Cast: Tom Alter, Firdausi Jussawalla, Oorvazi Irani,Rushad Rana, Shishir Sharma, Darius Shroff
Director : Oorvazi Irani
A sombre tone saturates this brave and honest film which addresses the issue of India’s dwindling Zoroastrian community and its ancient faith. Threatened as it is with extinction, its current situation certainly calls for serious reflection and immediate action. But it is my belief that a little lightening up would have done the cause (and the film) no harm.
Parsis have always laughed at themselves and found humour in stickiest of situations. But the absence of humour in ‘The Path of Zarathustra’ is intriguing. That said, let me add, director and lead actor Irani and the celebrated screenwriter Farrukh Dhondy must be commended for a very responsible and progressive perspective. But this is resented by the “orthodoxy” which ignores historical practices (of conversion, inter-faith marriage and burial) of their ancestors who followed the first monotheistic prophet Zarathustra.
Zoroastrians, like Tibetans expose the corpse to the elements and carrion birds. Zoroastrians abroad, unable to use daḵmas (towers of silence), inter their dead in coffins. Where dakmas still exist in cities like Mumbai, problems persist in the form of densely populated precincts, and the lack of vultures.
‘The Path of Zarathustra’ weaves in magic realism to examine the severity of the situation through the eyes of a buxom young woman, Oorvazi, who is forced to leave her rural home when her much loved grandfather (Tom Alter) dies. Before dying, he leaves her a mysterious book which writes itself.
Some special effects would have enhanced the scenes featuring the magic book, and it’s not clear to me at least why the film-makers avoided this. Anyway, Oorvazi travels to Mumbai, where the tiny Zoroastrian community lives. She is welcomed in her aunt’s house by her aunt’s adopted son Perseus (Rushad Rana) who loves her and is roundly abused by neighbours for not being a “pure” Parsi.
Oorvazi’s quest raises time and again, the issue of identity of the followers of this ancient faith. Interestingly, the film makes no mention at all of Cyrus the Great who freed slaves, proclaimed that all people had the right to choose their own religion, and wrote the first ever charter of human rights.
The mystery alluded to by her grandfather is revealed in tantalising layers as she encounters mysterious figures: The Beggar/Mani ( Firdaus Jussawalla) who is killed by Parsi priests; Mazdak /the intellectual ( Darius Shroff) who has radical ideas and Zurvan (Shishir Sharma). Are they real or merely figments of Oorvashi’s imagination?
Oorvazi Irani acquits herself well in the acting and directorial front. There is good emoting too by the supporting cast. Embellished by meaningful dialogue and exquisite (award-worthy) cinematography, ‘The Path of Zarathustra’ makes a persuasive case for modernity and progress in matters of faith and religion.