad- O-Wat was quite the rage among my pink-haired, mohawked girlfriends who made heads turn! When I saw her on a common internet group wanting to make a film on Sindhis I was fascinated. Turned out not only did she start the process of interviews and  filming, but true to her character she stuck to it, and made it see the light of day. Her documentary Sindhusthan has now made history. It is the winner of the Griffith Film School Award in Doedge Kolkata, Best Feature Documentary( NYIIF), Excellence in Cinema Award( AIFF), Honorable Mention Documentary (IFF Stutgart), and Best Documentary( MISAFF) and she has many international screenings scheduled as well.

So how did a westernized Indian, educated in America become interested in Sindh?

Sindhusthan documents the stories of the Sindhis and their exodus from Sindh. It shares stories of her family (which was the starting point of the film), herself and many amazing people that she started to connect with. “I tweeted to Dada Vaswani and was surprised to get a ‘yes’ right away. He is surely my favourite interview.”

What makes Sindhusthan so interesting and timely is that the narrative of  Partition stories has been heavily represented by Punjabi stories. Popular media – books like the famous Train to Pakistan, films like Garam Hawa and the Tamas series – have depicted the violent stories from Punjab. The Sindhi story was less violent and less resistant. Sapna points out that this is because they left silently, influenced by the Sufi philosophical outlook, which in itself is a lesser known fact about Sindh. Afterwards Sindhis spent their lives focused on assimilating into India relying on their strong work ethic.

“So now it’s up to the younger generation to give their stories a voice, in a  language that the world can understand.That’s what I am doing with my film. My film is my Sindh, but it will encourage the younger generation to find their Sindh. I am also refraining from giving history lessons that can be found on google,” she chuckles.

With loaded subjects like history, the Partition, and displacement of a community, what was the best feedback that she received? “The fact that the film tackles so many issues so gently is the best feedback I have received. It is very subliminal in its approach and there is no hammer to hit on any issue. It is not so much for people who want a history lesson but  for those who want to understand the Sindhis because SIndh is not a piece of land , it is its people.”

As Sapna looks toward more screenings and awards, she continues to dream about going to Sindh one day. In spite of political tensions between the nations, she hopes that telling real stories through art will win in the end.

Preeti Hay is the Managing Editor of India Currents.

Nandita Das Delights at Stanford

Born in British India, Manto migrated from his beloved Bombay to Lahore, Pakistan after Partition. Many of his stories reflect his heartbreak and disaffection at the violence and inhumanity that ensued on both sides of the British-imposed border.

I had watched the film “Manto” on Netflix a few days earlier, and was deeply moved and impressed by the directorial choices, acting, and Manto’s integrity which shone through every scene.

Das was introduced by Jisha Menon, Associate Professor of Theater and Performance Studies at Stanford.

Menon remarked that 20 years ago, when she was still a student a Stanford, she saw Das debut in Deepa Mehta’s film 1988 “Earth” based on Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel “Cracking India.” Das was “luminous” in that role, she said, and 20 years later, is still luminous.

Other panelists were Usha Iyer, Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies, and Asha Jadeja Motwani, an investor who was one of the producers.

Das showed video clips of several scenes throughout the event. The first was the Irani Café scene, where Manto sits with other writers, members of the Progressive Writers’ Association: his dear friend Ismat Chughtai, Kishan Chander, and Manto’s wife Safia. Das mentioned that Manto himself never joined PWA, he resisted anything organized.

Their very first court case was a joint trial: Manto for “Boo” (“Smell”), and Chugtai for “Lihaaf” (“Quilt”). At that time they were filled with optimism, bravado. By Manto’s sixth trial for “Thanda Gosht” (“Cold Meat”), he had lost a lot of that bravado.

He was a prolific writer. He died at 42 with 300 short stories and hundreds of plays and poems to his name. Das had originally thought to cover the period from 1942 to 1952 in her film. In the 4 years it took her to write the script, she had to make many choices on what to depict. This film was her attempt to humanize Manto.

