Partition and Cinema

Partition and Cinema
May 8, 2015 at 8:24am

I will call her as Miss T because I have to conceal her real

identity for purposes of privacy. No, her name does not start with a T, far

from it. But I thought that it would have been rather nice if she were to be

called Tapati, this would have been the right kind of name for her. But modern

girls are not named so poetically. Anyway, the reason why Miss T came to me

this morning is because I am supposed to be her supervisor. Supposed to be

because she had me sign sheaves of paper to the extent and said that she would

revert back to me once her course work got over. She has done so this morning

because tomorrow at forenoon she must submit her research proposal to the

University. And when she rang me up this morning I was somewhat surprised

because she was supposed to meet me on the previous day and not showed up. I,

for my part, actually had quite forgotten her research interest. Her tardiness

irritates me; she said that she did not get in touch with me because she was

very upset with all the politics that happened in her department.

She has not really learnt to work through her way despite

obstacles; she gets distracted when people try to break her concentration. She

is a bright girl but gets easy caught up in social relations. This has

something to do social class; students who emerge from socially dominant

classes do not bother about social relationships and accordingly do not get

caught up in the so-called politics. Such students do not have to depend on

personal gratis, are above favours and attacks, have enough resources of their

own to make their living. Such students are freer to focus on studies. But Miss

T gets caught in politics, she is easy to intimidate, easy to bully and easy to

be smothered under the theories and concepts that are showered on students from

the pulpits of Universities. Miss T is really a victim of her social class,

which is the professional middle class, idealist, upright, principled and yet

conservative and conforming.

Miss T wants to work on the Partition and cinema. Her focus

is on memory and trauma of the Partition. As a Bengali I am a privy to

Partition and its memories. One can safely say that among the middle classes in

Bengal every second family has suffered the Partition. Bengalis are replete

with memories of the Partition but strangely those memories do not have the

trauma. In fact there seems to be a dismemberment of the trauma; except for

writers who speak about the “Other Side of Silence” or the “Bitter Fruit” of

the everyday life in a run up to Partition. The most dominant memory is

nostalgia, of homes left behind with gourds supine across thatched roof and the

lost calf looking for its masters. And of walking, miles and miles into the

sunset. Memories of home, the loss of shelter where one would go to at dusk

fall, and the room with the view of dawn where one would rise with the sun the

following morning.

Such memories are not unique to the Partition but inheres

many other forms of displacements like social harassment as in Dewar,
famines as in Adalat, persecution as in Mahaan, simple disappearance as
in Mother India, or death of spouse or simply rinning way from marriage as
in Aradhana and Kati Patang respectively. These films portray displaced
families in which the structures that offer solace to couples, care to the child,
the old and the sick, support to the weak and draws succour from the
strong are broken leading to enormous suffering to the women and children and longing for the

men. The Bengalis tend to be more attached to the land while the Hindi film

appears to be more wary of the family. Ghatak’s concerns have more to do with

women’s statuses and roles and the loss of land which translates into loss of

livelihood for the men invariably changes the family equations for women. The

pampered eldest daughter of

Meghe Dhaka

Tara, Neeta sets out to become the family’s
only breadwinner while Sita, in Subarnarekha finds her shelter in a

brothel as her brother is unable to protect her from sinking into economic

ruin. Pather Panchali’s tragedy too

is a displacement when Apu and his family are forced out of the village due to

poverty. The changes that Apu faces subsequently can once more be traced to the

loss of precinct.

Despite the differences between the Punjabi and the Hindi

writers and the Bengalis, the former’s concerns with family and the latter’s

with land, Partition is merely seen as displacement. Such displacement from

one’s cultural and social milieu, economic foundations and homeland are

typically the concerns of the property owning male. For a woman, who has no

land, no choice in matters of her social milieu and no right to a homestead

since all of these she loses in a flash as she is married off, these concerns

of the Partition cannot be hers. A woman who is fated to be constantly

displaced and circulated between classes of men with no more dignity than as

chattel, Partition is just another episode. No wonder then when women make

films of post Partition it turns out to be something like the Goynar Baksho, a hilarity of the jealous

and possessive widow who turns, albeit through the grand daughter in law into a

financier of business and then sponsors the Bangladesh nationalism of 1971.

The Partition seems to have given the women of the family

some space to emerge as economic agents and then participate in larger

activities with transcendental political goals. The Partition may have helped

women to fill in spaces vacated by men, now too shocked and too stunned to pick

up the threads of their lives severed from the moorings. Many women hold on to

the more enabling memories of economic independence and an opportunity to enter

the workforce albeit perforce of the economic uprooting that comes along with

geographical displacement. Such memories even today constitute the hidden

support of women for the right wing discourses which are male centred and treat

women as barely tolerated obscenities. The right wing diktats on women’s

clothes, freedom of her movements and other similar comments on her being should

have raised strong feminist forces against these elements. Instead women seem

to be very well inclined towards the right wing especially those whose

predecessors have suffered the Partition. Partition truly cracked through the

family structures, the very same structures which are designed to curtail

feminine agency perhaps across human societies but more so for India. No

thinker seems to have noticed this except perhaps Aparna Sen, the director of

the film Goynar Baksho.

Then what does Miss T do with her thesis, Partition and

Cinema? What is she looking for in these films? How can I say what you are

looking for? I despair. She looks a kind of hurt and blank. Then I slowly try

to delve into her mind, wonder why does she look for such cinema? Why is she

searching through these films on Partition? I have realized through my long

years with research students that topics of their research seem to be connected

to their lives, to the questions which their lives pose for them, the answers

which they seem to be looking for. What could be Miss T’s search? Where could

have been the pilgrimage of her spirit headed to?

I took stock of Miss T’s anxieties and all of these

pertained to her future, a future which she should have been able to command

with her levels of academic attainment but which she may not be able to with

the impending unavoidable doom of marriage that awaits her. She is worried

about her marriage, when, where, with who and how her future will turn over due

to it? She is capable of earning her way through in life, she desperately wants

to help her parents into old age and she is capable of earning for her flat and

a car with the kind of brains that she has. Yet the oppression of the society

may force her into matrimony. Who should she be? Neeta of Meghe Dhaka Tara? Or

Sita of Subarnarekha, the old mother, the wife or the daughter of Garam Hawa?

Shall she meet the fate of Khamosh Pani? Or will she meet the fate of Pinjar?

Her life’s limits are emerging ever clear in her mind, and she regards her

future more with trepidation than with assured hope. She is on the anvil of

being uprooted from the coziness of her caring parental home. Like her thesis,

her life too has the Partition in the background.

What then is her search? Not the cinemas really but to look

into these cinemas deeply and then by some fantasy or escape find a way out of

its frames. Her intention to study the cinema is not to be in the cinema but to

move beyond it, ponder whether through those sad endings, some possibilities of

emancipation were left out? She is not really a cinema person, but a life

person who wishes to travel beyond the cinema. Her thesis uses the cinema as a

starting point but it will not end here, for she is not resigned to fates that

befell the women in the narratives but to create her own story line, create a

new narrative, albeit in the form of the cinema but where the endings of these

films she will draw differently. At least, this is what Miss T’s thoughts are,

to the best of my understanding of her in particular and of young people in


About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
This entry was posted in Film Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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