Parsi legal history in film & fiction

It’s not every day that you see fictional depictions of Parsi legal history. So it’s exciting to come across two recent examples.

The first is a novel by Parsi writer, Keki N. DAncestral Affairs by [Daruwalla, Keki N.]aruwalla, Ancestral Affairs (2015). Daruwalla is well known for his poetry, and I
first came across his work while writing about early 20th-c. litigation over membership in the Parsi community. This line from “Parsi Hell” (1982) has been a favorite in my footnotes:

“Like a fire temple I hoard my inner fires

Hoard my semen, brown with inbreeding. Genetic rust?”

Among other things, Ancestral Affairs is about a Parsi lawyer named Saam Bharucha who is hired by the Muslim nawab of Junagadh, a princely state in western India, to manoeuvre the rapids of partition and independence circa 1947. The nawab wants to join Pakistan, not India. Here is a review, and here is an excerpt.

Image result for Rustom filmThe second piece is a Bollywood production. The film Rustom, starring Akshay Kumar, is getting a lot of press in India right now (much of it lukewarm). Although the film purports to be purely fictional, it is based upon the story of the Parsi naval officer, K. M. Nanavati, who shot dead his wife’s paramour in a fit of jealous rage. Despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt, Nanavati was acquitted of murder by a jury, a verdict subsequently overturned by the Bombay High Court in K. M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra (1961). The case has gone down in legal history as the trigger (no pun intended) for the abolition of the jury in India. In fact, some forms of the jury have persisted, as I discuss in ch.5 of my book and as BBC journalist Soutik Biswas notes here. Nevertheless, the case remains one that has captured the popular imagination and that of legal historians equally.