Like Vidya Balan's Begum Jaan, these books and films also chronicle the Partition of India
Vidya Balan's Begum Jaan, which is the story of the madam of a brothel situated on the border of India and Pakistan, releases on 14 April 2017. It is set during the Partition era — a time marked by strife, communal tensions, bloodshed and pathos.
Here is a look at works of literature and cinema which captured the complex emotions and life experiences of people who lived through independence — an event whose effects can be felt even today.
Rajkahini, the Bengali film that Begum Jaan is based on, is directed by Srijit Mukherji too and stars Rituparna Sengupta, Lily Chakravarty, Parno Mittra, Saswata Chatterjee, Abir Chatterjee, Kaushik Sen and Sudipta Chakraborty. It tells the story of a brothel through which the border passes and traces the impact of Partition on the 11 prostitutes that live in the brothel.
Begum Jaan, the madam of the brothel, is not concerned with the goings on in the governments of either countries; all she cares about is her business. She refuses to budge when asked to move her brothel. What follows is a bloody battle between Begum Jaan and the authorities who want to tear down her establishment. The film also has a subplot involving a nawab, which gives insights into the condition of princely states post-Partition.
Television film Tamas directed by Govind Nihalani is based on the Sahitya Akademi Award-winning novel of the same name by Bhisham Sahni. The word 'tamas' means darkness, and both the film and book look at the plight of Hindus and Sikhs who migrated to India during Partition. The themes explored are communal tension and civil war, which are caused by the act of leaving a pig's carcass at the doorstep of a mosque.
Protagonist Nathu, who is a tanner, thinks that the pig he skinned is the same pig that caused the riot, and he feels very guilty. Tamas has won three national awards for Best Supporting Actress, Best Direction and the Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration.
This Bloody Line
Ram Madhvani's short film, This Bloody Line, explores the state of mind of the man who was responsible for drawing the border that India and Pakistan share. The lead characters in it are Sir Cyril Radcliffe and his wife, who discuss the tragedy that Partition created in their lives and in the fate of India. The short film has some powerful lines, such as "I'm almost blind now, but I was blind then," and "This was one country, one heart cut into two."
Radcliffe's character explains why he was hesitant to take up the project and laments about the fact that he always knew it would result in violence. He keeps saying that it is not his fault and that he was coerced into getting the job done. It also has some powerful visuals, such as the shots of a fountain pen drawing on a map interspersed with old footage of people from Partition times.
Directed by Meera Nair, this film is based on Bapsi Sidhwa's novel Ice Candy Man. The story is narrated by a Parsi girl who suffers from polio and wishes that her family is not affected by the communal tensions resulting from Partition. She is loved by her parents and Shanta, her nurse. Shanta is being pursued by two Muslim men, the man who sells ice candy as well as the maalishwala. These three are part of a larger group of people who belong to diverse faiths.
Relationships change after India achieves independence. This film stars Aamir Khan, Rahul Khanna, Maia Sethna and Nandita Das.
Toba Tek Singh
To get a real flavour of what life was like during Partition, you should read all of Saadat Hasan Manto's stories written before and after Independence. Toba Tek Singh, a short story written in 1955, brings to life the phenomenon of 'no man's land' experienced by many who were forced to migrate from their homes owing to Partition. It tells the story of the last few days of Bishan Singh, the inmate of an asylum in Lahore who is being moved to India. He used to serve in the army and obsessively repeats the line, "Upar di gur gur di annexe di bedhiyana di moong di daal of di Pakistan and Hindustan of di durr phitey mun."
At the end of the story, which can only be described as heart-breaking, Singh stands at the border between the two countries, unable to move, and finally dies in the same spot. It is symbolic of the inability to belong in any place after being uprooted from one's home.
Train to Pakistan
Khushwant Singh's Train to Pakistan tells the story of a fictional village called Mano Majra where people of different faiths live together peacefully until Partition is declared. The plot follows the robbery of the only Hindu living in the village and the pinning of blame on a Sikh boy by gang leader Malli, who is responsible for the robbery. The Sikh boy Juggut is in love with a Muslim girl Nooran, who is the daughter of the Mullah, at a time when inter-religious love was forbidden.
Juggut and Iqbal, who is an educated Sikh who has come to the village to organise the peasants, are arrested by Hukum Chand, the magistrate. The title is significant, because at one point in the book, a train full of corpses is burnt by soldiers when it is stationed at Mano Majra.
In the forward of the collection of short stories that Raavi Paar is a part of, lyricist and writer Gulzar says that Partition left him bruised and scarred, and that he wrote this collection with the intention of getting this painful experience "out of my system". This short story explores the state of mind of a couple who must leave their village and migrate to India along with their new born twins. Over the course of their journey, one falls terribly sick and succumbs to his illness.
To ensure that his soul travels to heaven, the father decides to throw the lifeless body of the child into the Raavi river as they pass over it. It is only after they cross the river that the couple realises that the father had picked up the wrong baby. This story poignantly describes the unimaginable sadness of the couple, who must now live their lives in an alien land after they have lost both their children and home.
This poem, which is considered one of Faiz Ahmed Faiz's best works, explores the sorrow that the poet felt when the country was partitioned. Written on the occassion of Pakistan's first birthday, it expresses the disappointment and disillusion felt by many in 1947 and the years that followed, owing to the sheer amount of violence and losses.
The refrain, "Yeh woh seher toh nahi" encapsulates the feeling that the citizens' expectations of a better life were not met, that the country could be a much better and safer place. It received negative reviews from those who criticised Faiz for not celebrating partition and independence. At the end of the poem, he says that the heaviness of the night has not lessened and urges the reader to continue working towards the nation's goals.
Read the poem here.