Little Zizou on Hulu in the US
Sooni Taraporevala’s film Little Zizou — which can be watched for free these days on Hulu — always makes me yearn for my first true love: Bombay. Because Little Zizou represents the perfect template of the city known to outsiders as Mumbai but beloved by insiders forever as Bombay, the craziest, most chaotically beautiful place on earth, the one single spot that invades my senses and dreams even as I write this, lands away and miles apart.
While it is ideal for cinema to transport its audience to other worlds, it’s not often that a film manages to do it quite as well as Little Zizou.
The story is wonderfully simple: Xerxes (played by Jahan Bativala), or “Little Zizou,” is a young boy who prays to his late mother to send his soccer idol Zinedine Zidane on a visit to Bombay. His elder brother Art (Imaad Shah, who is also featured in Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist) is a prolific cartoonist, a romantic with a fantastic imagination and a group of friends determined to achieve the nearly-impossible, while the boys’ father Khodaiji (played by Sohrab Ardeshir) is a religious leader of sorts, with prophetic aspirations and a flair for the dramatic. Because of Khodaiji’s fanatical convictions, the boys spend most of their time at the home of their father’s archrival, Boman Presswala (a treat for lovers of Indian cinema as he’s played by Boman Irani, a beloved star), a principled newspaper man with a loving, kind wife Roxanne (played by Zenobia Shroff) and two girls. While Art pines for the elder one, the younger Liana (Iyanah Bativala) resents the presence of Xerxes, who is tended to with care and attention by her mom. It is a modern fairy tale, with a story as old as love itself.
Little Zizou does tell a story that is unmistakably woven into the tightly knit Parsi community to which Taraporevala herself belongs, but this film is also about any child with a deep sense of longing for his mother, any teenager trying to grow up in a world where dreams are difficult to hold on to, any woman who has enough love in her heart to spread to more than her biological children and any man who believes that the freedom of speaking the truth is worth fighting for, at any cost. Far from ever preaching or teaching, Taraporevala manages to infuse the film with humor and charming inside jokes, like the newspaper headline at the beginning of the film declaring “The Namesake wins Oscar for Best Film!”
Yes, because while Little Zizou is Sooni Taraporevala’s directorial debut, she is best known as the screenwriter of such Mira Nair hits as Salaam Bombay, Mississippi Masala as well as adapting Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake for the big screen.
Ever since sitting in the audience for the unforgettable film’s premiere in 2008, I’ve come to spend quite a bit of time with Taraporevala and her wonderful family. Turns out the Taraporevalas and Bativalas (both Jahan and Iyanah, who play the central characters in the film, are the filmmaker’s children in real life) are even more fantastically brilliant than the characters of Little Zizou, but watching the film comes in a close second.