Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Earth: A movie review
Lahore, the city of gardens and cosmopolitan capital of Punjab, was once the diverse home of Muslims, Hindus, Sikh, Christians and a few Parsees. With the partition of India in 1947, Lahore became a part of Pakistan and the city erupted into chaos. Deepa Mehta’s film Earth explores the turmoil through the eyes of Lenny (Mai Sethna), a young girl who hobbles around with her handicap legs. The movie is based on Bapsi Sidhwa's novel, Cracking India.
Lenny’s family are Parsees (a Zoroastrianism sect). As a minority within the subcontinent, they remain neutral in the partition between the Muslims of Pakistan and the Sikhs and Hindu’s of India. As a family, they are wealthy with many servants and they entertain leading members of the community from all religious backgrounds. Lenny’s nanny is the lovely Shanta (Nandita Das), a young Hindu woman who is courted by a group of young men: Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. As the movie begins, you can feel the rising tension between religious groups. Eventually this breaks out into open violence. A trainload of massacred Muslims fleeing India pulls into Lahore, Muslim men burn Hindu businesses and mobs of Sikhs riot, beating Muslims. Confused, Lenny watches this escalation in fear.
Against the backdrop of the rising violence, two of Shanta’s suitors, both Muslims, propose marriage. She rejects the Ice Candy Man proposal (Aamin Khan) and the young Lenny tries to sooth his feelings telling him she’ll marry him. Shanta accepts the hand of Hassan (Rahul Khanna), also a Muslim. Hassan promises Shanta he’ll flee with her to India and convert to the Hindu faith. Before they can leave for safety, Hassan is killed (I assume his death came from the hands or the friends of the Ice Cream Man. As a more of a fanatic Muslim than Hassan, he's upset to learn that Shanta has accepted Hassan's proposal. Perhaps he even knows Hassan is leaving the faith). Shortly after the discovery of Hassan's death, a mob of Muslim men approach Lenny’s home and demand Shanta and the gardener be handed over. The gardener was Hindu, but with the violence against the Hindu by the Muslims, has recently converted. Embarrassingly, he has to prove that he has converted (although nudity is avoided in this scene, it’s understood that he does this by showing he’s been circumcised). The family has hidden Shanta, but the Ice Candy Man tricks Lenny into telling him where she is hiding. Then the Ice Candy Man tells the mob where Shanta is at and the nanny is dragged out of the house and carted off as the family pleas and begs for her return. You're left with feeling that Shanta fate is doomed in the hands of the Muslim men.
The conclusion of the scene, with Santa being led away, is similar to the ending of Mehta's movie Water. The exception being, in Water, that the girl being taken away represents hope. Here, the scene depicts the helplessness of Lenny’s family to save her nanny and the hopelessness of peace in Lahore.
The last scene is of Lenny as an older woman, thinking back to the trouble of her youth. She never saw Shanta again after her “betrayal,” even though her family continued to search for her among the refugees.
Earth is a powerful movie that deals with difficult religious and political issues. Through the eyes of Lenny, we see how a religiously pluralistic society breaks down as fear and rumors abound. You’re left with a feeling of sadness, but also a hope that things could have happened differently. For once Lahore was a place where those of many faiths lived together in harmony.
Click here for my review of Deepa Mehta's movie "Water"
Click here for a book review of Freedom at Midnight, a book about the partition of India.