It starts as just another day for Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking (DESU) worker Devinder Singh. By 7:30am, he has already sent his children to school and is mentally preparing himself for the usual mundane day in office. But, all of that is going to change in next 110 minutes.
31st October is an account of that one day when the national capital burnt with its own rage after the then prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards Beant Singh and Satwant Singh. Official estimates put the death toll in the aftermath of the riots to nearly 2,500 but it’s believed that the actual numbers are at least three times more.
Communal tension is growing every second in west Delhi’s Tilak Nagar where Devinder (Vir Das) and his wife Tejinder (Soha Ali Khan) live and killings start by the afternoon. It’s mayhem as rioters are catching up with every Sikh at a pace beyond imagination.
Tilak Nagar is an obvious target because of its dense Sikh population, mostly middle class and helpless. Local politicians see it as an opportunity to rise in the ranks and thus it’s likely to continue for a few more days.
However, the violence is just one side of the coin.
Devinder has friends like Pal (Deepraj Rana), Yogesh (Lakhwinder) and Tilak (Vineet Sharma), who have vowed to get his family out of the barricaded Tilak Nagar area. But, is it already late?
Director Shivaji Lotan Patil’s film opens with a sneak peek into the lives of some Good Samaritans. Good-natured, god-fearing beings who look for a moment of affection and solace. They know each other for long and are as closely knit as a family.
To establish a well-meaning premise, characters refrain from showing their grey sides. The camera hovers at amateurish angles, mostly trying to provide a feel of the claustrophobic space. You also see the famous monuments as you enter the bylanes with Gold Spot and Bournvita ads splashed on unfinished walls.
Patil doesn’t limit the drama only to Devinder’s house. He shows how common people turned into rioters in just three hours. But he hasn’t lost faith in humanity and thus some Hindus risk their lives to save their Sikh friends.
The canvas is big and budget constraints force the crew to go for easier options. The actors also falter. Their accent, makeup and visual effects don’t really set a benchmark but the film does manage to create that atmosphere of fear and tension.
People look scared as well as deceptive. They can change their stance anytime and that makes Sikhs even more vulnerable. Nagesh Bhonsle as a policeman only escalates the fear. Pogrom is written all over Delhi.
Many of the riot accused have died over the years. The victims are still waiting for justice.
But it gets a bit stretched despite the 102-minute length. Twists are predictable and secondary actors appear half prepared. Also, they keep shifting gears between Punjabi and Hindi.
There isn’t just one narrator or a central character. That shifts focus to some extent because sub-stories become a bit preachy about the riots. It’s all there in front of our eyes. Do we still need somebody to hammer it through our heads? If we do, then we are only going to take it as just another film about riots and not as a strictly non-repeatable crime.
31st October is an important film, especially when many have gone scot-free in the anti-Sikh riots cases even after so many years. It’s going to be 32 years in 10 days.
As they say, justice delayed is justice denied.