Prophets and profit: The miraculous world of Indian devotional films


September 6, 2015

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‘The Path of Zarathustra’, which explores the core values of Zoroastrianism, is only the latest faith-based film to hit the screens.

Article by Nandini Ramnath  |

The devotional film, a well-established genre with its own codes, iconography, and narrative strategies, has long been associated with the single-screen theatre, the travelling tent cinema, and the low-cost VCD with the garish cover art. But of late, movies dedicated to deities, saints and miracles have been materialising regularly in the multiplex. This week, for instance, The Path of Zarathustra, directed by Oorvazi Irani and outling the core beliefs of Zoroastrianism, is being released under PVR Cinemas’ Director Rare label, which usually showcases independent productions with offbeat themes.


Over the past few years, movies on Sikhism (Chaar Sahibzaade) and Christianity (Son of God) have received mainstream distribution. Irani’s reformist drama has been written by Farrukh Dhondy and produced by her company, SBI Impresario, with assistance from Parsi philanthropists such as Cyrus Guzder and Pheroza Godrej. The English-language film features Irani in the central role as a woman seeking to understand the relevance of her faith in the modern world.

“This is not a commercial venture but is a part of my personal quest,” Irani said. “I wanted to make a film not about Parsi characters but the essence of the religion. I have tried to be faithful to what I want to express in the neutral space of art.”

Zoroastrianism was last explored on screen in 1986. Cyrus H Bharucha’s On Wings of Fire featured classical music conductor Zubin Mehta as “himself… a Westernised Parsi in search of his roots”, according to an India Today article from that year. But On Wings of Fire ruffled Parsi feathers and was decried “as a deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious beliefs”.

Irani too runs the risk of upsetting the conservatives as she dives into theological debates, tackles the reasons for the community’s population decline, and advocates that the children of Parsi women who have married outside the faith to be accepted into the fold rather than be rejected as unpure.

“I wanted to tackle contemporary problems but not make a documentary,” Irani said. “Religion is a powerful force, and it is very important subject for filmmakers. I am not trying to hurt any religion, but if an artist does not do it, who else will? Everybody has the right to differing viewpoints, and we need the freedom to express them.”