Danny Boyle's film "Slumdog Millionaire" presents a lively, fast-paced image of the plucky lives of the millions who live in the urban slums of India. It is exaggerated, it is melodramatic, and the coincidences that build its plot are more Bollywood than Hollywood, but the larger truth that the movie represents is not far removed from reality.
But for a truly realistic view of what happens to vulnerable people in urban India during times of strife and turmoil, I would suggest Nandita Das's absorbing, gripping, shocking, and harrowing film, "Firaaq" -- an Urdu word which can mean 'separation' or 'quest.' "Firaaq" is set in 2002, around the ghastly events that took place in Godhra, in the Indian state of Gujarat, when the compartment of a train burned, killing 58 Hindus. In retaliatory violence, Hindu mobs subsequently killed hundreds of Muslims.
With the film, director Das -- herself an accomplished actress whose credits include "Fire" and "Earth," -- unveils a mirror to Gujarat's society. And the image that it reveals is debilitating - that is, if Gujaratis care enough to see what the film attempts to show. Das creates scenes of the horrific aftermath of violence: gutted homes, destroyed hopes, futile plans to wreak revenge; the timidity of the perpetrators, the sullen anger of the victims, and the calmness of the guilty. The cast, which includes some of the greatest names in India's new wave cinema movement - Naseeruddin Shah, Paresh Rawal and Deepti Naval - gives the film a bone-chilling quality. In showing the moral acquiescence of those who witness violence and do nothing about it, Das takes the film beyond Gujarat, making it a searing indictment of everyone who chooses not to speak out against violence.