Last weekâ€™s movie was about a war between two sides of a divided country. This week is what happens to families of a nation on the verge of partition.
Find it on Einthusan.
The story takes place in Punjab, an area that would be split after the partition of India and Pakistan in August of 1947. The movie starts out in August of 1946. A mob of Muslims set upon Hindus and massacre a whole bunch of them, including children. Not the happiest way to begin a movie, so skips ahead to a month later, and it is as if none of the carnage had taken place.
The story proper starts out with Trilok, a young man who has been irritating his parents by taking part in Gandhiâ€™s Independence Movement and shirking family responsibilities. His father, Mohanlal, asks him if his studies at university and his all of his agitation work will allow him to attend his sisterâ€™s wedding. He insists that it will to both his father and to his sister Puro, right before he goes back to university. Give how close Trilok and Puro seem to be, he had better make it back on time.
This is to be an arranged marriage and Puro actually has no idea who her husband will be at this time. Her parents settle on Ramchand, a perfectly nice translator of ancient writings from a wealthy family in another town. Ramchandâ€™s father, Shyamlal, tells Mohanlal that it is their peopleâ€™s custom for families to exchange daughters for marriage. So Mohanlal agrees to marry Trilok (who is still at university) to Shyamlalâ€™s daughter Lajo.
Things seem to be going well. Puro and Ramchand sort of meet donâ€™t seem to hate each other. Puroâ€™s mother, Tara, gives birth to a baby boy and it should be a time of joy. Yet, she is saddened by the prospect of losing her eldest daughter, even asking why daughters have to exist at all if they just leave. Still, though, it is happiness all around, with the main worry being that Trilok will not make it to the wedding.
And then comes Rashid Sheikh.
At first, Rashid kind of just seemingly stumbles into the story, bumping into Puro while clumsily trying to ride a bicycle. Puro is kind of disturbed by the way that he is staring at her, though, and has a nightmare about him running after her in the field. She did not realize it at the time, but she most likely had a premonition that something was up with this guy. It turns out that he was spying on her.
Rashidâ€™s family has assigned him to kidnap her before she gets married. It goes down pretty much as Puro had imagined in her nightmare. Rajjo, who had witnessed the whole ordeal and was unable to stop him, runs home and attempts to tell her parents what had happened. Mohanlal is about to go to the police station when a Muslim man comes to the door. The man takes him to Rashidâ€™s father, who tells Mohanlal that an old score has been settled. He warns Mohanlal against going to the police, or else he will tell everyone. What he will tell is not yet clear, though it could be as simple as Puro having been kidnapped. Mohanlal begs them to return Puro, yet when he finally returns home, he tells his wife and daughters that Puro is dead.
Trilok returns, proudly declaring that he made it back before the wedding. Rajjo tells him what happened and he is furious. Trilok wants to immediately go to the police station, but his father stops him. Mohanlal says that one loses all dignity and respect in the community if his daughter is kidnapped. The family has lost one daughter, but there is still Rajjo and the little girl. They will be no longer be marriage material if the truth comes out. The family cannot go to the police. They cannot stop the wedding ceremony. They will have to come up with a lie for why Puro is not around and then marry off Rajjo to Ramchand instead. Trilok is furious. He tries to go to the police anyways, but they are of little help.
Though Puro’s parents had fretted over what people would say about their daughter, Ramchand’s family seems to be somewhat understanding, though it is unclear how much they were told. Ramchand, however, refuses to marry Rajjo, not because he feels insulted, but because he believes that Rajjo would not be able to be reminded of her sister’s suffering every time she sees him. Instead, it is agreed that Rajjo marry one of Ramchand’s cousins. Trilok agrees to marry Lajo, but is still determined to find his sister.
So, what has happened with Puro? She is very much alive, but trapped in Rashid’s home. Rashid has treated her as well as a kidnapper could and seems apologetic for what he has done and continues to do. Still, he is obligated by his family to keep her there. That he has developed romantic feelings for Puro has clouded has made things even more difficult for him, as Puro has felt nothing but misery for the past several days. He initially does not say why he abducted her, only that he plans on marrying her. After around two weeks, he finally tells her his motivation.
