In the majority of cases, when people make a decision to watch an Indian movie, they want to see a number of beautiful saris, songs, dances, family conflicts, and the development of loving affairs. However, Bollywood can amaze and positively contradicts audience expectations. Earth (Mehta, 1998) is one such movie where political and social controversies caused by the partition of India in 1947 prevail over Bollywood-related romance and drama. This film contains the history of the country with its achievements and losses, dreams and disappointments, lives and deaths. The theme partition of India is not frequent for the Bollywood industry compared to family issues and love. However, there is a list of successful movies like Earth that depict such a serious theme and reveal the true face of the “demon of partition”.1 In this critical reading, the discussion developed by Mishra about the period when the struggle for independence, power, and celebration intertwined and created a dangerous mix of actions that were properly depicted by the characters in the movie Earth.
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In the middle of the 1990s, Deepa Mehta, a famous Indian-Canadian film director, gave birth to her Elements Trilogy, the movies about social problems in the Indian population and culture. Alone with Fire and Water, Earth was one of the “elements”. Mehta used different techniques to “explore the darkness behind the color, digging into the rigid traditions and violent orthodoxy of Indian society”.2 In 1998, Earth was introduced as the second movie about the citizens of Lahore who survive the events of 1947, the year when the land was divided between India and Pakistan. The story is told by Lenny, an eight-year-old girl from a wealthy Parsi family. There is a nanny in the house, Shanta, a kind Hindu young woman, who takes care of the girl and befriends her with other Muslims, Dil and Hasan. In the beginning, all the friends avoid political discourses and believe that “in the eyes of God, we are all equal” with no religious or social differences.3 When the partition occurs, friends choose different sides as per their beliefs. Indian partition takes many innocent lives and makes people full of anger, rage, and hatred.
British Indians experienced difficult times since the beginning of the 20th century. Despite the intentions to live a friendly life, the contradictions between people were hard to control. The film shows that, with time, the preferences of the citizens change. Parsis prefer to stay invisible to survive, Muslims choose cooperation, Hindus want protection, and Sikhs become “a headache, a bloody nuisance… the fighting arm of the Hindus”.4 Still, Sikhs were not ready to accept such a faith. They felt that they were overlooked by society and had to do something to be recognized as a separate and powerful community.5 According to Mishra, India suffered from territorial and emotional loss for which Muslims were blamed.6 In the movie, the audience can define Parsis as responsible for such a cruel and bloody partition because of their desire to stay invisible like chameleons even if they have some powers and impacts to protect the country. In addition, it was Lenny, a Parsi girl, who draws a final line in the battle between Muslims and Hindu when she unintentionally betrays her nanny and provokes mass violence.7 Partition was inevitable, and each individual should choose aside.
Social changes had different forms in British India in 1947. Mishra underlined that people were divided into those to “struggle for independence and its celebration”.8 The outcomes of the chosen event were equally terrible in the spheres of religion, society, and politics. In the movie, the director introduced several cruel scenes to describe the situation in the country. The man was stretched by his arms and legs on the street. A fire destroyed houses, as well as people in there. The earth turns out to be a visual explanation of the text written by Mishra, who defined partition as a vast and obscene symbol of soul and body separation.9 Society was broken, and people stopped being differentiated between women, children, and men. It was the fight not only between religion or political regimes but the fight for a rational and humane existence. Earth proved the position of Mishra about the quality of cinema and the possibility to break the already accepted norms and rules. The dialogue between the movie director, the audience, and the world was successfully begun on Earth.10 However, its end and outcomes were not as pleasant as expected.
In addition to multiple social changes and challenges, Mishra, as well as Mehta, defined specific personal issues that help to understand the essence of the Indian partition and its representation in cinema. Contrary to common opinions and attitudes, Bollywood is able to represent powerful projects with a number of important lessons and examples. The relationships between Hasan, Dil, and Shanta, the major characters of the movie, can be used as evidence of deconstruction of cinema. Not many Indian actors and actresses agree on nudity scenes, and Earth is the contradiction to this opinion. A loving scene between Hasan and Shanta shows despite the existing problems and an overall situation, human needs and desires cannot be ignored. A smoking habit Dil also deserves attention because it proves that health and social well-being are not as crucial as emotional trials. Finally, the wedding of a ten-year-old girl and an old man in order to protect the girl from partition outcome is one of the most revolting and hard-to-understand moments. Partition of India stops being a symbol of change for people but becomes a sign of harsh and emotionless decisions.
To sum up, it is necessary to admit that Indian history and the development of the country can serve as an inexhaustible source of information for Bollywood. Sometimes, instead of creating new plots and introducing unbelievably beautiful stories, it is enough to look back and gather the pieces of past life and human experiences. In his reading, Mishra does not try to develop a new line of events or prove the need for technological or social progress. He focuses on human relationships that were challenged by the demon of partition in the middle of the 20th century. Mehta’s Earth is strong evidence of many of Mishra’s words about the division of British Indian land between Pakistan and India and the emotional or social challenges of the citizens. For a long period of time, the people of Lahore did not pay any attention to their religious or ethnic roots, and one day, all these differences became visible. Millions of people were kills, and the Indian community was weakened and destroyed, placing the best friends and lovers on the opposite sides.
Earth. Directed by Deepa Mehta. Performed by Aamir Khan, Rahul Khanna, and Nandita Das. Mumbai: Deepa Mehta Films, 1998. DVD.
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Jha, Sadan. “Watching the Trauma: Witnessing the Partition.” History and Sociology of South Asia 12, no. 2 (2018): 160-177.
Khan, Yasmin. The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017.
Mishra, Vijay. Bollywood Cinema Temples of Desire. New York: Routledge, 2002.
Qureshi, Bilal. “Elsewhere.” Film Quarterly 70, no. 4 (2017): 77-82.
- Vijay Mishra, Bollywood Cinema Temples of Desire (New York: Routledge, 2002), 209.
- Bilal Qureshi, “Elsewhere,” Film Quarterly 70, no. 4 (2017): 78.
- Earth, dir. by Deepa Mehta, perf. by Amir Khan, Rahul Khanna, and Nandita Das (Mumbai: Deepa Mehta Films, 1998), DVD.
- Yasmin Khan, The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan, 2nd ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), 60.
- Mishra, Bollywood Cinema Temples of Desire, 210.
- Sadan Jha, “Watching the Trauma: Witnessing the Partition,” History and Sociology of South Asia 12, no. 2 (2018): 173.
- Mishra, Bollywood Cinema Temples of Desire, 210.
- Qureshi, “Elsewhere,” Film Quarterly 70, no. 4 (2017): 78.