In a population of 1.2 billion in India, there are just 69,000 Parsis. When filmmaker and educationalist, Oorvazi Irani attended a minority commission meeting in 2006, she received a jolt on hearing about the declining numbers of her community; it also nudged her to think about her roots and what being a Parsi really meant? Embarking on a quest to find answers about the evolution of the faith, Zoroastrianism, Irani decided to make the film The Path of Zarathustra, which releases next month under PVR’s Director’s Rare banner. “At one level, I believe all art is born from a personal quest,” said Irani in a telephone interview.
Director Oorvazi Irani also acts as the main protagonist in her film, The Path to Zarathustra
Seeding a thought
The 79-minute feature film is about the journey of a young Parsi woman, living in contemporary Mumbai, who is left an ancient book by her grandfather. “The film is not about religion but about belief. It delves into the essence of the Parsi faith,” said Irani. Farrukh Dhondy has written the film, and Irani said the collaboration happened because he was a family friend, and shared Irani’s concern about the impending disappearance of the faith as well as what its core essence meant for the members of the community. “Farrukh calls himself an atheist but he was the perfect collaborator for this film. He is not religious but has strong beliefs, a distinctive voice and point-of-view,” said Irani.
A scene from The Path of Zarathustra
Irani didn’t want to make a documentary laden with facts and figures nor a film about the contributions that Parsis had made or even highlight the quirks and foibles of the community. Dhondy, she says, brought the perfect insight and dynamism to the film, which looks back at history and also touches upon current concerns.
Oorvazi Irani and Rushad Rana
Once the script was settled, Irani decided to play the protagonist herself, “I identified strongly with the character at various levels and felt a star could not do justice or offer the sense of belonging that I felt for the protagonist’s journey,” shared Irani. The film also stars Tom Alter, Rushad Rana and Shishir Sharma.
Tom Alter in a scene from The Path of Zarathustra
All in one
Donning multiple hats of a producer, director and actor wasn’t easy for Irani and she admits that usually it was the producer who took precedence, followed by the filmmaker, “The actor in me was stretched to the limit, and I relied mainly on instinct to work things out.”
Irani also had the added responsibility of finding funding for the film, which took three years in the making. Working on a tight budget, which she tried not to exceed, Irani provided the initial seed money and working capital and members from the
community also pitched in.
An Indian Parsi priest gestures as he explains the significance of the Asho Farohar (Angel) to a young girl at a Parsi Fire Temple in Ahmedabad, August 10, 2007, on the occasion of Navroz or the Parsi New Year. Pic/AFP
“It’s not crowd funded but certain members of my community were convinced by the honesty of the project and have generously contributed,” she explained The Path of Zaruthustra is releasing a year after it was completed and Irani says the delay happened because she wanted to send it to the festival circuit.
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee walks after inaugurating the tenth World Zoroastrian Congress in Mumbai in December 2013. Pic/AFP
“It is a little difficult to slot this film neatly into any genre. The beauty of the film is that it asks universal questions that require an active audience with a spiritual core. The film is for everyone willing to go on a contemplative journey,” she said.
The Path of Zarathustra will release across theatres in India on September 4, 2015.