When a film is planned specifically talking about an ugly communal chapter of our history post three long decades, then the makers are ideally expected to come-up with something relevant to say, adding into the already known, reaching out the younger audience in particular born in the years after. Moreover an important subject like this essentially needs to be handled with an exceptional extra-care without provoking or misinforming the present generation of the actual violent events, maintaining the peace & harmony.
Unfortunately 31st OCTOBER doesn’t turn out to any important film as mentioned above. On the contrary it neither serves any purpose of information nor is willing to make any strong convincing comment on that particular time period ruining the opportunity given. In fact it’s nothing different form just another routine Friday movie simply interested on focusing on its lead couple’s miraculous (filmy) escape from the attacking goons and therefore deserves no brownie points for its chosen subject rudely screwed through its ineffective, feeble and predictable onscreen portrayal.
In other words, spending a good 25 minutes on the casual build-up in its 102 minutes of duration, 31st OCTOBER is a too simple film made on a too complicated and horrifying subject talking about those ghastly attacks on Sikhs beginning from the evening of 31st October (around AIIMS, South Delhi) and continuing till the next 3 days in the city, putting the entire nation to shame.
As a matter of fact, it’s not only a simple film but also a poorly conceived, written and researched project which marginally works only due to the emotions involved in a few sequences in its second half. The film neither has any fresh angle to reveal nor has any exceptional vision to convey the history to the younger generation of the country born after the mid-80s.
In short there seems to be no other purpose or vision behind the making of this film except a personal attachment with its subject of its emotional producers, who most probably wished to make a film on ‘Delhi-84’ as some kind of duty to be fulfilled towards their own people and community.
However I seriously wish they could find a better, mature and knowledgeable team researching, writing and making the project, performing much more than just some professionals hired for a job.
Anyway without going into the details of those ‘ugly days’, would like to mention why 31st OCTOBER fails to reach the level of even an average project made on a still burning religion-based subject unexpectedly.
A. The film doesn’t work as it tries to present everything in a typically filmy style, adding (sad) songs right in the middle of all tension-filled sequences along with many clichéd characters and last minute miraculous escapes of the hero that don’t appear to be realistic or natural from any angle. In fact throughout the film you just feel like watching a highly dramatized filmy version of the terrifying events far away from anything close to the scary actual happenings.
B. Adding a few look-alike faces like a one with black glasses (pointing towards H. K. L. Bhagat) and another with French-cut beard (reminding you of Jagdish Tytler), the makers try to sensationalize the issue without incorporating any noticeable brave sequence or some powerful revealing dialogues. Probably it was all done keeping in mind ‘The Censors’. But if you are fearfully making an attempt with such obvious concerns in mind then there is no use of taking up a subject like ‘Delhi-84’, delivering an ineffective and weak film unclearly and timidly pointing towards ‘the justice promised’, when even generations have changed of those hundreds of unfortunate, victim families.
C. In the entire film the director keeps trying to recreate the scenario within his limited budget using a group of 20-25 men roaming around shoddily designed sets (unlike Delhi), generating a feeling of nothing significant or drastic happening on screen like a typical B-grade Hindi film showing some road-side killings. A few of the goons also have big scars on their faces holding a sword just like any trashy movie.
And this only remains the biggest drawback of 31st OCTOBER unintentionally misguiding the young viewers about the actual magnitude of the brutal killings, loots and shameful sins committed on the Delhi streets in those 3 unforgettable days of November 84.
In cinematic terms, if budget constraint is there then you ought to find a different symbolic way of recreating the similar tension and bloodbath on screen justifying the crucial subject. But you cannot and should not conceive those sequences with only a group of 20-25 people attacking the unaware Sikhs, when in reality there were hundreds and thousands of well instructed men coming in trucks from ‘God knows where’ to attack the already known addresses and shops in the market.
In more clear words, either you show it ‘as it is’ on screen in ‘a similar measure’ or try to convey the same through some other intelligent means as seen in film AMU. But its nothing less than a criminal and unforgivable mistake portraying the unbelievable SCALE of killings with such a miniscule vision, misguiding and wrongly informing the youngsters painting a relatively smaller picture.
Explaining it further, if you are portraying an inhuman genocide of more than 4000 people on roads (in the capital of a country) including men, women and small kids burned and thrown away like dead animals on roads to be later picked up as trash, then the viewer should strictly get the same solid impression in mind or else there is no use of making it, wasting both your time and money.
D. As said earlier, if you wish to educate and enlighten the present generation about those black days of our history, then just poorly showing the unexpected political assassination and its after effects doesn’t work, unless you tell them at least something about the backdrop of ‘Blue Star Operation’ and more, may be, with some still pictures and a voice-over mentioning the specific sequence, which is nowhere to be found in the film confirming its unclear vision or purpose.
