Thursday, December 11, 2008

1947 Earth

After Dil Se..., I wasn't sure I was in the mood for another depressing film. I didn't know much about Earth, but since it was directed by Deepa Mehta, I knew better than to expect anything for the faint of heart.

But I popped it in anyways--Truth was, I'd been dying to see it for quite some time now. For one, it stars Aamir Khan! Isn't that reason enough to watch a film?

Secondly, I knew it was a story about Partition. Partition--the concept has fascinated me ever since I heard the story about how my grandparents migrated over to Pakistan from India. Actually, I know very little...My grandparents are both deceased and my father and I don't really discuss it. But it's my dad's wife who has known our family history for years, and gives me little pieces to the puzzle every time I visit her (In case you haven't read my brief little family story, I haven't been very close to my father for most of my life and was brought up very non-Desi by my German/Mexican side of the family). What I do know is my grandfather was Sikh, and apparently converted to Islam to remain in Lahore (his parents had migrated there from India before Partition). My grandmother and her family had migrated to Pakistan after Partition from Mumbai. And Earth is about Lahore, no less--needless to say, this heightened my longing to see the film. I wasn't there, but I could imagine the suffering my grandparents and their families must have went through, and how jarring the division of India and Pakistan must have been for all who experienced it. It certainly was the most bitter divorce in history, and I'll be telling the story to my own daughter someday--I don't ever want her to be ignorant to her family history, like I was.

Earth was just as much of a downer as Dil Se was...yet for some reason I liked this one better. Deepa Mehta has a knack for that. She gives you the most depressing circumstance and tells it with such well developed characters, solid performances, and tight scripting that you walk away feeling satisfied despite the doom and gloom.(At least that's the experience I have when watching her films--I'm sure there are some who beg to differ).

In Earth, the story is told mostly from the point of view of an eight year old girl. This was a brilliant move. We see the most terrible acts of mankind through the innocent eyes of a child, making even the stiffest upper lip tremble. Lenny (played by a darling Maia Sethna), lives with her parents in a Parsi home in 1947 Lahore. Her nanny, Shanta (Nandita Das) totes her around everywhere, mostly with a circle of Shanta's male friends. This isn't a problem in the beginning--Shanta's male friends lavish "Lenny Baby" with attention--mostly because they all have a thing for Shanta. Especially Dil, known as "Ice Candy Wallah"--and played by none other than Aamir Khan.

Lenny's adventures with her nanny turn from playful to tragic as the events of 1974 Lahore unfold--None of the characters have any idea of the warfare about to take place until it actually happens. Lenny and Shanta's world is literally torn in two as 1947 Earth lifts the veil off the people they trust--revealing love, friendship, hate, and betrayal.

My only complaint about this movie is there was less Aamir than I expected. I wondered why for most of the film (any insight, Bollywood Fan ?), until I finished it and thought whoa. As a matter of fact, it is Aamir (and his performance) who left the strongest impression on me. And I do mean strong---there's a particular scene towards the end (actually, Aamir's last scene in the film) that I had to replay three times until I could move on. I stared at the screen, wide eyed. If you've seen the film, you know why, but if not, just know that you still get blown away by Aamir, no matter how "small" his role may seem on the surface. It's not--trust me.

Nandita Das plays Shanta, the woman who everyone seems to want. Actually, it's Aamir's Dil and Hasan (Rahul Khanna--Akshaye's brother!) who are both in love with the beautiful nanny. And it's not hard to see why. Nandita Das fascinates me every time I see her. She's an amazingly talented actress and has a natural beauty that would make even the most polished Bollywood beauties jealous. There's just something about her--she's real, yet sexy at the same time. That jet black hair! Those perfectly straight white teeth! That creamy cocoa skin! Fair, schmair...Nandita's got it going on!

Maia Sethna was perfect as young "Lenny Baby". Her voice had the cutest little accent when speaking English. Oh, I could listen to her say "carmel custard" a gazillion times--I don't mean that in a derogatory way, its just so adorably cute! Deepa Mehta knows how to pick her child actors--remember Chuyia in Water?
But Maia is more than just cute as a button--she pulls off some of the most pivotal scenes in Earth effortlessly.

I remember little more about Rahul Khanna than that he was very handsome, and I feel kind of bad for that. His performance was more understated, and it wasn't that he didn't do a good job, but more that he was overshadowed by Aamir, Nandita, and little Maia. My feelings for him evolved during the course of the film--at first, I was irritated with him for getting in Aamir's way. As the film progressed, I softened--it was clear where Shanta's heart was, anyways. But I won't say too much.

