Time has not healed this Partition. Seven decades on, India still hasn’t come to terms with the trauma ordinary people go through after the extraordinary divide of 1947 that created Pakistan but united the two Punjabs in grief. Cut to 2017 and Begum Jaan is back to tell the story of a gritty brothel owner fighting for the freedom to stay as her home is literally divided with India gaining Independence.
Set in the Punjab of the 1940s, the Hindi film directed by Srijit Mukherji released across theatres in the country on Friday, reviving memories of Punjab’s collective past. What better place to commemorate its release than the Partition Museum that aims to record and preserve the experiences of those displaced by the events of 1947.
An initiative of The Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust, the museum is back with its second major event of the Arts and Literature Festival of Amritsar (ALFA), 2017, under which the trustees are hosting a special screening of the Vidya Balan-starrer. The event will be attended by film-maker Mahesh Bhatt and actors Gauhar Khan and Pallavi Sharda apart from Mukherji.
The event will start with the celebrities walking through the Partition Museum on Friday afternoon followed by the special screening at Cinepolis Multiplex at the Mall in Amritsar in the evening.
The event is being organised in partnership with Hindustan Times, which is one of the contributors to the museum. On its walls are newspaper reports from 1947, including those from the archives of Hindustan Times, recording news of violence and riots as the people of a divided country tried to make their way to safety. The Gallery of Hope, funded by Hindustan Times, tells the inspiring stories of people who crossed over to India without anything and managed to build a business empire over the years. At the centre of the gallery is the Tree of Hope – its trunk made out of barbed wire (symbolic of the borders) but its branches are smooth that symbolise the life the survivors carved out for themselves.
FEEL OF THE 1940s
For Friday, a dinner, comprising special dishes such as Lahori Murg Masala, Nihari Gosht, Mathania Murg, and Lahori Paneer Tikka will be served to guests, including the film stars and prominent personalities, a feel of the 1940s. A Partition Museum spokesperson said there are more surprises in store from the hearth of undivided Punjab.
Among those expected to grace the occasion are Amritsar member of Parliament Gurjeet Singh Aujla, Punjab local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu and former MLA Navjot Kaur Sidhu and deputy commissioner Kamaldeep Singh Sangha.
Trust chairperson Kishwar Desai says, “The invite to the cast and makers of Begum Jaan is a part of the mandate of the Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust, a charitable NGO. The trust aims to generate dialogue through cultural events and offer a fresh understanding of the Partition of India.”
It plans to invite authors, poets, artists, musicians, singers from India and abroad to explore different facets of Partition and the role of Punjab and Bengal. “Begum Jaan is a much anticipated film that helps tell the story of how people were affected during Partition,” says Desai.
In a statement, filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt says, “We are honoured to be collaborating with the world’s first Partition Museum in Amritsar to screen this film since both the museum and our movie aim to tell the story of what happened to ordinary people when this extraordinary political decision to draw a line dividing people was taken. It led to many losing their homes.”
The core of Begum Jaan lies in the Partition and the displacement that led millions to lose their homes. Her’s is the story of one such home. Mukherji says, “When at the behest of the then governor general Lord Mountbatten, the Radcliffe Commission shoddily drew the India-Pakistan border in just five weeks with no proper topographical or demographical study, it sometimes went right through forests, rivers, villages, towns and even houses. The movie is the story of one such house in Punjab, and the fight put up by its matriarch Begum Jaan who adamantly defies the order, saying no government had the right to take away her home.”