Manto was interested in individuals, “the other.” In the Irani Café scene he says to his friends, “If you cannot tolerate my stories, then you can’t cannot tolerate the world: we live in unbearable times.”

Das spoke of how she got close to Manto’s family. She learned more from them than from any other source.  At this point, Jadeja asked her what was the most interesting thing she had learned from the family. Das mentioned that Safia developed a rash that went away only after Manto died. Sometimes stress comes out in strange ways. Then Jadeja asked if Safia was “passive-aggressive.”  An odd and somewhat disruptive question. Das calmly responded that she shows some of the steel in Safia in one of the scenes, in the next video clip, of Manto and his family at dinner. Manto says to Safia, “I will write enough so you never go hungry.” And she responds immediately, “That’s my worry, that we will go hungry because of your writing.” Das remarked that Manto’s daughters gave her those lines.

His nephew Hamid Jalal (whose daughter Ayesha Jalal is Professor of History at Tufts University) wrote an essay called Uncle Manto. And he was very sad that Manto died before it was complete, concluding the essay in words to that effect.

In the film, scenes from Manto’s stories are juxtaposed with accounts of his life, and it is sometimes hard to tell when a story begins. Das shared that she uses a small device. Manto’s character looks into the camera when a story starts. A few minutes of “100 watt bulb” were shown—a scene with increasing tension ending with startling violence. The woman depicted simply wanted to sleep. Das’s direction brings out Manto’s deep compassion for his disadvantaged subjects.

Das spoke of the element of surprise without manipulation in his stories: he is not sentimental.

Usha Iyer asked about the Raftaar rap song used to market the film. Das interjected that she had nothing to do with it.

There are certain fictional elements to bring in things that were important to Das. For example nothing was written of Manto’s response to Gandhi’s killing. But she felt it important to include.

She talked of “Manto-esque” people. If you have conviction, courage will follow. We all have the will to be more courageous, more open-minded. Manto said “Don’t say one lakh Hindus have died and one lakh Muslims have died, say two lakh human beings have died.”

Jadeja, to whom the professors had politely handed over the microphone, proceeded to ask a puzzling question about Puritanism in the film (it was not clear to me what she was asking), and followed it up inexplicably with “Do you not like Faiz?” “I have the greatest respect,” Das immediately responded, saying she has included two of Faiz’s poems in the film. Shortly thereafter, Jisha Menon took the mic back, to my great relief.

When Das comes to an NRI audience, she’s asked why are you showing the bad side of India? It is all about intention, she said. Do you milk it, or do you say this is my country: here is the good and the bad. You can know the intention of the maker, whether they wish to titillate, manipulate or genuinely show the reality.

She spoke of the conversation between Manto and his beloved friend Shyam. Shyam was lamenting the attacks on his uncle’s family in Pakistan. Angry at Manto for his seemingly high-handed literary references, he exclaimed that they were real people. Manto responded that either everyone’s life counts or no one’s.

An interesting piece of information she shared is that no Indian or international film that is set in Lahore has ever been shot in Lahore. Das was determined to but couldn’t, she was stopped. She looked for a place resembling Lahore in India, and found a place in Gujarat.

Jadeja talked about dinner with a friend at whose house she met Nandita Das.  The director had mentioned that she was raising money for a film.  While the topic was interesting to Jadeja, she said, “As a VC, I thought I won’t make any money on this.” Das exclaimed to the audience with humor and wisdom, “Those who have a lot of money want to make more money!”

In the next video clip, of Manto and Safia in the garden, we see the rash on her arm, and her distress at the alcohol in his breath on which even their little daughter commented.

Next, we see Manto’s statement in court that his controversial story “Thanda Gosht (“Cold Meat”) is literature. In that scene, he talks of Flaubert and Joyce and how they faced charges for their “Madame Bovary” and Ulysses” respectively. “My stories are the mirrors for society to see itself,” he said, “If someone has a problem with what they see, how am I to blame?”, adding “Neem leaves are bitter, but they purify the blood.”

