"Sir I don’t know the Marathi word for subtlety", epitomizes the subtle humor abundant in Little Zizou, a film about two feuding Bombay Parsi men and their families. My often complaint with the well-made movies of Mira Nair are that they are heavy handed. Her scriptwriter Sooni Taraporewalla’s maiden venture is an unusually eclectic comedy, one that brings forth comparisons with "My Big Fat Greek Wedding".
The movie is narrated through the eyes of little Xerxes, the motherless son of a Parsi evangelist Cyrus Khodaiji. Xerxes has a passion for soccer player Zinedine Zidane, hence the name Little Zizou. His elder brother Artaxerxes is engrossed in creating cartoon like illustrations and building a Boeing 747-400 simulator with a group of zany friends. Artaxerxes also has a soft corner for neighbor Zenobia, the daughter of Cyrus’s arch-rival newspaper editor Boman Presswala. Boman and his wife Roxanne have two daughters, the elder Zenobia and the younger Liana.
Apart from the main theme of conflict between the religious con-man Cyrus and the liberal editor Boman, Little Zizou provides a warm glimpse into the lifestyle of Bombay Parsis. Shot mostly in English and Gujarati with some funny doses of Marathi and Hindi, this movie has a relaxed style mixed in with several episodes of eclectic humor. Although mainly a movie about Parsis, its theme of religious conflict is universal in nature. Some brilliant acting combined with interesting music and topped with skillful direction makes this a must-watch movie.
Boman Irani steals the show as the liberal newspaper owner-editor Boman Presswala, in more ways than one. Watching him dance is a feast for the eyes; he appropriately deserves the moniker "Parsi Travolta". In a promo Sooni Taraporewalla exclaims "After watching Boman most women over 35 would want to marry him". I cannot speak for any women (much less one over 35), but I wish I had a fraction of the charm, coolness and grace he exudes. He is utterly convincing and funny as a liberal Dad attempting to knock some sense into coming-of-age elder daughter Zenobia (Dilshad Patel). The rapport shared between him and his wife Roxanne (Zenobia Shroff) is another treat to watch. And finally, his confrontation scenes with Cyrus Khodaiji (Sohrab Ardeshir) are immaculate.
Imaad Shah as Artaxerxes delivers an intelligent finely nuanced performance. He is convincing as the slightly tormented geeky teenager/young adult. Especially worthy is his depiction of being rejected by Zenobia, and truly outstanding is the final confrontation with his father.
Zenobia Shroff as Roxanne effortlessly delivers a natural performance, one that does not miss a beat. She is equally at ease whether it is warm and fussy with Xerxes (Jahan Bativala), a little strict with Liana (Iyanah Bativala), or slightly indulgent with Boman.
The two little kids Jahan & Liana Bativala are adorable and a true find. They share an amazing chemistry with each other, and each play a different detailed character. Naturally Jahan has the bigger role, and he is superb at displaying longing for his dead mother, excels at fighting and bonding with his brother, and is in his element gaining favors from Aunt Roxy. Iyanah is at her best throwing irritated killer stares at Jahan.
Shernaz Patel as Miss Patel the assistant of Cyrus Khodaiji is absolutely hilarious and overshadows her boss. This is really the movie’s Achilles heel, the competent but not great performance of Sohrab Ardeshir as the dictatorial evangelist Cyrus Khodaiji. Sohrab tries hard, sometimes too hard, but just does not reach the necessary heights. Try as he might, and possibly due to his inexperience, he cannot shake the impression that in reality he is good at heart. What this role needed was someone more capable at playing an outwardly rule-bound and old fashioned religious purist but inwardly a con-man, someone such as Naseeruddin Shah. In Naseer’s hands the confrontations between Cyrus and Boman would have taken on a whole new dimension. As it stands, these confrontations are slightly insipid; with both Boman and Imaad towering over Sohrab.
Sooni Taraporewalla makes a commendable entry into direction; she handles her cast with great skill. Her writing prowess is clearly on display, with numerous intelligently etched scenes. Some drawbacks are her letting the movie be a little too indulgent at times, and the inability to extract an outstanding performance from Sohrab Ardeshir. However, taking into account her Harvard & NYU background; perhaps this was the real subtle message all along ---
"Wish Religious Extremists/Con-Men were this Inept".
Some cool, funny and eclectic incidents from the movie.
1) Artaxerxes exclaiming in a terrible Russian accent "The Russians are coming. Everybody from street". Adapted from a classic Alan Arkin line in the 1960’s Hollywood movie "The Russians are Coming ...".
2) On their first date, Artaxerxes taking Zenobia to a romantic wine dinner on a boat off the Gateway of India.
3) The subtle ending to the post party dance.
4) Brought in to fix a Boeing 747-400 simulator, the justification of Makarand the IITian’s qualifications.
5) Upon the newly arrived good-looking women accurately recognizing the Boeing 747-400 simulator, Artaxerxes’s foot-in-mouth question "Are you a stewardess ?" and its emphatic put down answer.
PS --- I still do not know the Marathi word for subtlety.
My Rating 3.5/5