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The depressing political and social scenario India was in when the subcontinent was about to break up into two states is shown in Deepa Mehta's film Earth. The plot of the movie was adapted from the Bapsi Sidhwa novel "Crackling India," in which a young girl of seven years old watches as tragic events take place in her nation. The movie powerfully depicts the devastating results of political leaders' statements and deeds, even if it does not necessarily discuss political figures, political parties, or any other institutions that had an impact on the divide. In the end, it is the common people who are split along political and religious lines and have to deal with the fallout from violence. The director of this film is able to deliver a universal message about the loss of friends and family, and anguish that arises from conflict by telling the story of a group of friends who came from different backgrounds in a time where identity was a major issue.
This film combines different themes that are relevant to the contemporary world, ranging from cultural divisions and how violence can be internalized, to the issues of nationhood and identities. The movie is set at around the same time the then prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, proclaimed that “India will awake to light and freedom, at the stroke of the midnight hour.” (Earth 1947). It begins by engaging the viewer emotionally by also showing one of the main characters Lenny who is a baby with polio born into an affluent Parsee family. The family regularly met in a local park where they discussed various issues touching on their lives like love, relationships, the imminent divide, as well as religion. The focal point of the film is Lenny’s caretaker, Shanta who was being courted by two young men Hasan and Dil Navaz. The two suitors are from different cultural backgrounds and are always on a coalition path considering they also admired the same girl at a time of political and religious tension in India. However, it is only after the battle lines had been drawn along cultural lines that animosity started among the communities in India. Shanta’s body can be said to symbolize the earth upon which the love-narration is fought. The beautiful images in pre-partition India are soon replaced by violence as sectarian strife takes a toll on a once beautiful and united country.
This movie successfully demonstrates the state of uncertainty in the country only a few months before the split. There was great uncertainty as the people in the movie are shown to be unsure about their future and how they should react. This can be interpreted as a reflection of conflict among the political class which included members of Congress, the Muslim League, and the colonial master Britain (Nair 253). As the film starts, there are peaceful scenes as people from various religious backgrounds live together in harmony in the city of Lahore moments after it was announced the nation would be partitioned. No one was sure of what this meant for the future of the country while no one yet had separatist ambitions of splitting the country along religious lines. In the second half of the film, however, the viewer can see how strong bonds between life-long friends in the movie begin to vanish as political temperatures in the country rise. This movie shows how a nation can transition from peace to total chaos within a very short duration.
In reality, however, there were many decision made in the country within this short period that set the stage for the turmoil that would be witnessed in India from 1947.As per the Gellner’s theories of nationalism, all nations owe their origins to the nationalist sentiments which according to him are the “feeling of anger aroused by the violation of the principle [political and the national unit should be congruent], or the feeling of satisfaction aroused by its fulfillment.” (Gellner In Mach 102). The argument here is that for a new nation to be born, there must be people who feel aggrieved by how they are treated. Before the era of colonization, India had a Varna system that bind the society together by uniting various religious and cultural groups in India. However, the era of colonization brought new attitudes, and as time progressed, people began to reevaluate the values of the Varna system (Gellner 88). For instance, long-time friends in the film are seen to have a huge argument from a trivial joke about ethnicity. Also, Muslims were willing to convert to Hindu and vice versa in order to survive in a nation where politics of identity was a major issue. The breaking point of the conflict was the scene where a train full of dead bodies of Muslims is discovered. This stirred up emotions as Dil also finds the body of his sister who had also been chopped (Earth 1947). The film shows bloody scenes as violence breaks out between Muslims and Hindus and the country descends into violence.