The first question in the audience Q&A session was about the casting of Nawaz Siddiqui. Das said he was in “Firaaq”, her directorial debut, 10 years ago, and when Das mentioned to him that she was going to make a film on Manto, he said “I’ll give you two years! I’ll give you however long you need.” But by the time the she was ready to start the film, he had become a star! He was acting in “Munna Michael”. He did not have a lot of time to inhabit the role of Manto and deferred to her direction. But, she added, “he brought his authenticity and his beautiful eyes.”

The next question was about the form of the film, and questioner went on to ask about the meta-fictional aspect of the film. Das asked, to my delight, what does that mean? On hearing the questioner clarify that it was about the stories within a story, Das responded that she hasn’t studied film, it was quite organic. She decided to start the film with Manto’s story “Das rupiya” (“10 rupees”). The 14 your old girl seems happy and also you see the beauty of Bombay but it also makes you uncomfortable. There is a sense of foreboding. The girl is laughing but as the three men try to grab her, you think something is going to happen. So, to answer the question on form, it all came about very organically. For example, she did not do auditions, she just talked to the actors. She spoke with a wide range of actors, some very experienced and others, novices.

Who were some current fearless storytellers that she could name? She answered that she doesn’t like to name names, as it undermines those who are not named.

The next question was about how she balances artistic merit with commercial needs. Das responded that she is tried to make the film she wanted to make. No one knows the formula for commercial success! It is not a science; film is part of the arts because there is this alchemy,

She was asked about the production history. In her response, she mentioned Hewlett-Packard, and HP’s Satjiv Chahal, Vikrant Batra, and Jean-Pierre le Calvez (whose role at this event was primarily starting and stopping the video clips from a laptop by the podium.) HP was the official partner for Cannes. There she met Batra and mentioned that she was raising money for a film about a writer. He replied that there was alignment with HP’s tagline: “Power of Ink!” Viacom 18, the film studio was also a producer, better known for huge productions like Padmavat. Das ended up being producer, which was very demanding on top of everything else. In her next project, se declared, she will first look for a producer. Of course, art needs patrons. What it also needs is faith. (“Asha, are you listening?” she quipped to Jadeja.)

She was once asked what does the director do? She said a film like an orchestra and the director is the conductor. You have a vision and you share it. She took her driver to see the film and his reaction was as she had hoped.

A sophomore from Pakistan asked why Das hadn’t shown more of Faiz or something else. Das explained that it’s a two-hour film, you have to make choices.

The event ended with a video clip of Toba Tek Singh, one of Manto’s most celebrated stories.

Naatak, the Bay Area’s Indian Theatre company had put on a distinguished stage production of Toba Tek Singh in 2017, which I reviewed earlier. I noticed some Naatak members sprinkled in the audience—kindred spirits.

In the end Manto himself becomes Toba Tek Singh: in between India and Pakistan, on a piece of land with no name, lay Toba Tek Singh, and Manto.

Das thanked the audience with folded hands, and invited everyone for the screening of “Manto” in San Jose the following day.  If you can’t make it, she added, you can watch it on Netflix.

“This article was originally published at www.rajiwrites.com and is included here with permission.” 

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.

Cover photo credit: Geetika Pathania Jain

Eminent Dominatrix

Eminent Dominatrix

BEGUM JAAN.  Director: Srijit Mukherji.  Players: Vidya Balan, Ila Arun, Naseeruddin Shah, Rajit Kapoor, Ashish Vidyarthi, Chunky Pandey, Vivek Mushran.  Music: Anu Malik.  Hindi with Eng.  sub-titles.  Theatrical release (Vishesh Films)Begum Jaan, Movie

The ill-advised, ill-defined and ill-executed dividing of what was British India into India and Pakistan and smaller neighbors was a monumental event in the history of the Indian subcontinent, perhaps even more damaging than any war, including the two World Wars. Partition, as it became known, uprooted, shattered or downright destroyed the lives of upwards of 15 million people.  By any measure, truly a giant human flood. The impact of that seismic event is a daunting task to juxtapose over the plight of a whorehouse that finds itself straddling the invisible line that will soon become a boundary.

