On 15th August 1947, a line was forever drawn in the hearts and minds of people whose ramifications were so profound that they continue to haunt the Hindus and Muslims alike.
Given the current happenings in India and around the world, apprehension is inevitable since nothing has changed substantially; development has only shrouded the scars, but they are burning just the same. People had hoped that the partition of India and Pakistan would have solved the issue of power. What they could not see was that it had set in motion a vicious cycle of riots, violence, and communalism, that we have carried to the present with ourselves.
One film that aptly captures the horrors of the great homicide is ‘Gadar: Ek Prem Katha’ featuring the Bollywood stars- Sunny Deol, Ameesha Patel, and Amrish Puri. The iconic film was a big hit at the box office and received a cache of Filmfare awards and an Oscar nomination.
Its sequel - ‘Gadar 2’- is set to release on 11th August this year, creating both a buzz for the anticipation of a sequel and a stream of nostalgia. While it might be another hit among the masses and procure a seat in their hearts, I highly doubt that it could subdue the charm of the original movie.
‘Gadar: Ek Prem Katha’ is a romantic drama and a tragic narrative set against the partition of 1947. It revolves around the life of a burly, lantern-wielding Sikh driver, Tara Singh, with a ‘dhai kilo ka hath (two-kilo hand) who falls in love with a Muslim girl from an aristocratic family named Sakeena (‘Madame ji’ as he used to call her- because of a particular scene initially, and then out of respect when they were mere acquaintances for each other).
The story is said to be inspired by the life of Boota Singh, a Sikh soldier who served on the Burma front during World War II and is known for his blood-stained love story with a girl named Zainab, whom he rescued from the clutches of the communal riots amidst the partition.
In the opening scene of ‘Gadar: Ek Prem Katha,’ we see Sikh parents reluctantly giving their daughters small pouches of poison in case the need arises (and that was a relatively small traumatic predicament. Sometimes, the fathers were even compelled to kill their daughters to preserve their honour!).
In the next scene, we see Tara Singh, the protagonist, anticipating his family's arrival as the train approaches Amritsar; at once, he and the others see that everyone on the train has been killed, and it is not difficult to fathom the atrocities committed on them.
The camera closes in on Tara’s eyes and documents him reading what is written on the walls of the train in blood. “Hindustaniyo, Katna humse sikho” (Indians!…learn how to decapitate from us). As he reads the line, we see the expression in his eyes change. In the very next cut, he unleashes his fury on a host of Muslim travelers at the very same station (and that, too, remorselessly) without distinguishing between men, women, and children.
As for the Muslim side, the film captures the frantic and heartbreaking moments as families are separated during the Partition. Sakeena's father, Ashraf Ali, tries to get his family onto a train headed to Pakistan. However, due to the chaotic circumstances, Sakeena gets left behind and ends up being rescued by Tara Singh, the film's protagonist.
This scene sets the tone for the film's exploration of the human drama and emotional turmoil caused by the Partition. It highlights the personal stories and relationships that were affected by the more significant political and religious conflicts of that time.
However, apart from showing the ravages induced by men, The first half of the movie is, by and large, beautifully imbued with the innocence of budding love. A short backstory about the beginning of their relationship quenches the reader’s curiosity as to why Tara Singh shows mercy and saves Sakeena from being raped by other Sikhs, even though his wrath had instigated him to kill the Muslims making him violently slash their bodies off with his sword and mighty, though biased, rage.
They eventually get married and live a happy life for a while. Sakeena’s marriage to Tara Singh, however, does not sound like a partnership of equality but like an alliance of necessity with a protector, without whom there is no way for meek women like Sakeena to survive in the cruel world. Accentuating this notion is the description of Tara Singh as a violent Indian who could go to any length and kill anyone to save his wife and child and, above all, the pride of ‘Hindustan.’
This poses moral question about the rightness of killing people of the other community. However, when seen from the lenses of such tragic large-scale happenings as the partition, there are no wholly right or wrong answers. He kills other men to protect his family, which, according to one stream of opinions, should be justifiable.
Overall, the film aptly captures the dark essence of partition and its repercussions on human relationships. It is inevitable, too, that the trauma is still not obliviated from the minds of Indians. However, if men continue to commit heinous crimes against members of other communities, can we call the world developed?
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