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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. 



Review, Fireflies: Time doesn't


Fireflies, Review: Only flieting merit

Two brothers, one married and a social climber, the other a drifter, are at the focus. The married brother had an old flame who reappears in Mumbai, while the bachelor meets his soul-mate in Thailand. The old flame kindles forbidden desire while the soul-mate, an American Indian, wants to treat the affair as a ‘some nights' stand’. Her paramour, however, wants to live with her in his ancestral home at Ooty, where he spent his childhood with his brother, and now absent sister. Absent sister? What happened to her? She, like the old flame and the Thai encounter, was a Firefly, known for its incandescence and brief existence. Three females, two adults and one in her early teens, all end up being Fireflies to the men in their lives.

Born in Assam, Sabal Singh Shekhawat, started out with a brief stint as a copywriter at an advertising agency. He soon joined Shantanu Sheorey, prolific photographer and television commercial director. Four years later, Sabal set up his own production house, The Big Picture Company. After 18 years of producing and directing numerous award-winning commercials, Sabal started Wild Geese Pictures in 2012, a feature film production company.

His statement about Fireflies reads, “On a cold night in New York, in the winter of 2005, I got mugged by a group of seven or eight men. I managed to escape without too much damage but it could have been a lot worse. I lay in bed that night, bruised and confused, trying to understand what had just happened. As I drifted into a delirious sleep, the last thoughts on my mind were of abject anger. Where does so much hatred come from? What motivates people to operate so heinously? None of the inadequate explanations that surfaced made the cut, even in my fuzzy brain. The next morning, I wrote 40 pages of a turbulent story.

I grew up in the jungles and tea gardens of Assam, amongst leopards, tigers, and elephants. And fireflies. Those little creations of light always materialised in the blackest of nights, completely unafraid, illuminating the darkness with the spark they carried within. Over the next three months, I wrote Fireflies - a story about change, acceptance and eventual courage.” Fireflies is the company’s first effort to see a release.

Vague and stylised, like a free-verse poem, his script is pretentious, lazy, and half-cooked, though probably well-intentioned. The central premise itself is unable to hold your interest. The sister-narrator act is a clever ploy in the initial stage but becomes a gimmick towards the end. As director, he has some gifted talent around, but is unable to tap their potential fully.


Rahul Khanna (cast as the elder brother) is a second-generation actor, born and raised in Bombay, India. Despite being the son of Vinod Khanna, Rahul chose to pave his own way. After studying at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute and the School of Visual Arts in New York, he began his career with MTV Asia, as a Video Jockey. He made his feature film debut was in Deepa Mehta's Earth, followed by her Bollywood/Hollywood. His credits include Elaan, Raqeeb, Dil Kabaddi, Love Aaj Kal and Wake Up Sid. In Fireflies, he has to mouth expletives, do some intimate scenes and then earn some sympathy. No complaints.

As his sibling, Arjun Mathur is in commendable form. The Luck By Chance and My Name is Khan actor thinks that, “Fireflies has been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.  In fact, when Fireflies first came my way, I was going through a very rough emotional, personal patch, and I was in no shape to work at the time.  I told Sabal that in our first meeting, and I think that’s exactly why he cast me. And through the film, I wasn’t acting; every day, on set I was going through a catharsis, honestly, and I think it shows… let’s see what everyone else thinks.” I agree it shows.

Shivani Ghai, who was seen in Bride & Prejudice, TV series The House of Saddam (played his daughter, Rana), The Bounty Hunter, Everywhere is Nowhere and Cleanskin, grew up in Newcastle. She came to London for an audition, and stayed on. Her first film break came when Director Gurinder Chadha singled her out at a reading, and cast her in Bride and Prejudice (2004). She also starred as Nusrat Preston in Five Days II (2010), the BBC sequel to Bafta/Golden Globe nominated, Five Days. As the earlier romantic interest of Rahul, she has not much to do except mope. How she meets her untimely end, though, might bring a tear to some eyes.

Monica Sharma Dogra is a Maryland raised musician, daughter of Kashmiri immigrants, who grew up listening to Hindu devotional songs, ghazals, and the hits of Lata Mangeshkar. After winning a competition at the age of 16, she debuted at Carnegie Hall. Her screen appearances in India include Dhobi Ghat and David. Playing a confused person is not easy, and the script is not of much help. Yet Monica manages to keep it going, till the act and the character fall apart.

Aadya Bedi grew up in Mumbai. After completing an MFA in the US, she moved to New York She was a part of the cast in Khaled Hosseini's stage adaptation of The Kite Runner. Her film & TV credits include Koel, Geetanjali, Split Wide Open, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Grant Street Shaving Co. In Fireflies, Aadya, playing Rahul’s wife, has two phases to her character, and she goes through the metamorphosis with fluidity.

Music by Zubin Balaporia goes with the film, but will not be remembered for much longer than that. Cinematography (Shanker Raman) is of high calibre, even as it is languorous, not stunning enough to distract from the dull proceedings. Shanker Raman is an award winning cinematographer from the Film and TV Institute of India. Frozen, shot entirely in black & white, won him India’s National Award. Editing, when seen shot and scene-wise, is good. But how can Shan Mohammed avoid at least part of the blame for the dragging narrative? 

When three inter-connected stories of love, loss and coming to terms, shot in picturesque, indulgent style, cannot retain a hold on you for 103 short minutes, barring a few fleetimg moments, it is a disappointment. 

Rating: *1/2


P.S.: For some unexplained reason, the film’s censor certificate identifies the language of the film as Hinglish. Almost no Hinglish is heard, though. It’s English all the way, with some Thai.

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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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