Seventy years since the Partition and we are still not done with its repercussions in real or reel life. Mahesh Bhatt returns to the theme of the ‘Great Divide’ in the movie ‘Begum Jaan’ screened at Amritsar’s Partition Museum this Baisakhi, viewing it through the inmates of a brothel that the Radcliffe Line places on the border of the two countries. Since things were never too well betwixt the partitioned countries, this time Pakistan slams a ban on it.
Curiously, however, it was in 1960 that the first film of the theme made its appearance and that too with a Manmohan Desai signature. It was ‘Chaliya’ with Raj Kapoor and Nutan that addressed the very unhappy subject of abduction of women. It ended on an all’s well note with the parted united and Raj Kapoor taking the unrequited love in his stride. Interestingly, it was Desai’s debut film and a rehearsal of the lost and found act that he perfected in films to come. The very next year came Yash Chopra’s ‘Dharamputra’ (1961), which tackled the more complex theme of a child born to a Muslim couple brought up in a Hindu family and becoming a fanatic Hindu.
Partition continued to find passing mention in many films including Chopra’s ‘Waqt’ but perhaps the first film to focus on the impact of the divide on people was MS Sathyu’s ‘Garam Hava’ (1973). Based on Ismat Chughtai’s stories, it had Balraj Sahni playing Mirza Sahib who chooses not to migrate to Pakistan and the repercussions of the decision on his own family told with subtle poignancy. Interestingly, three decades later came ‘Khamosh Paani’ (2003) from Pakistani director Sabiha Sumar who told the story of an abducted Sikh girl whose son becomes a jihadi. The same year also saw the cine verof Amrita Pritam’s saga ‘Pinjar’, directed by Chandraprakash Dviwedi with its plaintive note of ‘Ajj Aakhan Waris Shah nu...’
Amid commercial forays into the Indo-Pak theme like ‘Gadar: Ek Prem Katha’, ‘Veer Zara’ or ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’, some notable films which tried to take a deeper look at the tragedy that was to mar the history of the subcontision nent were: ‘Earth’ by Deepa Menta and ‘Train to Pakistan’ by Pamela Rooks, both were based on literary works by Bapsi Sidwa and Khushwant Singh, respectively, and came out in 1998. Of course, there was Bhisham Sahni’s ‘Tamas’, a novel which was made into an epic tele-film by Govind Nihalani in 1988. More recently, we had Anup Singh take a look back at the divide and after in ‘Qissa’ (2014). As yet just a minuscule of the massive literature on Pakistan has translated itself into celluloid.
One question that inevitably comes to the mind is that why so many literary and cinematic statements on this theme? The answer perhaps would be that the gravest of tragedies of the subcontinent which took millions of lives and displaced many more could not yet bring about a change and we live through it time and again. It is in a way the very leitmotif of our existence. Artists, writers, filmmakers take it on themselves to tell the story once more and not without reason. But is anyone anywhere listening?