Thesp Nandita Das, an acclaimed performer in India’s socially conscious regional cinemas — as well as Deepa Mehta’s “Earth” and “Fire” –transitions to the director’s chair with mixed results in “Firaaq,” a sprawling ensembler about the 2002 sectarian carnage in Gujarat, where 3,000 Muslims were killed. Drawn in broad strokes by scribes Das and Shuchi Kothari, the pic overcomplicates matters with a surfeit of underdeveloped characters. These diminish the narrative’s dramatic impact, but the humanist take on important subject matter and the helmer’s stature ensure further fest action.
Set over a 24-hour period, the narrative jumps among multiple story arcs centering on Muslim and Hindi characters from various social classes. Bourgeois couple Sameer (Sanjay Suri) and Anu (Tisca Chopra) debate whether to flee the city; the devoted servant (Raghubir Yadav) of classical vocalist (Naseeruddin Shah) tries to keep grim reality from his beloved master; an abused wife (Deepti Naval) gains the courage to leave her bigoted husband; and henna artist Muneera (upcoming talent Shahana Goswami) suspects her best friend’s husband of arson. Mostly melodramatic playing and simple production design wouldn’t seem out of place on smallscreens. Low-budget tech package is serviceable.