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Parsis in Paris: Little Zizou in the Land of Zidane

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's not often one finds photographs of Parsis on display in the heart of Paris. But that is just what strollers along the Seine can find this fall. The photographs, by Sooni Taraporevala, are part of the Quai Branly museum's biannual exhibition Photoquai. It is free and open to the public 24/7 through November 22.

Best known as a talented screen writer who has worked closely with film maker Mira Nair on such movies as Salaam Bombay! and The Namesake, Taraporevala was in Paris last week for the exhibition and for a double screening of her newly released feature film Little Zizou. Like her photographs, Little Zizou is a loving portrait of the Parsi community to which Ms. Taraporevala belongs. But whereas the photographs are elegant, faintly nostalgic black-and-white compositions that speak as much about what the community has lost as about what it still holds on to, the film is a zany, colorful comedy propelled by the antics of a cast of outsized characters very much alive in the here and now.

The film gets its name from the movie's protagonist, a motherless little boy who escapes both his self-absorbed and overbearing father and attending a school he doesn't much enjoy by playing a computer soccer game featuring the French mega-star Zinedine Zidane. Everyone in Paris knows that Zidane's nickname is "Zizou." Few Parisians know that Parsis in Mumbai also know this. From the hours he spends playing soccer as an on-screen tiny animated Zidane, Xerxes a winsome child named after the august personage of one of the great kings of Persia, acquires the nickname "little Zizou." At the screening I attended of Little Zizou in Paris, audiences laughed nonstop at the antics of little Zizou and the various characters that surround him. The film's light humor is delightful. But the subject at the heart of the film is no laughing matter. The film's humor is a sugary coating that allows audiences to confront a rather bitter pill: the threat to an already dwindling community -- it is estimated there are fewer than 100,000 Parsis, the Zoroastrians of India, left in the entire world -- by the rise of fanatical fundamentalists who, like their counterparts in every other religion, seek to define who is and is not a Parsi, what is and what is not the true faith in terms few real-life people would want to embrace.

With riotously funny parody -- at one point the overheated faithful are rallied to participate in a protest wearing t-shirts emblazoned with PLO, which, for those of you living outside the movie means "Parsi Liberation Organization" -- and deliciously campy performances by her villains contrasted with heartbreakingly nuanced performances from her heroes, Ms. Taraporevala deftly neutralizes the fundamentalist threat to what is left of her beloved community. (This film touches very close to home for Ms. Taraporevala whose own two children star in the movie, and whose husband makes a cameo appearance as a dog-walker.)

When asked if Zidane, who, after this movie, may forever be known as "Big Zizou," knew about the film, Taraporevala replied: "I don't know. I don't think so."

Little Zizou has yet to find a French distributor. If the reaction of the audience at the screening I attended in Paris is any indication of the film's potential, there is definitely an audience in France for this film. So, I call upon Zidane's fans around the world: let's make Big Zizou aware of Little Zizou and give this movie the spotlight it deserves.