The backstory is a bit convoluted, but it seems as if Puro’s grandfather had cheated Rashid’s family regarding their home decades ago and got them kicked off their land. There was probably some religious discrimination involved, given that the Shah family are Hindu and the Sheikh’s are Muslim. When Rashid’s family protested, Puro’s uncle abducted Rashid’s aunt, raped her, and threw her out. Rashid’s family swore revenge and used Rashid as their weapon. If this claim is true, then Puro is actually being treated better than Rashid’s aunt was. Rashid also tells Puro that there is no point in her returning home, as they will treat her as damaged goods.
At one point, Puro does manage to run away and return home. She is met by her parents, who immediately tell her to leave. At first, they say that news of her return will prompt a violent reprisal from the Sheikh family. Eventually the real reason comes out: she has become a liability to the family’s honor and social standing; she is of negative value. They are sad for her, but they have already sacrificed her in their hearts. Puro returns to Rashid, who tells her that he had predicted their response. It is not long before she agrees to marry him. She gets a new name, Hamida, which gets tattooed on her arm. And Rashid takes her to yet another village, where she will begin a brand new life.
So, if you have not guessed, this is over three hours of not happy fun time. Oh, sure, there are some happy fun times during the early post-prologue scenes. And then there is a segment towards the end that almost veers towards lighter fare when Puro/Hamida finds a sense of purpose in a mission that involves her former family. Yet everything is shrouded in the pain of families being torn apart even before the land gets engulfed in violence. Religious tension is everywhere, despite cooler heads trying to maintain peace. People become more anxious as the possibility of partition looms and all bets are off once it takes place. Puro/Hamida finds herself not so much caught in the middle, but wrested from one world into another; worlds that should coexist peacefully, but cannot.
To an extent, there is a love triangle at the center of this story, with Hamida being married to Rashid, but Puro pining for Ramchand. At the same time, it takes on a slightly different tone. She had met Ramchand only once, and they barely interacted. To her, he represents the life that she was supposed to have. There is all this talk about Puro being in love with Ramchand, but it seems as if she was more in love with the idea of Ramchand. He is perfectly nice, and never kidnapped anyone, but she knows little about him as a person. As her life as Hamida starts to take over her identity, she still holds onto a desire for Ramchand, but the desire becomes more abstract.
Pretty much all of the story takes place in what would become the Pakistani part of Punjab, which is pretty convenient for a Bollywood movie detailing the violence surrounding Partition. In a way, it can show the Hindus (and Sikhs) as victims of violence and the Muslims as the perpetrators, while keeping tales of violence on the other side of the border at a distance. Still, it is not as if the Hindus or the Shah family get off the hook, even if their crimes are of a lesser degree. Mohanlal does not necessarily confirm the accusations that the Sheikh family lobbed, but he does not dispute them either. He and his wife may have been crying when they rejected Puro’s attempt to return, but they still did it. They are not unfeeling monsters without regret or remorse, but they show themselves to be willing to abandon their innocent daughter to what may very well be her doom. And then there is one short segment a little more than halfway through the film that shows that Hindus are certainly not above callously ruining people’s lives on purely religious grounds.
Rashid is a voice of compassion and reason, but he does kind of come across as a good exception who still committed a heinous crime. That said, he bears none of the bitterness of his parents’ generation towards the Shah family, only the obligation that family provides. He also appears to be one of the few characters who places true value on women and acts upon it, maybe out of guilt for what he did to Puro/Hamida. Other characters, particularly of the younger generation, seem to place some stock in a woman’s worth in society, but Rashid is the only one who has a real chance to prove it. Many of the older characters, both Hindu and Muslim, seem to treat women only as property, and while some of the younger characters may be less conservative in their outlook, they still have to navigate their way in the society of their parents. And let’s just say that Independence and Partition had some unpleasant consequences for women’s welfare in that part of the world.
Like many movies that I have discussed in this blog, Pinjar was based on a novel. The novel, Pinjar, was written only a few years after Partition, and was supposedly a scathing critique of how Indian and Pakistani society had devalued women. I have not read the book, so I am not sure if the movie had softened the more radical aspects of it. I would like to read it someday. Until then, I feel as if this movie stands on its own. It is not an easy or pleasant sit, but it is definitely a good one.
Next Time: The Bird People in China (Japan: 1998, approx. 120 minutes)
Time After Next: Hard Boiled (Hong Kong: 1992, approx. 130 minutes)