Film ban hampers search for son

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 February, 2007, 12:00am

Roopa and Dara Modi are devastated that an acclaimed film about their son's disappearance in the Gujarat riots five years ago is being turned away by cinema owners in the state. They had hoped it would offer clues to finding him.

During the riots, a Hindu mob burst into the housing complex where the middle-class family lived in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's largest city. As the mob butchered Muslims, Mrs Modi kept telling the attackers they were Parsees - followers of Zoroastrianism.

In the bloodbath, her son, Azhar, then 10, disappeared. The couple and their daughter, now 13, survived but 40 others in the complex died. Between 1,000 and 2,000 Muslims across the western state were estimated to have been killed.

Their story, portrayed in Parzania, a film by Rahul Dholakia, has won critical acclaim and is showing across India except in Gujarat.

Cinema owners have refused to screen it, fearing their businesses could be burnt or attacked by Hindu activists opposed to a film they believe shows Gujarat in a bad light. Most owners are too frightened to say openly that they fear violence.

'The film is the work of people bent on destroying Gujarat's image,' said Prakash Sharma, convener of the Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal.

Activists have responded with an online campaign to have the movie shown. 'We've got 1,600 signatures so far and are going strong. This is an attack on free speech,' said Stalin Kurup of Drishti, the group running the campaign

Naseerudin Shah, the actor who plays the father, is disgusted by the ban. 'The people who don't want this film screened obviously have something to hide. I'm amazed that they feel nothing for this family's suffering.'

For the Modis, who have spent the past five years distributing pictures of Azhar in the hope that someone will have information, the ban has shattered hopes. They agreed to collaborate with the director because they hoped a viewer might provide a clue. Since the riots, they have been afraid to return home.

'I appeal to the people of Gujarat to let this film be shown,' Mr Modi said. 'He might be alive but I'll never find him if this movie isn't shown. Let people have mercy.'

No one has been convicted over the riots. The government, accused of giving the mobs a free run, continues to rule the state.