One of the most recent Bollywood releases, (Ferrari Ki Sawaari starring actors Sharman Joshi and Boman Irani) had its protagonists play a Parsi family. Similarly, the upcoming film Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi centres around a Parsi couple. But while Bollywood’s onscreen love affair with the Parsi community is not a new one, these films do indicate that it has come a long way since the time when Parsi characters were only added as comic elements in mainstream films.
So, gone are the days when a Parsi couple often called Mr and Mrs Batliwala would offer the hero or heroine a lift in their vintage car or a Mr and Mrs Rustom would bump into them at parties giving rise to comic situations. Instead, Bollywood gradually seems to be warming up to their presence and not just as sidekicks, but as leads in mainstream cinema.
Trade analysts point out that as back as in 1978, the film Khatta Meetha (starring Ashok Kumar, Pearl Padamsee, Rakesh Roshan) did indeed have all the protagonists play Parsi characters, but then came a phase where they were relegated as comic acts. It was a decade later in 1988 that the film Pestonjee, starring Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher and Shabana Azmi, strongly reflected the Parsi culture.
“Small or big, these Parsi characters did manage to make an impact. They were often shown as happy-go-lucky and extremely helpful people onscreen. Everyone remembers the Parsi touch in films like Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin or before that in Qurbani,” says trade analyst Komal Nahta, adding that it was in the early 2000s that Parsi characters gained prominence again..
The 2003 hit Munnabhai MBBS had the beta-baap jodi of Dr Rustom and his carom-happy Pappa, while filmmaker Homi Adajania’s film Being Cyrus was a dark story centred around a Parsi family. Rahul Dholakia’s film Parzania based on riots also had Parsi protagonist. Little Zizou, a film made by Sooni Taraporewala was again about the Parsi community, in fact the film even boasted of many Parsi names including Mahabano Mody-Kotwal. The film 1947—Earth also focussed on a Parsi family among the other characters.
Parsi actor Boman Irani admits that the depiction of Parsis and their culture has changed much over the past few years. “It’s good to know that filmmakers are finally moving beyond the stereotypes and looking at them as characters and not just comic elements,” says the actor, adding that by nature since Parsis are known to be quite a jovial lot, it becomes easy to convince the audience about their sense of humour.
Talking about playing a Parsi, Sharman had earlier said, “It is quite a challenge for an actor to adapt certain mannerisms and that also makes it interesting.”