Coming to the research, writing and art direction of the film – Don’t know how many people with personal experience of those days were involved in the film’s research and art direction. But it was quite disappointingly done, unable to provide any kind of realistic touch to the movie hampering its overall impact.
E. Was surprised to see Tilak Nagar area of Delhi and its lanes in the year 1984, presented as a remote village of Punjab with heritage kind of buildings used for living. In reality the region never looked that way in 1984 at all (as experienced personally).
F. There was a difference between DTC buses and private buses running under permit in Delhi at that time wherein DTC buses were owned by the government having a particular look and colour different from the private ones. But a sequence still shows the goons spotting a DTC bus owned by a Sikh setting it on a fire immediately.
G. The writers give Vir Das and Soha Ali Khan a mixed language to speak with words from both Hindi and Punjabi merged together, which becomes the major reason why they both always look like uncomfortable playing the given role of a Sikh couple rendering a weird kind of lingo.
H. In one of its scenes mentioning the choice of religion, a character says,
“I was also a clean shaven boy like you, but my Sikh uncle always used to tease me. So I also kept long hair and beard ……. became a Sardar……What big deal?”
In exact spoken words he says,
“Bas Rakh Li Kesh Aur Daadhi….. Aur Ban Gaye Sardar..... Ki Pharak Penda Ae”
Now what kind of pathetic writing was that, I honestly cannot even comment upon!
I. Further tackling the religious aspect on screen, in one of its tension filled sequence Vir Das looks upwards towards the Almighty and says “Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh” asking for help.
Here although at personal level one might say anything to that Supreme Power. But in a film, the expression should have been either “Waheguru Mehar Karin” or simply “Satnam Waheguru” asking for a timely help looking towards the sky.
Because probably the writers were not aware that actually “Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh” is a phrase to be used as a mutual greeting by two Sikhs meeting each other like an official salutation. Yes, “Sat Sri Akal” is also used as a common phrase by all, but the more prescribed way of salutation is “Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh” in Sikh religious circles (strangely used in the film while addressing the supreme power!)
J. At a fewplaces a complete dialogue has been muted by the Censors and something else has been dubbed in a hurry. But in one particular dialogue the word ‘Hindu’ gets muted abruptly, whereas there wasn’t anything objectionable in the dialogue expressing the reality. And the line is,
“Sikh Kaum, Hindu Dharam Ki Raksha Ke Liye Bani Thi” (with Hindu muted).
Perhaps now everyone is willing to rewrite the known proven truths of our ‘collective-proud-past’ for their own vested interests.
K. Surprisingly the film has been directed by Shivaji Lotan Patil, a National Award winning Marathi film director who probably wasn’t aware of the scale of killings seen on the those four days starting from 31st October, 1984. But even if one gives him the benefit of doubt, the film’s overall feel, the below average performances, the irritating background score and the forced songs thrown right in between the tense sequences isn’t anything even close to the expected results from a National award winning director to be straight.
In all no doubt there must have been noble intentions behind the project of its concerning producers. But the end product cannot even be recommended lacking the desired depth and vision representing 31st October. Sadly, sincerity and honesty alone cannot make a solid, thought provoking film reaching its target audience.
Rating : 1.5 / 5
Apart from the Review:
For friends really interested in knowing more about those times and the brutal, unspeakable killings in the capital itself. Please watch AMU (2005) directed by Shonali Bose, which till date remains the most appreciable and thought provoking film made on the issue and that too by a non-punjabi director understanding the pain, anger and the loss in a much better and relatable manner.
AMU is also included in Movies To See Before You Die List at BTC. And here is the link to the write-up for all new friendly readers.
One of the film's sequences also shows a school bus of "Guru Harkrishan Public School" coming for picking up the kids, where I used to study in that period in the Vasant Vihar branch. And what a big mob did to our school on the 1st of November 1984, will probably be there in details soon in one of my next write-ups.
Concluding it with an important observation,
reading many online reviews and write-ups I found that almost every critic/correspondent/interviewer has used the word SIKH RIOTS of 1984 in his or her article on the film 31st October released this Friday……… which means that even the educated need to be re-taught the actual meaning or definition of the word RIOTS.
It was not SIKH RIOTS dear respected, knowledgeable writer friends...... it was SIKH GENOCIDE.
So now onwards whenever you read, discuss or talk about those four dark days beginning from the evening of 31st October 1984 till the 3rd November, please ensure that they are referred to as SIKH GENOCIDE and not SIKH RIOTS in particular, since there were no two sides clashing with each other as per the definition of the word RIOT.
There was only one side on the receiving end…………….. still waiting for the JUSTICE to be served…….. even after 32 years.