I have heard stories of the dreadful night of October 31, 1984 from my mother. She used to live in Old Delhi which was among the places where maximum destruction took place during the anti-Sikh riots. I remember when I had to make a project on Old Delhi, my mother told me various tales about the narrow lanes of the old city. The unfortunate 1984 riots had forced her family to leave Delhi. None of her family members were Sikh. But they were frightened.
Talking to me, my mother had dreadfully recalled stories of how she saw a few men cutting off a woman’s breast with sword or when she saw a Sikh man who was burnt alive in front of her eyes, mercilessly. Afraid of just visualising the trauma, I remember how I had then stepped out of the house to escape the conversation.
Sitting in the theatre, ready to watch Harry Sachdeva’s 31st October, I had a fear of revisiting what I had already heard about. But I am glad there’s a cinema that could become the voice of those who lost their loved ones in the riots.
31st October is a story of a Sikh family who lives in Delhi’s Tilak Nagar. As claimed by the makers, the film is based on the real life story of a family who survived that night, but is still juggling to get justice. The initial part of the first half of the film is a bit slow with the director taking a lot of time to establish the life that Sikhs used to live before the assassination of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Tejinder Kaur (Soha Ali Khan), like other housewives, looks after house-hold chores and Davinder Singh (Vir Das) is a senior official in DESU office. The film introduces the viewers to all their extended family members and then shows how each one of them gets killed later. Davinder and his family survive because their Hindu friends come ahead to help them. Even with the good intention and real life background, 31st October lacks at few places.
1. It becomes over dramatic. The entire survival journey of the family with their Hindu friends grasp one’s attention but looks artificial at times. A man suffering from a low blood pressure problem does not look like an asthmatic patient. Vir Das’ character acts like one though.
2. This could easily be a film where songs, heavy dialogues and the typical Bollywood masala treatment could have been avoided for better. There was no need of Davinder’s friend’s heroic entry on a motorbike to save him when the attackers were just a few steps away. Neither was there a need to show how an NRI Sikh raises his voice against what was happening.
3. 31st October is Vir Das’ first film with him in a lead role. However, the actor fails to justify his character. He struggles to emote his pain on the screen. The lack of depth in his acting restricts audience to sympathise with his character even when he is shedding tears.
On the other hand, Tejinder (Soha Ali Khan) is extremely powerful and leaves an impact. She doesn’t have many dialogues but the actress has made good use of expressions to convey the pain of a mother, wife, sister, daughter and a Sikh woman.
The direction of Shivaji Lotan Patil seems shaken up at places. But narratives like these must be told. It’s high time cinema should blow the horn and open new paradigm of social thinking. And 31st October looks like a small step in the right direction.
The film deserves to be watched.