Window Seat | Mrinal Chatterjee


Partition Films

India and Pakistan has had a strained relationship even before Pakistan was born out of India. The partition of the country was poorly planned and executed and was done in haste. It was violent and traumatic. Never before in the history of mankind had such large scale violence and displacement of population taken place. In a conservative estimate more than one and a half million people died in the violence following the partition. More than 15 million people were displaced. Though India and Pakistan share a common culture, and people of the dominant religions- Hindu, Muslim and Sikh have been living together for ages, the violence happened and reached an unprecedented scale; Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other. The resultant trauma was deep. Pakistan was divided again in 1971 and East Pakistan emerged as a new country: Bangladesh.

Cinema records reality and thus chronicles history. While documentaries attempt to show the reality based on physical facts and events, mainstream films move to the next level and show the dominant public mood and aspiration.  So documentaries may have more facts and therefore more factuality, but mainstream movies may have more facticity and be closer to the reality in a different sense.

Interestingly in the last 70 years less than three dozens of feature films have been made on Partition of India and Pakistan, which directly impacted over 100 million people and had seen more tragedies and probably barbarism than even holocaust. This, when India is the largest producer of feature films in the world with over 1800 films every year in over two dozen languages, and both Bangladesh and Pakistan have had a robust film industry. Over five hundred feature films have been made since 1940 on holocaust in over two dozen countries. What could be the possible reasons? I can think of seven possible reasons of this rather baffling enigmatic phenomenon. I do not have any data-based research to back my submission. My submissions are based largely on observation, gut-feeling and to some extent on extensive discussion with film-historians, film-critics, sociologists and historians concentrating on modern history.

As a Nation, we want to forget our traumatic past. We do not want to carry the baggage of the past, for as people we are more emotional. Therefore traumatic past could disturb our collective psyche and may lead us to more traumatic experiences.
We shrug off what does not directly impact us. That probably is the reason for films not being made on partition in languages other than Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Urdu and Malayalam in the sub-continent. There have been many poignant stories in several languages by noted writers waiting to be told in films and television serials. But most of the film makers chose to close their eyes to this.

Film world in India is too commercial to think about taking up a subject that might not pay off well. In other words it does not like to venture off the proven commercial formula.

Our film industry is scared to take up sensitive and potentially controversial subjects. It is scared of the possible reactions of fringe political and ‘cultural’ organisations that often resort to violence to lodge their protest. Film making and distribution are capital-intensive and expensive. Therefore it is susceptible to threats and pressures by extra-constitutional bodies.
Statutory bodies like Censor Board (Central Board of Film Certification- CBFC) act defensively and often regressively when it comes to sensitive and controversial issues and events. It deters the Film makers from taking sensitive subjects like partition, which might touch raw nerves and open old wounds.
We are probably scared of horrific truth and would like to shove it under the carpet by not discussing about it. One can argue, “But there are many books on partition- both fiction and non-fiction. Sadat Hassan Manto’s stories on partition show the violence during partition in its raw and macabre cruelty.”
The answer could be: “Books are ok. Only intellectuals read the non-fiction books on partition based on historical records and accounts. Even when somebody reads stories, he or she is framing mental pictures. But films are visual and more of a mass medium. Films show and hence act more on emotion without the cognitive cushion associated with reading. Therefore it is risky to make a film on a controversial subject that might ‘hurt sentiments or reopen past wounds”.

Probably as a Nation we have not yet matured to view our history dispassionately and record/show violent and traumatic events as it were. That probably has scared the Film Industry to take up this subject.

First Copy of your Book

If you happen to be a writer and have published books, you will appreciate this. When you hold the first copy of your new book- it is like holding your baby. You remember the smoothness of the cover, the pungent smell of the papers, the colour of the cover page. You look at it for a long time and then hold it close to your heart, as if it can listen to your heartbeat. In a queer sense you feel complete.
You want the whole world to see your baby and hail its arrival; you want to scream to announce its arrival. Next moment you hold yourself and want the baby to prove its worth and get noticed. You feel confused. You feel happy.
It happens every time.

As the third edition of my book Ganamadhyama O Sambadikata (Mass Communication and Journalism, in Odia) was released at a small book release ceremony I was again flooded with these emotions.

. Tailpiece: Buddha and Buddhu

Buddha was a prince who left his palace in search of peace and we all Buddhus (dumb people) are in search of a palace at the cost of our peace.


A journalist turned media academician Mrinal Chatterjee lives in Dhenkanal, a Central Odisha hilly town. He also writes fiction. [email protected]