The ability of Parsis to laugh at themselves has allowed all kinds of movies to be made—the characterization alternates between stereotype and archetype
A government press release issued in September 2004 professed anguish over the dip in the Parsi population. The release noted that according to the 2001 census, “the Parsi population in the country is 69,601 (33,949 males and 35,652 females) as against their population of 76,382 (37,736 males and 38,646 females) in the 1991 census”. The statement bemoaned the “extremely unfortunate decline of a rich civilization of Zoroastrians and its people” and urged “urgent and drastic interventions”, especially “fertility improvement” initiatives.
Could Bela Sehgal’s movie be taking up the challenge in some way? Is Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi an attempt to get Parsi men and women to overcome their alleged aversion to matrimony and settle down to raise families? The 24 August release traces the romance between late bloomers Farhad Pastakia and Shirin Fugawala, played by Boman Irani and Farah Khan. Hindi cinema has actually been doing its bit for Parsis much before the government warning. Although the Parsi movie subgenre is tiny compared to the so-called Muslim social, there have been attempts to spotlight stories set in the baugs, or residential colonies meant for members of the community. Shirin Farhad is already the second Parsi movie after Ferrari Ki Sawaari this year. Ferrari Ki Sawaari showcased Khareghat Colony, one of Mumbai’s most charming baugs and an island of calm and order in an increasingly out-of-control metropolis. If nothing else, the Parsi movie allows non-Parsis to marvel at the old-world charm of such planned colonies. Shirin Farhad has been shot in the magnificent Cusrow Baug in south Mumbai.
The ability of Parsis to laugh at themselves has allowed all kinds of movies to be made—the characterization alternates between stereotype and archetype, while the mood swings from comic to tragic via eccentric. Unfortunately, one of the best-known Parsi films isn’t Percy or Little Zizou but Khatta Meetha, directed by Basu Chatterjee. Khatta Meetha’s Parsis, played by actors like Rakesh Roshan and Bindiya Goswami, are as believable as the Catholics in Chatterjee’s Baton Baton Mein.
Not surprisingly, the better movies about Parsis have been made by members of the community. Percy, the only feature by Pervez Merwanji (who died two years after its completion in 1989), was a downbeat yet moving exploration of working-class Parsi life in Mumbai—a far cry from the middle-class antics of the neurotic folk in Vijaya Mehta’s Pestonjee. Parsis are deeply eccentric in Homi Adajania’s Being Cyrus or merely trying to make sense of the far more imbalanced world around them in Sturla Gunnarsson’s adaptation of Rohinton Mistry’s novel Such a Long Journey. Sooni Taraporevala, who wrote the screenplay of Such a Long Journey, turned to her backyard for her debut Little Zizou, a comedy about the small adventures of a football-crazy boy and the big issues facing his free-thinking journalist father.
Little Zizou spoofs the section of the community that insists on racial purity, but Taraporevala also makes the point that Parsis are as tightly woven into Mumbai’s fabric as are its other groups. As Mumbai mutates into anything but a global city, we can expect many more films that revisit the metropolis’ original and well-deserved reputation as a true melting pot, rather than the simmering cauldron of anxieties it has now become.
Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi releases on 24 August.