To the Batliwalas and forgotten Rustoms

During the late 70s, it was not important to personally know a Batliwala, Daruwala or Rustom to have some knowledge of the sudra (long muslin shirt) or China silk skull caps, sali boti and patra ni machchi. But thanks to Bollywood movies like Khatta Meetha, we were all familiar with these trappings of a Parsi household.

Published in Daily Pioneer

There was a time when Bollywood was strongly influenced by the Parsi community and culture. Parsi theatre was just the tip of the iceberg. Any Bollywood film that had anything to with the Parsi community would have the typical mis-en-scene of a middle class set up. The plaster peeling off the walls, an all pervading gloomy atmosphere. The women would wear skirts and polka dotted dresses, the men would be in the traditional lungi, vest and topi. The 1978 film Khatta Meetha made by Basu Chatterji had the conventional Parsi setting. The viewers heartily accepted the romance between the odd couple — an old retired Parsi widower and a Parsi widow. These movies took the then film scenario to a whole new level. Later on many directors used Parsi traditions as the crux of their scripts. Of late the Parsi characters were reduced to beings sidekicks and were caricatured comically. Remember Munnabhai MBBS? The film had used hints of Parsi culture. The character of Rustom Pavri, played by Kurush Debbo, was a Parsi. The perfectionist doctor helps Munna (Sanjay Dutt) clear his exams. So when Rustom gave the exams for Munna, the latter spent all his day playing carrom with Rustom’s retired father.

Pestonjee and Being Cyrus showed another side of the Parsis. Both films were distinct in their treatment and were sharply criticised.

They both had immoral and dark characters, which were at times mere excuses for human beings. The 2007 film Parzania is another acclaimed film, based on the true story of a Parsi family that was caught in the aftermath of 2002 Godhra riots.

With the recent Ferrari Ki Sawaari and Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi, which have been warmly received, its clear that the Parsis are back with a bang in Bollywood. While one stressed on the island like structure of the community, the other brought to the fore the rituals that are prevalent.

Boman Irani, a Parsi himself, had been a part of Parsi theatre for a long time. He says that the community has always contributed immensely to different fields. “Though the Parsi Gujrati theatre is limited to our festivals, but Parsi actors in films and English theatre have contributed a great deal. I am proud that we have always been making our presence felt in Bollywood. I am glad that again there are movies being made with a Parsi background,” he says.

Boman was recently seen in Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi, as a sweet middle-aged Parsi man madly in love. “It was not a deliberate attempt as an actor to give the movie the Parsi feel. It was our attempt to make it an innocent and sweet love story depicting the Parsi lifestyle and the film turned out that way. I agree that it has very Basu Chatterjee or Hrishikesh Mukherjee kind of energy, but we didn’t plan it this way. There is a lot of sweetness and innocence in the movie” he added.

Not only films but Parsi fashion is also making waves. Women are now opting for bright dresses with polka dots and embroidered shrugs.

Even designers are using lots of Parsi gara work, pearls and crystals. Dilnaz Karbhary who designed clothes for Farah in Shirin Farhad said “I am a Parsi myself. Parsi fashion was at its peak during the 70s and 80s. Many yesteryear actresses heartily supported the fashion. Women nowadays are more inclined towards traditional Indian couture comprising mostly of saris and salwar kameez. Parsi fashion has not been fully appreciated here. People used to make fun of Parsis earlier for their dresses and style. So I wouldn’t go as far to say that Parsi fashion has made a comeback, but yes I see lots of designers getting influenced from it. Girls are also opting for the Parsi prints and patterns.”

The recent collection of Sabyasachi showcased at the Delhi Couture Week, also had major Parsi infleunces.

The lace work, printed skirts and gowns created by the designer would not look out of place at a Navroz celebration. The models completed the look with glasses in place.