The article Pakistan movement: Freedom struggle/ The creation of Pakistan — an Indian reflects by Mushirul Hasan echoes the uncertainty that is demonstrated in the film and also provides more reasons why the idea of separatism progressively became popular in India. In his opinion, “The swiftness with which the idea succeeded in becoming actualized and the intensity of emotions involved had more to do with the political and economic anxieties of various social classes than with a profound urge to create an Islamic/Muslim state.” (Hasan para 12). Among the pressing themes in this film is the extraordinary power of maps, both physical and psychological which can easily become etched in our bodies. Hindu fundamentalism in India was at an all-time high around during this period. However, it can be argued that there are more reasons, political and economic, that fueled this conflict but are not seen in the film. According to Hasan (para 13), the different political players in the country took well planned and persistent actions that appealed to the nationalistic sentiments of the various groups in the country. For instance, the Muslim league promised the Muslims in India that they would restore the glory of Islam and liberate all poor Muslims from oppression by Hindu masters by promoting equality between the rich and the poor through Islam. There were also more practical steps that were aimed at bringing Muslims in India together but on the other hand, divide the nation by inflating nationalist sentiments like publishing newspapers in Urdu, as well as books and magazines about Jinnah. Thus Muslims began identifying as a separate group from the rest of the country that was oppressed and had to find freedom by all means. This seen in the horrific communal violence that demonstrates the rawness of the nationalistic and religious sentiments portrayed in the film.
Earth also demonstrates how it is hard to return to the negotiating table once people have witnessed the kind of unspeakable violence that engulfed post-colonial India. After Dil found the bodies of slain Muslims in the train, there is less dialogue throughout the rest of the movie as it is replaced by tears, wailing and anguish. In war, men and women are deprived of the right to love as religious and political allegiances take center stage. This can be seen in the brief love scene between Hasan and Shanta who finally consummate their love for one another, but this only ends in tragedy. Di who also had feelings for Shanta is the most likely suspect when Hasan’s throat is slit a short while after. Conflict deprives people of love, just as it deprives the poor of their share of the national wealth as can be seen how the various cultural groups in India were deprived of a peaceful commerce with futurity. Thus this movie teaches not only the lesson of the pain conflict and partition of country causes, but also the how the common people are left helpless in such historical conditions. People have to ask themselves if some conflicts are necessary and unavoidable, to begin with. Although there are more powerful forces in play in such times, it is the common people who are most affected.
Earth clearly demonstrates how the split in India deepened and reflects the behavior of the common people in the face of this sectarian conflict. The viewer is left wondering how the sentiment of cultural division turns into a potent nationalistic movement. According to Hasan (37), one of the factors that influence this shift is the emergence of a political figure who can influence masses. In the movie, Jinnah emerges as the leader who gained the status of the liberator for the Muslim population in India from Hindu tyranny. Initially, however, his vision of a separate state was seen as a hard fete to achieve as millions of Hindu and Muslims had coexisted peacefully for centuries. Hasan (68) argues that many people “mistake religion for culture and confuse community with a nation.” However, the viewer can see that the idea of parity between Muslims and Hindus soon became the motivation behind the calls for separation. This film sheds light on the fact that the partition was brought about by the want for a separate nation and bureaucratic privileges. The man precursors were the trickery of politicians as well as selfishness over patriotism and nationalism.
This film serves as cultural text that illuminates normative conceptions of ethnic conflict, secularism, and the inclusion of minorities. These are themes that are still prevalent in the contemporary world. Many conflicts around the world are fueled by feelings of exclusion and oppression which motivate groups to pursue nationhood as the solution. While the common people might have nothing against each other, several potent forces usually come into play as fellow countrymen with selfish interests contribute to the ruination of peaceful societies. Good neighbors have turned against each other and massacred one another mercilessly when emotions are stirred up by fellow countrymen. Families and great friendships are ruined, and it is the insignificant class of society who suffer the major losses while politicians take power and fame.
Earth 1947. "Earth 1947 Full Movie." 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEJdS7_RC4Q.
Gellner, Ernest/ Breuilly. Nations And Nationalism. Cornell Univ Pr, 2009,.
Hasan, Mushirul. India's Muslims. New Delhi [U.A.], Oxford Univ. Press, 2008,.
Hasan, Mushirul. "Pakistan Movement: Freedom Struggle/ The Creation Of Pakistan — An Indian Reflects." Indpaedia.Com, 2014, http://indpaedia.com/ind/index.php/Pakistan_movement:_Freedom_struggle/_The_creation_of_Pakistan_%E2%80%94_an_Indian_reflects.
Gellner In, Mach, Zdzisław. Symbols, Conflict, And Identity. Albany, State Univ. Of New York Press, 1993,.
Nair, Neeti. Changing Homelands. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 2011,.
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