31st October: Cardboard recreations of history

The slapdash handling of one of the most tragic massacres of recent times is evident in the opening sequence of 31st October. The director, Shivaji Lotan Patil tackily strings together some stock shots of Delhi and a few on the set scenes to put together a half-hearted recreation of Tilak Nagar in 1984.

Add to that his decision to cast Vir Das (sporting a bland face) and Soha Ali Khan (crying into her dupatta/pallu) in lead roles that required some amount of flair than their cringing, utterly fake Punjabi accents and self conscious acts. The two characters, that should have been throbbing with life, involving and moving us with their plight, are rendered into caricatures by Das and Khan. Not just them—the landscape, the lingo, the people, the relationship, the actors in the background—everything is cardboard flat.

Patil makes a hash of a significant subject. He is all earnestness, makes the right noises but never rises beyond the facile. Merely throwing some numbers at us in the end and telling us that justice hasn’t been delivered is not all. Don’t we already know that? What about recreating on-screen the magnitude of the tragedy that the Sikhs had to bear post 1984? Is Patil making supposedly brave cinema by just throwing in lookalikes of Congress politicians Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar to show their alleged involvement in the pogrom (much more of which is in the public domain anyhow)? Or is he just being gimmicky?

Patil works within a very simplistic frame. He focuses on the commonplace routines of a neighbourhood way back in 1984 on the bloody day. As people leave their kids to school, haggle for vegetables and even steal some moments of romance they don’t realise what’s in store for them ahead. It focuses on one Sikh family which is rescued in the gruesome night by their Hindu friends who put their own lives at stake. The fear of the family reaches out only in a couple of scenes. The ominous knock on the door doesn’t feel threatening enough and the scenes of rioting are most artlessly realised without any profundity or subtlety.

If Patil’s attempt was to look at the human cost of history then my suggestion would be to skip this one entirely and instead watch Diljit Dosanjh’s Punjabi film Punjab 1984 which, despite the glitches, packed in an emotional wallop in showing how unknown innocent lives get sacrificed at the alter of politics. 31st October does little for an important cause.

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Printable version | Jun 22, 2021 2:01:10 AM |

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