Parsi director unspools community’s travails

PUNE: A few minutes before the screening of ‘The Path of Zarathustra’ at a theatre in Koregaon Park, Oorvazi Irani received several compliments from the small Parsi community for her directorial venture and her acting.

Irani, stirred by the knowledge that the community is on the verge of extinction, set forth on a journey about knowing the identity of the religion Parsis follow and her quest led to a film on Zoroastrianism. Farrukh Dhondy, acclaimed India-born British writer and playwright, has written its script.

Chosen as one of PVR’s ‘Director’s Rare’ series, a special screening of the film was held on Sunday in Pune where Irani interacted with TOI on Parsis and the issues of survival the community faces today. She has directed two short films. ‘The Path of Zarathustra’ is her first feature film which she has also produced.

“In 2006, I was attending a meeting of the minority commission and the 2001 census was being discussed. It was revealed that the population of the Parsi community was around 69,000 in India. It was an alarming figure and it struck me that the community I belong to is dwindling. I felt the pinch and said to myself that the religion may be lost and we will not exist as a community anymore in some years. That was the trigger point when I seriously started thinking about this film,” she said.

Parsis are followers of the First Prophet Zarathustra and the film explores their identity through the prism of Zoroastrian history and philosophy, through a fictional personal quest. It is specific yet universal, addressing the theme of God and religion. While Irani has played the protagonist, eminent actor Tom Alter has played her grandfather’s role.

The film is running in Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru. Irani has received an encouraging response from the viewers of the community.

“There were quite a few non-Parsis, yet they loved the film. Many told to me that they got to know so much more about the community. People in the community recognize me and it feels nice to be known among your own people, it’s a matter of pride,” Irani added.

There were hate mails from some traditionalists since the film questions practices followed for ages and their current relevance.

“I have received mails from some members of the community calling it anti-religion. They said they would boycott the film. However, it is a perspective from the traditionalists of the community and I am more liberal minded. I have tried to look at the religion and its practices as normally as I could. People have asked how could I question the Tower of Silence or how could I talk about mixed religion in the film. While making the film, I had anticipated such a controversy, but I did appeal to those who were floating anti-messages about it to watch it and then judge,” Irani said.

A Tower of Silence is a circular, raised structure used by Zoroastrians for exposure of the dead, particularly to scavenging birds.

With the success of her debut feature film, Irani is now trying to go back to the roots of Zoroastrians as she wants to explore Iran and the religion in the form of either a travelogue or a fiction film.

Published on Times of India