'31st October' poster. Pic/31st October film Twitter account
Director: Shivaji Lotan Patil
Cast: Soha Ali Khan, Vir Das, Lakha Lakhwinder Singh, Pritam Kagne
31st October 1984 is a date that India can never forget. It is the day our then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated at her residence No 1, Safdarjung Road, New Delhi by her personal bodyguards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. It’s also a day of shame for the entire country for the manner in which inflamed passions spearheaded by weakened political will spilled onto the streets of Delhi in a bloodbath that till today hasn’t found closure for want of justice. That’s the history of it and filmmakers who aim to replicate such unpardonable acts of inhumanity must at least make sincere efforts to present the entire spiel of events in a balanced and affecting manner. Unfortunately scriptwriter Harry Sachdeva and helmer Shivaji Lotan Patil’s effort to reprise those incendiary events on film don’t come out as such. And I am not casting aspersions on their sincerity or lack of it - although the timing of the release is questionable because it comes just when the Punjab election campaign is hotting up.
This film, focuses on the aftermath of Indira Gandhi's assassination in which thousands of Sikhs were killed in retaliatory violence. The story is told to us through the eyes of two victims, Tajinder Kaur (Soha Ali Khan) and Davinder Singh (Vir Das) a Sikh couple with a set of twin school boys and a cuddly new born, who find themselves trapped in a cauldron of malevolence unleashed by an anguished and enraged population seeking retribution against a hitherto peace loving community maligned by terrorism and assassination attempts. The film begins in the present, showing the ageing couple reminiscing about their past agony after yet another put down from the courts – in spite of their unstinting efforts at corralling justice for a community that was wronged. The heartbreak is evident as Davinder looks through old newspaper clippings going back in time to that traumatic period while underlining the efforts of their Hindu friends in putting their own lives at risk in order to rescue the family under siege.
As long as the narrative stays with the agony of the ageing couple and their bitterness regarding the skewered justice system, it feels real. Once the narrative goes into flashback in order to recreate past events, the telling gets sloppy and the ennui begins to take hold. The plotting goes off track in its efforts to install a possible love story within while trying to make the main couple appear so pure at heart that it almost seems like sugar was dripping out of their mouths. As the killings splay out in piecemeal fashion and with the contextual referencing limited to a brief parlay into the assassination, there’s hardly any great involvement to be had. Everything feels a little too convenient, melodramatic and unriveting. The plot is extremely flimsy, the characterizations limited by casting and imagination and the pace is too slow to be effective. The performances also lack grit. Neither a simpering Vir Das nor a seriously sincere Soha Ali Khan can do enough to make this effort memorable or haunting. The statistical data on the killings and the appeal for contributions and support at the end credits come across as opportunistic given that the filmed experience itself does grave injustice to a cause that almost seems like a lost one now. ‘31st October’ is why fledgling inept filmmakers should stay away from history-invoking true stories, else such heinous acts might well be wiped out from the collective conscience for want of a skilled and able raconteur!
Watch the trailer of '31st October'