Over the past three decades, I have heard many tales of horror and valour of the 1984 riots from close family and friends. Watching the fateful day of October 31, 1984—when more than 2,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi—recreated on the big screen proved to be a tough task, personally.
Based on the real life story of a Sikh couple, 31st October follows the life of Tejinder Kaur (Soha Alia Khan) and Devender Singh (Vir Das), and their three children. Going about their daily life—dropping children to school, visiting gurudwara, meeting friends and family—till the then prime minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, unleashing a mayhem of violence towards the Sikh community in the capital. As their friends and other families from the community are brutally killed in the neighbourhood, the couple hide with their children until their friends—Pal (Deepraj Rana) and Tilak (Vineet Sharma)—risk their lives and that of their families to save them.
If religion be taken as a focal point, then the film attempts to portray different strands that followers extract from it. Both men, of faith and fanaticism, derive their motivation differently from the same point. How men in power manipulate the common people to create divide. How friend turns foe and some prove to be more than family—one shuts the phone in hour of need,while the other gives up his life. The film stretches the tension of a family trying to survive for over 100 minutes.
The film doesn't offer anything more than what is already known and uses the context of the pogrom to build impassioned narratives of friendship and human nature. But even here, it doesn't quite deliver anything new.
Das and Khan are average as the couple on whose struggle the film is based on. Rana and Sharma are convincing as their sincere friends. The plot lingers far too much on the tension and brutality.
Set in a time when social media was unheard of and news slowly travelled through radio and landline phones, the film has managed to create the look and life in the 1980s well. What hasn't changed even 30 years later is the use of religion for political gains at the cost of the 'common man' by inciting 'mass sentiment'.
Film: 31st October
Director: Shivaji Lotan Patil
Cast: Soha Ali Khan, Vir Das, Vineet Sharma, Deepraj Rana
Rating: 2.5 / 5