It's 1947 and the borderlines between India and Pakistan are being drawn. A young girl witnesses tragedy as her ayah (nanny) is caught between the love of two men and the rising tide of poli... Read allIt's 1947 and the borderlines between India and Pakistan are being drawn. A young girl witnesses tragedy as her ayah (nanny) is caught between the love of two men and the rising tide of political and religious violence.It's 1947 and the borderlines between India and Pakistan are being drawn. A young girl witnesses tragedy as her ayah (nanny) is caught between the love of two men and the rising tide of political and religious violence.
As Parsees, India's "invisible" people, Lenny's wealthy family is supposedly sheltered from the growing conflict by an ever-fragile 'neutrality'. Lenny's naïvety is used quite effectively to endear her to the viewer. Her innocence makes the tragedy of Partition even more profound. The events occurring are incomprehensible to Lenny; her naïvety is best illustrated in the opening scene, in which she breaks a plate and, utterly perplexed, enquires "Can one break a country?" The story, though narrated by Lenny at beginning and end, does not always seem to be from her viewpoint and one doubts if she could accurately be described as the protagonist.
Lenny's Hindu ayah, or nanny, appears to be more of a focus. Shanta (Nandita Das) is beautiful, and is surrounded by a circle of male admirers, and, in particular, two Muslims suitors who vie for her affection. One is the poetic Dil Navaz (Aamir Khan), or as Lenny calls him, Ice Candy Man, and the other is a masseuse, Hassan (Rahul Khanna). Although it initially seems that it is with Dil Navaz that her affections lie, Hassan proves to be her true love, much to the surprise of the viewer. Whilst it is never really shown why Dil Navaz's courtship fails, the viewer could infer that it he lacked a certain gentlemanliness and that he possessed a certain darkness. What is clear is the love that Hassan has for Shanta; a love that is realised in a beautifully handled love-scene. Shanta is a woman for which he would convert to Hinduism and risk his life.
Mehta does not shy away from depicting the savagery of the conflict and the film possesses some extremely powerful moments. One in particular is the debilitating and horrifically gruesome 'de-limbing' of a man caught in the fury of a mob. Another, arguably most powerful, scene is the discovery of a trainload of massacre victims by Dil Navaz, among them his sisters, and sacks of severed breasts. The climax of the movie is a devastating illustration of the consequences of unrequited love. In the scene, we see the supposed protection of the Parsees crumble as an enraged Muslim mob arrives seeking Hindus and Sikhs. Shanta, a Hindu, is hidden in the house, as the mob questions workers who have converted from Hindu and Sikh to Muslim and Christian and then demands Shanta. Dil Navaz, played deftly by Aamir Khan, appears from the crowd, and appearing a "hero", deceives Lenny into revealing Shanta's whereabouts who is then dragged away screaming, and presumably murdered.
Based on the novel "Cracking India", by Bapsi Sidhwa (who co-adapted the script), the film translate to screen in a rich, flowing melodrama. It is strong in symbolism and the obvious motif of 'breaking' (plates, persons, dolls and relationships) works to keep the Partition in frame-of-mind. Mehta has created a sensual piece of dazzling colours that correspond with the moment in time in the first half it is joyful and organic, in the second it is dark and ominous. The accompanying soundtrack, by A.R. Rahman, is effective and appropriate. However, the film sits awkwardly betwixt the style of 'Bollywood' and that of Hollywood. It has, one could argue, obviously been made with a Western audience in mind, and consequently, does not set to be historically informative. Nevertheless, it is an effective piece that does not befuddle the viewer, and provides insight into how people were directly affected by the Partition, an event that still reverberates today.
(S. R. Watson, Flinders University, Adelaide)
- Oct 28, 2005