As each character comes to terms with their complicity and their guilt, the film offers a gentle rejoinder to barbarity with acts of great personal courage. The film's final scene, however, speaks volumes about the lasting repercussions of loss, grief and the terrible cost of inaction. Acts of violence, both big and small, have enduring legacies that can neither be diminished nor forgotten.
Firaaq is an Urdu word that means both separation and quest. The film is a work of fiction, based on a thousand stories.
The story is set over a 24-hour period, one month after a carriage that took place in Gujarat, India, in 2002. It traces the emotional journeys of ordinary people- some who were victims, some perpetrators and some who chose to watch silently. As an ensemble film, it follows multiple narratives that are at times interconnected and at times discreet, yet all are united by their spatial and emotional context.
A middle-class housewife closes the door on a woman desperately seeking refuge, and then struggles to overcome her guilt. Aarti (Deepti Naval) is a housewife silently haunted by the sight of Muslim women begging for sanctuary in her house, that she ignored. Her only hope for salvation comes when she takes in an orphaned Muslim boy as a servant, pretending to her family he is Hindu.
saintly musician clings on to his idealism until an evidence of civil strife shakes his faith. Saheb (Naseeruddin Shah) is a great Muslim musician who lives in a Hindu suburb, refusing to comprehend the fractured world around him.
A modern day Hindu-Muslim couple struggle between the survival instinct to hide their true identities and the desire to assert them. Middle class Sameer (Sanjay Suri), married to a Hindu wife (Tisca Chopra), is torn between fleeing town or staying and being recognised as a Muslim.
The loyalty of two best friends is challenged in times rife with fear and suspicion. A group of victimized young men seek revenge as a way out of their helplessness and anger.
A boy, having lost most of his family in the riots, wanders through the streets searching for his missing father. Muneera has hidden with friends during the riots but returns to find her home gutted and trust in her neighbours destroyed. While slum dwellers live in constant fear of the next outbreak of violence, others plot revenge.
Through these characters we trace the ways in which violence impacts both inner and outer lives. Violence spares nobody. Yet in the midst of the madness, some find it in their hearts to sing hopeful songs for better times.
With masterly control Das explores the relationships, good and bad, that bind these two different religious communities to their homeland, and to each other, even in the face of the most terrible atrocities.