Nandita Das' special screening of Firaaq in New Delhi on Monday night had her father, the eminent painter Jatin Das, moved to tears. "He had seen parts of the film earlier. When he saw the film in totality he couldn't believe I had done this. He was quite shaken. I guess I'm a chip of the old block. My parents spent their entire life fighting for causes. In Firaaq, I had to tell the story of the genocide that the Muslim community suffered after the Godhra incident in Gujarat."
Nandita shuns the accusation that Firaaq, a film on the Muslim carnage after the Godhra incident, is pro-Muslim. "I totally disagree with those who say the film is pro-Muslim. If I make a film on the Jews and their suffering will I be expected to present the other side's version? What can I do if there's no 'other side'? What happened to Muslims in Gujarat was not a communal riot, it was carnage. My film is not pro-Muslim. It's pro-humanism. Period. And if some people or political groups want to see Firaaq as a communal statement then so be it. I said what I had to."
The casting was tough enough. "Naseeruddin Shah, Deepti Naval and Paresh Rawal were always there in the script. The rest of the cast was also pretty much my first and last choice. But I wanted Om Puri to play the grave digger and Deepak Dobriyal for Shahana Goswami's husband's role."
Casting for the pivotal part of the Muslim child who loses his entire family in the riots and wanders around homeless was acutely problematic. "Every child I met wanted to dance to a Shahrukh Khan tune. I had to tell them there were no songs in my film. We finally found Mohammad Samad who was completely non-filmy. But he smiled all the time. It broke my heart to explain to him that there was nothing for his character to smile about in the film. I had to keep reminding him of sad things to stop him from smiling."