Reliance/Madhu, Rs 799 (4-DVD set)
Nathu, a tanner, finds himself unwittingly in the middle of a ‘crime’. He is asked to kill a pig, which is not his usual trade. But he’s paid handsomely and so obliges. The next morning when a dead pig is found in front of the masjid, the town’s social fabric is torn apart and a riot breaks out. Nathu blames himself. How will he take care of his pregnant wife and ageing mother?
The intensity is magnified when you place such an event in 1946, not long after the communal riots in Bengal. It was a time no one knew the shape Independence was going to take. The Congress hadn’t yet agreed on the idea of Pakistan, and still went by Mahatma Gandhi’s dictum. The Hindu right was hardening its stance, filling the growing void between the Congress and the Muslim League. And the British, already in an exit mode, were content at leaving the burden of history on the natives. Between the disbelieving Congress, the disinterested Brits, and the determined rightist forces, the town burned.
The only ones in the saga who come out ‘good’ are Nathu and his wife. They, being at the bottom of the social ladder, feel remorse at the tragedy as apolitical humans. They live by a simple code — nurturing life, owning up mistakes and trying to make an honest living. Their situation also asks a question not asked often enough in narratives of Partition (except by Saadat Hasan Manto): what happened to the old and the infirm who were left behind during the greatest migration in human history?
The performances by Om Puri as Nathu and Deepa Sahi as his wife Karuna were among the best in their careers. Vanraj Bhatia’s swirling music heightens the sense of foreboding and VK Murthy’s poignant camera frames the grandeur of history. That and classy performances by Manohar Singh, Amrish Puri, Harish Patel, Pankaj Kapoor, Saeed Jaffrey and Uttara Baokar made this one of the best screenings ever on Indian television.
When Govind Nihalini picked Bhisham Sahani’s 1974 story for his 1986 mini-series, the wounds of 1946-47 were even more unprocessed than they are today. Nihalini got threatening calls, had to go underground (with the help of his mentor Shyam Benegal), and the Supreme Court had to finally clear the screening. One wonders whether in today’s intolerant times such a film could have been aired at all.