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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



IFFI 50: The three encounters of Rashid Irani

IFFI 50: The three encounters of Rashid Irani

Ex restaurateur turned full-time film-buff and much revered/feared critic, Rashid Irani’s IFFI 2019 was an event that he would like to forget for reasons other than the quality of films he saw at the festival. So keen was he to see the Oscar package that he went all the way to INOX Porvorim to catch these Academy Award-winning movies. Some of them were scheduled at 9 pm and were four hours long, which meant that he would reach his hotel in Panaji at 1.30 am and sleep at 2 am. And yet, nothing would deter 72 year-old Rashid.

The routine also meant that he would be sleep deprived, for he would get up at 6.30 a.m. to catch the first show at INOX 1, Panaji, at 8.30 am. Besides sleep, he would be food deprived as well. Shuttling between auditoria to make the most of a day (you could catch five films, if you were a hard-core film-fan), he would often have to skip meals or eat at unearthly hours. This led to what I call his close encounter of the first kind.

Realising that it was late, Rashid, a diabetic, ordered a plate of samosas at INOX, to keep him going. After he had paid and collected his snacks, he was told that he could not take the stuff inside the theatre. The samosas were rather big, and he would not be able to finish even one before the film started, so he protested. But he was told “That’s the rule”. All arguing proved unfruitful, so he suggested a way to break the impasse. “Can I take just one instead of two? I might just be able to finish one.” But the canteen staff refused to take one back, insisting that samosas were sold as a plate of two—only. Very unfair, insisted Rashid. Things began to get ugly, till friend Mona Hinduja appeared and was offered the second samosa. In due course, Mona discovered that he as diabetes and high blood pressure.

On the other occasion, (which had happended earlier, chronologically, but I am making a jump cut in this flashback and rearranging the events) Rashid waited till the end credit titles of a movie he had just watched stopped rolling, and the auditorium had become empty. He then tried to exit from the entrance, but was stopped. He told the security staff that he wanted to exit from the entrance because he wanted to use the wash-room in the INOX Panaji lobby, but they replied that there were make-shift portable toilets outside, and that he should exit from the same door that the others had exited from. “I know about those toilets, and I also know what shape they are in,” averred Irani, but nothing would move the staff. In fact, a couple of bouncers actually held him back. Enraged, Rashid raised his voice and presented three arguments that he felt would help him win his case. “I am diabetic, a senior citizen and a journalist. Please allow me to use your regular toilet.” Once again, rules were cited, senior staff was called and huge drama ensued. “Any more delay, and I will have to relieve myself right here,” Rashid was forced to announce. This stunned the gathering. Finally, somebody saw reason, and allowed him access to the well-maintained INOX toilet.

Close encounter of the third kind was the most deadly of the three. Coming to INOX from Kala Academy, on the afternoon of November 27, Rashid was crossing the car-park when he had a fall. He was not visibly hurt or bleeding, but appeared to have had a seizure. And what if it were a haemorrhage? Incidentally, he had fallen at the Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF), held shortly before IFFI, and bruised himself. A passer-by lady found Mona's number on Rashid's phone, and gave her a call, asking her if she was related to him, and that she should come immediately, because he had had a fit and was unconscious. Mona was in Porvorim and it would take some 25 minutes for her to reach INOX Panaji. What would happen in the meanwhile? Mona called the Press Information Bureau's Media Centre, trying to get them to call an ambulance, Rashid being a journalist, but that call wasn't helpful. Mona then called a delegate from Kerala, Sharif, who knew Rashid, and Sharif rushed to the spot where Rashid was lying, surrounded by a hundred people, but nobody was willing to go near him. Sharif carried Rashid to an ambulance. Rashid seemed critical.

Sharif took him to the Goa Medical College Hospital, Bambolim, where Mona arrived, soon afterwards. Rashid was conscious but seemed disoriented. He did not recognise her, initially. She was told that he had been seen by a doctor and that an X Ray and a CT Scan test needed to be done. Afterwards, Rashid complained that his head was spinning. The tests revealed that there had been some bleeding in his brain. Rashid's friend Arvind arrived too. Doctors were un-co-operative, till Dr. Edwin Gomes walked in, and things smoothened from there. The conclusions were two-fold: he had a wound that would take about 28 days to heal, a blood clot that would dissolve on its own in about 15 days, and he had neuropathy in his feet, which affected his nerves, something that can cause loss of balance, which  had happened in Mumbai too. But immediately, he needed complete rest, and his blood pressure and blood sugar would need to be monitored, advised Dr. Gomes.

After some three days at the hospital, he was discharged. Arvind took Rashid and Mona to the hotel, where he rested for a while. From there, he and Mona headed to the Dabolim airport, to fly to Mumbai, with Rashid on a wheel-chair. Mona lobbied to get him the best seats on the plane, with plenty of leg-room. Back in maximum city, Rashid, a Parsi, was admitted to Parsi General Hospital, in central Mumbai, where all tests confirmed the Goan doctor’s diagnosis. He is to be discharged in a day or two, but will have to be very careful while walking. Rashid has a house on the third floor, in a building that has no lift, and he lives alone. At the time this was being written, he was weighing his options. Should he go back home or should he find alternate accommodation at a place that might have other occupants as well, and that does not necessitate climbing long flights of stairs?

Rashid Irani is one of the 14 IFFI veterans that I had asked the festival authorities to honour, for their sheer dedication to the annual event. Attending 25 or more festivals was the criterion, and Rashid qualified. After initially agreeing to honour IFFI veteran journalists at the Golden Jubilee event itself, the Directorate of Film Festivals and the Entertainment Society of Goa failed to take any action till the festival got over. After the festival, both bodies have told me that they will look into the matter. Since then, they have not replied to any of my emails. Whether Rashid will be able to make it to IFFI 51, and whether another veteran, 83-year-old Brij Bhushan Chaturvedi (BBC), who attended the first IFFI in 1952 and now walks with help of a stick, will hazard another IFFI, remains to be seen. By comparison, at 68, I am a kid.

Mahmoud and Rashid

A word about the support and help Rashid received from friends and officials. Press Information Bureau’s Vinod Kumar was there, and a PIB man stayed the night. Dheep Joy, also of the PIB, also showed his concern and gave support. Mona, for what she went through, who deserves a hug and a toast for all that she did, and then Mahmoud Nawaz, of Delhi, who made the phone calls that helped Rashid get help at the airport, besides regularly looking him up. And Sharif and Arvind. Rashid remains greatly indebted to them. At the hospital, at his hotel and during his return trip to Mumbai, he was never alone. In Mumbai, friends visited him every day, especially Mona. 

May all of us have friends and well-wishers like those that Rashid had during the last two weeks, in our times of emergency, and may those emergencies never befall us at all. 

(Based on inputs provided by Rashid, Mona and Mahmoud).

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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