Friday, March 13, 2009

Film review: Little Zizou

Just for Kicks

Starring: Boman Irani, Zenobia Shroff, Jahan Bativala, Iyanah Bativala, Imaad Shah, Sohrab Ardeshir
Director: Sooni Taraporevala
Rating: ***

It’s been long since we’ve seen a film showcasing a particular community, bringing out their little quirks and specific traits. There have been Baaton Baton Mein, Pestonji and a few more in the past, which have delved into culture/community specific subjects, leading to an endearing comedy of manners.

In that respect, director Sooni Taraporevala – (screenplay writer for Mira Nair’s The Namesake, Mississipi Masala) is the spot-on choice for her directorial debut, Little Zizou, which essentially is all about the Zoroastrian community, that mildly touches upon some of the larger issues Parsis are faced with.Given that Taraporevala understands the community so well, enables her to etch out a textured screenplay with the right tone, and characters, situations and dialogues that ring true at every point. If you’re one for subtlety (note how a South Indian character in the film speaks just in the right intonation) and a certain assured style of story-telling, Little Zizou could well be your weekend treat.

So what’s the film about? Nothing much really. The script is mostly happy to meander around, capturing lives around a Parsi locality. The film starts with 11-year old Xerxes (Jahan Bativala), who loves football and dreams of meeting his icon Zinedine Zidane someday. He’s nicknamed fondly after his idol, Zizou. Motherless and lonely, he spends most of his time being treated to fish curry and other stuff by his kindly neighbours, The Presswalas (Boman Irani and Zenobia Shroff) — much to the chagrin of their younger daughter who sulks at the attention given to Zizou by her mother. Boman Presswala regularly pokes fun of Khodaiji through his newspaper, which forms the crux of the story in the later reels.

Zizou’s own family is a dysfunctional one. His father, Cyrus II Khodaiji (Sohrab Ardeshir) is an archetype, a pathetic remnant of the Raj– the kind who speaks high-flown English and insists on crisp toast and bacon for breakfast. That is when he’s not driving his uptight Girl Friday (Shenaz Patel) crazy, expecting new levels of perfection from her every day. But all this could be excused as perverse eccentricity, except that Khodaiji is obsessed with a certain ‘cause’ to keep his community pure and not allow “riff raff”, as he puts it, to pollute them. When an articulate foreign journalist points out at Parsis’ dwindling numbers, Khodaiji’s retort is, “Quality matters madam, not quantity”
Meanwhile, Zizou’s elder brother, Artaxerxes (Imaad Shah) is a writer-artiste –who visualises his vicinity through caricatures (this is a nice touch to the theme) — keeps himself busy with a bunch of wacky friends, trying to convert a crashed cockpit into a flight-of-fantasy machine, when he’s not getting disappointed in love.

What Sooni Taraporevala gets right is the setting and mood. She never goes over-the-top and ensures there’s a certain comic vein that runs through the film. But the most howlerious and interesting part of the film is hands down Boman Irani and his wife, played by the pretty Zenobia Shroff. The latter is a delight to watch, as she tries to bring a semblance of calm and grace to her otherwise tumultuous surrounding. Boman is predictably brilliant. See him interacting with his younger daughter in Parsi, it’s great fun. This is really the highlight of the film and most of the charm of the movie resides in this household alone. Imaad Shah (the only non-Parsi in the cast probably) is impressive while John Abraham has a neat little guest appearance. The director has tried to include as many Parsi personalities in the film as possible (there’s Shiamak Davar and Cyrus Brocha too), making this a tribute film to the community almost.

Even though the film stays fairly engaging, it needs to be said that this is ultimately a very unambitious film that is happy to skim the surface and not really address any of the issues in detail. Also, many threads are left incomplete. What happens to Zenobia’s senile, chatterbox mother in the film – (a very good, Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal) is not clear. More importantly, the central premise (the fight for ‘pure breed’) hardly comes through and the ending is all too convenient and half-baked.

So while there are these nice vignettes you can carry home with you, none of them add to the whole, making it ultimately a film you can enjoy watching, but hardly one that makes you sit up and take note of it.
-Sandhya Iyer


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice review Sandy.


March 14, 2009 at 11:58 AM  
Anonymous sandy said...

Thanks very much, Bond :-)

March 14, 2009 at 9:08 PM  
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