Round About: Partition to be revisited

  • Nirupama Dutt, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Oct 04, 2015 09:23 IST
A poster of ‘Tamas’, based on a novel by Bhisham Sahni (right), and directed by Govind Nihalani (below) in 1987.

The opening scene of ‘Tamas’ (Darkness) has innocent tanner Nathu, played by Om Puri, trying to kill a pig. It is an assignment that he has been given by a contractor on the pretext that the carcass has to be sent to the vet. However, the next day the carcass is found on the steps of the city mosque and bitter communal riots break out. Doesn’t the tale seem oddly familiar in the beef-lynching days? Nathu has to flee with a pregnant wife and old mother. He is simple enough to believe that the holocaust is all because of him.

Based on the acclaimed 1974 novel of the same name by Bhisham Sahni, ‘Tamas’ features in the opening sessions of the lit fest at Kasauli (Oct 9 to 11). “A festival dedicated to the writer of ‘Train to Pakistan’ is incomplete without returning to the Partition; so émigrés and journeys are a major talking point at the festival this time,” says Niloufer Bilimoria, director of the festival. Director Govind Nihalani and Om Puri will talk on the making of ‘Tamas’, which was a unique experience in itself. For Nihalani making ‘Tamas’ was an act of faith because he had witnessed the Partition as a child and his family had migrated from Karachi to settle down in Rajasthan. For Puri, ‘Tamas’ was a key point of his acting career and made him greatly popular among people for his brilliant performance of a common man caught in the net of politics and violence.

Nihalani faced grave threats and court cases when the film was first released in 1987, but after its re-launch the next year it went on to win three national awards including the Nargis Award for the Best Film on National Integration. Nihalani had wanted to shoot the film in Punjab and Pakistan but terrorist threats compelled him to shoot the film in a sprawling bungalow in Mumbai with the construction of 16 different sets. The cast included other theatre talents like Amrish Puri, AK Hangal, Manohar Singh, Pankaj Kapur, Dina Pathak, Surekha Sikri and Uttara Baokar. Bhisham Sahni played a pivotal role in the film.

Since it is also the centenary year of Bhisham, his daughter Kalpana Sahni will present a session on the life and writings of her father. Kalpana had penned a book ‘Balraj and Bhisham Sahni: Brothers in Political Theatre’. It was published by SAHMAT during Balraj’s centenary in 2013. The book recounts how Bhisham was sent by his father to Mumbai in the early 1940s to persuade elder brother Balraj to return to Rawalpindi to help out in the family business. What happened was quite contrary. Bhisham was to recount later: “Needless to say, instead of advising and persuading my brother to return home, I got converted myself and came back to Rawalpindi with the script of the play Zubeida in my pocket.”

So there is much to look forward to at the fest, with delegates from Pakistan Mehr Tarar introducing her book ‘Leaves from Lahore’ and former Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Kasuri dwelling on the theme ‘Peace for Kashmir’. Among other delegates are William Dalrymple, Sudhir Kakar, Coomi Kapoor, Sayeeda Hamid, Wajjahat Habibullah, and Farooq Abdullah.

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