And yet, Mukherji’s ambitious entry aims for exactly those coordinates on the geopolitical map and comes darn close to succeeding. Remaking his own Bengali original Rajkahini (2015) and moving the late 1940s Partition-era stage from what was then India-East Pakistan border over to India-West Pakistan border, the evocative script lands with a gut-punch. A group of surveyors from India and Pakistan, jointly tasked with tracing the imaginary line that far-removed mid-level British bureaucrats contrived, stumble upon a rather large whorehouse smack on their survey line with the occupants, led by the iron-willed Begum Jaan (Balan), refusing to budge. It is, after all, their home. Eminent domain be damned.

In mismatches, the burden of proof perennially falls on those with a shorter reach. By day time, the Begum and her adopted brood put up with jabs, insults —or worse—hurled by upstanding village torch-bearers feigning moral outrage.  By night time, in reprising millennia old hypocrisy, more than a few of those same flame-throwers come knocking on the brothel’s doors flashing money. In this locale, the social strata occupied by both large niches are taken at face value and passed down as “tradition.”

Malik’s score is perhaps his finest ever.  Malik, somewhat of a border-themed specialist (Refugee, Border, LOC: Kargil), working with Kausar Munir’s excellent lyrics, orchestrates keepsake music. As a showstopper, the great—and increasingly reclusive—Asha Bhonsle lends a lilting, aged romance to “Prem Mein Tohre.” Even old man Time makes an exception by pausing when this dame sings. Kavita Seth’s reprise of this same tune is also no slacker. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Sonu Nigam comprise incongruent vocal ranges and their tandem “Aazadiyan,” while a good tune, feels limited on both ends.

The emotional tug of Kalpana Patowary and Altamash Faridi’s “O Re Kaharo,” however, gives powerful voice to a socially encumbered woman’s call to a passing wedding party asking them to stop at her doorstep knowing full well that will never happen while Arijit Singh elevates “Murshida” with a pathos of thwarted love. Then there is Singh and Shreya Ghosal re-touching “Woh Subah,” which re-ignites an uplifting, subdued hymn to charting one’s destiny much the same as the Khayyam-Sahir Ludhianvi 1958 original “Woh Subah Kabhie to Ayegi,” by Mukesh and Asha Bhosle which extolled socialist virtue. “O Re Kaharo” and “Woh Subah” are twin peaks on Malik’s sumptuous score.

The roles are mostly carved up fairly nicely.  Kapoor and Vidyarthi are opposing map-drawers wielding the shots–one Hindu and one Muslim–who are also scheming, jingoistic prototypes of entrenched prejudices. Mushran is a mousy well-wisher making frequent stops at the Begum’s abode while Pandey is a thug whose violent tactics may force Begum Jaan and her fold to take up arms. As housemother to the women in the brothel, Ila Arun’s Amma is also Begum Jaan’s closest confidant and does so well.

Balan can emote, beguile, charm and seduce with ease. The boon of earthiness in her mere presence, something few A-listers can match; she can disarm just about any patron refusing to pay or any strong-arming two-bit uniformed sap that lands on her doorstep. Balan’s presence, however, comes on too strong. There is more of I-am-Vidya-Balan-hear-me-roar than there is of I-am-Begum-Jaan-hear-me-roar. Balan’s takeover is unabated by the absence of a single strong male lead as counter-weight. There is Shah. In a limited role, however, he is the suave, over-the-hill lecherous local prince personifying old guard nobility suddenly put on notice by shifting political headwinds. Hardly a match for Balan’s hookah-puffing virtual dominatrix.

