April Issue 2009
An Off-Side Hit
Award-winning scriptwriter Sooni Taraporevala tries her hand at direction with an exuberant comedy for all ages. Little Zizou invites you into the hubbub and chatter of a small Parsi community in Mumbai, their endearing quirks, humour et al, the perky dialogue peppered with Gujrati. As seen through the eyes of 11-year-old Xerxes (Jahan Bativala), nicknamed Little Zizou after his idol footballer Zinedine Zidane, Xerxes believes his dead mother has the power to bring Zidane to India.
In the thick of the plot, though, is a tug-of-war between fundamentalism and liberalism within the Zoroastrian community; the conflict is depicted in the repulsion that exists between Cyrus II Khodaji (Sohrab Ardeshir), a self-proclaimed man of God whose mission is to restore purity to the Parsi community and Boman Pressvala (Boman Irani), a classical music-loving journalist determined to expose the fraudulent preacher through his printing press. Both men, at loggerheads over religion, are caricaturised to enable the viewers to laugh at their expense, as their show of bigotry and covetousness turn into moments of hilarity.
Estranged from their self-involved father, both Xerxes and his older brother Artaxerxes, ironically seek warmth in his nemisis Khodaji’s household, where affection is showered on the boys by Mrs Khodaji, known as Roxy aunty. This puts them on the wrong side of things with the two girls of the family, Zenobia, who has captured the heart of Xerxes’s older brother, and Liana, who is repelled by Xerxes’s attempt at friendship; as the despondent little boy observes, she loves animals more than people.
Taraporevala has tempered the stereotypical excessive humour that comic roles fall into when portraying the quintessence of a certain caste or race. And the heart-tugging innocence of observation in children is not overdone so as to gag you with emotion. But the plot is untended in many turns. For example, being introduced to the little boy who is a fanatic football fan, praying for a visit by Zizou, one expects his football fantasies to materialise as the life of the movie but surprisingly, his dreams are sidelined with progression. The secret about the boys’ mother’s death is not given enough narrative space considering the weight of the fact, just as the pivotal episodes of the forced closure of Boman’s printing press, his suffering from a heart attack and the girls’ grandmother’s emotional attachment with her derelict lodge.
Though some of these elements are not explored completely and leave something to be desired, the all-Parsi ensemble cast pulls off a simple story with great aplomb.