The ten-year-old Xerxes plays soccer with other kids, avoids going to school to spend time at his neighbor’s always warm and welcoming house, and dreams of meeting his idol Zinedin Zidane some day. His elder brother Art is a bohemian teenager who often pours out his frustrations on his blog and spends most of his day making sketches for his graphic novel or dreaming about fulfilling the desires of his unrequited love. They both despise their father, Khodaiji, a self-proclaimed religious leader who runs a fundamentalist cult that worships him and hates the “impure” Parsis. Then there’s this neighbor, Boman Pressvala, effortlessly played by Boman Irani, who occupies the ideologically opposite position to that of Khodaiji. Boman runs a local newspaper company, believes in and writes about freedom of speech and mutual tolerance. (At one point we see Boman talking about the liberal teachings of Zarathustra to an uninterested, half-asleep community members, and at the same time the hyper-active followers of Khodaiji responds with cheers and applause to his rhetorical proclamations.) Boman’s wife Roxanne is a comely, adorable women who loves Xerxes, the motherless boy, causing agony and child-like envy in her own daughter who “hates everyone, but loves dogs”. There are many other such carefully defined characters in this movie that makes it a delightful watch.
Little Zizou hardly takes itself too seriously, but when it does, it touches you to the core and leaves a gloomy and poignant feeling lingering in your mind – like when Roxane’s delusional mother, who adores her dysfunctional motel in Udwada (South Gujarat), is given a choice between either being realistic by selling off the motel or preserving her trembling yet endeared identity, she chooses the latter. One may call it sheer madness but the imaginary world in which she lives is more “realistic”, more important, and more personal to her than moving on with (the real) life. You wonder whether the talented director Sooni Taraporevala (who wrote Salaam Bombay, Mississippi Masala and The Namesake) uses this as a metaphor for what is actually happening with the Parsi community in general: dwindling quickly yet struggling fervently to maintain its cherished traditions, principles and values — the Parsi culture, in short.
Very few movies in Bollywood explored this alluring little world of Parsis before, the way they live their daily lives, pray to their God, express love and disgust, and all other small details that make you fall in love with this unique melting-pot culture and its people. But make no mistake, Taraporevala is not painting a Utopian all-flowery picture of her community here, there are many shades of gray (fundamentalism, sexual exploitation, religious intolerance, orthodoxy, and empty vanity to name a few) which might startle a viewer whose only source of Parsi cultural knowledge is those handful Bollywood movies with an old harmless Parsi couple (in a traditional attire that they usually wear during wedding ceremonies) uttering some funny dialogues with a heavy Parsi accent to garner few laughs. There were few Hindi movies, however, that tried to stay away from the slapstick comical elements, and honestly looked into the nuances of the daily lives of the Parsis. Here‘s a nice article for the interested reader.
I loved Taraporevala’s previous work as a screenwriter and was expecting nothing less than extraordinary from her debut movie as a director, and she didn’t disappoint me. Hoping to see more from her soon.