EQ: B+
Aniruddh Chawda

Knock Three Times

RUSTOM. Director: Tinu Desai. Players: Akshay Kumar, Ileana D’Cruz, Arjan Bajwa, Esha Gupta, Pavan Malholtra, Kumud Mishra, Usha Nadkarni. Hindi with Eng. sub-tit. Theatrical release (Zee Studios)

films_rustom

It’s 1959 all over again! In Hollywood, the 1959 classic Ben Hur remake got a wide release at about the same time as Rustom, which is based on a sensational true life high society murder case set in what was then Bombay. While Ben Hur recreates Roman era chariot racing, Rustom opts for slightly more sedate pacing. And what pace it is! Served up as a polished period piece thriller mindful of socio-economic realities and sensibilities of that era, Rustom is a sumptuous reenactment of a tangled murder mystery.

A decade after Independence, India had fully come of age and a free press was thriving. A murder that would normally go unnoticed captures the popular imagination because the principal figures involved are very wealthy, belonging to the upper crust of society. The accused is Commander Rustom Pavri, (Kumar) a highly decorated officer with the Indian navy. Returning home from an extended stint out at sea, Rustom discovers an affair between his wife Cynthia Pavri (D’Cruz) and the couple’s long-time friend Vikram Makhija (Bajwa). What exactly happened before, during and after three famed gunshots that killed Makhija at his palatial home might as well have been three shots heard around the world.

This entire framework would fall flat on its face if not for Santosh Thundiyil’s excellent cinematography that places Rustom and Cynthia smack in the middle of society ball rooms or Rustom at shipside on the high seas. Color filters create a mood of intrigue in the navy parlors where a behind-the-scenes high stakes arms race to acquire India’s first aircraft carrier is played out as a tangent to the main narrative. The sets come alive to inject a dose of realistic make-believe. Just don’t look too far into the distance or a computer-generated period auto rickshaw may pop up out of thin air.

The real life 1959 case had massive implications for India’s legal system. Amazingly, the original case became the very last Indian court case tried by a jury. After this case played out, India did away with jury trials in favor of a sole judge or a small group of judges deciding all cases, including capital murder. And small wonder. The sensation created by the case and its hold on the popular press at a time when the jury had full access to all media while the trial was ongoing, effectively meant that the verdict was issued by the tabloids long before the case went to the jury.

The pudgy paparazzi Billimoria (Mishra) prints anything and everything to create a line of “reasoning” that will sell more papers. His playbook includes baiting ethnicity into the case. The Pavris like Billimoria and his media barons are from the Parsi community, while the murder victim is from the Sindhi community.  There is also the maid Jamnabai (Nadkarni) whose loose lips could just about sink ships. Preeti Makhija (Gupta), the murder victim’s conniving sister, meanwhile, is up to no good at all. It is up to the chief police investigator Vincent Lobo (Malhotra) to read through the tarot cards of evidence that don’t seem to add up.

As a cuckold decorated navy officer in sailor whites, Kumar comes across as a wronged man numbed by court proceedings—in other words, a victim. Strangely, the empathy factor swings away from him, and we feel more for D’Cruz who plays the anguished wife fending loneliness. In roles where the social stigma of adultery burns heavier on her than murder does on him, D’Cruz manages to keep tears to a minimum, and she is restrained in her portrayal.

Desai’s Rustom is not the first feature based on the famed original case. R.K. Nayyar’s Yeh Raste Hai Pyar Ke (1963) with Sunil Dutt and Leela Naidu and Gulzar’s Achanak (1973) with Vinod Khanna and Lily Chakravarty both touched on this story. As a time capsule with critical and box office validation however,Rustom breaks refreshing new ground. Three gun shots, three figures and a two and a half hour big screen joyride. We are guilty as charged, my Lord!

EQ: A