The supporting cast seemed to click perfectly in their roles. Especially Kitu Gidwani, who plays Lenny's mother.

Here is another woman I was in awe of in this film. Kitu has this voice that is so musically elegant it could lull me to sleep (Isn't she in a Basmati rice commercial? I swear I've heard this voice before!). Lenny's mother Bunty exuded class and beauty, with a delicate grace that told you oodles about the type of home they had. They had it pretty good prior to 1947, an upper class Parsi family that lived quietly and comfortably. There's a scene where Bunty explains to Lenny what it means to be Parsi, and its so effective that I think I'll remember it for the rest of my life:

That's the other thing about tries to give us a feel for 1947 from multiple angles, not just Hindu and Muslim. We see Lenny's family and their struggle to remain neutral as Parsis, the fury of a Sikh man who is forced to flee from his beloved homeland (or convert...makes me wonder if that is what my grandfather's family did?), and even a man who becomes a Christian. Given the time frame of the film, I was impressed with the glimpses into the other perspectives, albeit brief.

The music was forgettable (at least I forgot--how many songs were there anyways?) but this was not your typical Bollywood film. The background score, I thought, was really effective...a soft hum to steady drumbeat, like the sounds of a crowd of people making their way across the new borderline. There was also a narrative--who sounded like Shabana Azmi?--which was also pretty effective.

I've heard from Magpie Ima that Earth is an adaptation of a book called Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa. I'm also told that the author makes a cameo at the very end as an adult Lenny. I would definitely read her novel, since I really liked this film. It was fantastic--absolutely brilliant--and I'm so glad I finally got my hands on a copy (Thank you again, Summer and Katy!). I recommend this wholeheartedly to anyone and everyone.

Text © 2008 Nida Nazir Bitten By Bollywood


ajnabi December 12, 2008 at 6:58 AM  

Oh, man, I'm going to have to watch this now. :-( I don't like downers but if I made it through Dil Se I guess I can handle this one. LOL

Nicki December 12, 2008 at 7:40 AM  

Thanks Nida for your wonderful review. I mentioned before to TheBollywoodFan that it's been a while since I've seen this movie. Now, I must!! Aamir is great, like always. Nandita is gorgeous and I also adore Rahul.

theBollywoodFan December 12, 2008 at 10:49 AM  

Hi Nida: Great review, and I'm glad you found it worth watching! It's extremely well packaged, and despite the visuals that are not the easiest to consume (even Aamir couldn't get me to theaters for this), it's amazingly effective where it tries to be.

As you say, the performances are fantastic, and with the background score and dialogue, I think are the closest we've come to capturing a fair reflection of the tumult of 1947 in that region, at least from among the mainstream movies in the last two decades I have seen, and assuming what textbooks and elders in both India and Pakistan agree on (because they rarely do in many other respects, at least based on my experiences living and studying in the two countries) is true. We can clearly see the blame game has been going on for a long, long time, and that our communities fail to learn from it, dismiss them as bygones, and almost find repeated occurences acceptable.

I think Aamir's limited presence has to do with his comfort to let the film do the talking -- he doesn't mind taking a back seat e.g. Dil Chahta Hai and Taare Zameen Par, where he wasn't the one central character. That last scene you mention is just brilliant, the intensity throughout just perfect. I wouldn't disagree completely that as of 1999, this was among his three best performances. And I agree with you on the fabulous Nandita Das! There are two newer movies starring her on communal strife that I hear are excellent: 'Ramchand Pakistani' and 'Firaaq'.

The message behind Earth, to me, was 'never again' and 'let's move on', but the two countries seem to have always been so caught up in their past (hard not to be, but still, all we want is peace, and they're both really not going all out to achieve that). The movie shows what I think is the truth about the conflict being made to be more (but not necessary all) about religion than caste and social status (go figure -- it's not that the religions call for harm, that's where I thought Kulbushan Kharbanda was great!), and an affluent, neutral, innocent family suffering for it (still happens in both countries) is a very valid example.


PS: Yes, that narrator was the one and only Shabana Azmi! (And do excuse the long comment here, LOL.)

memsaab December 12, 2008 at 1:17 PM  

I agree that Deepa makes films which depressing as they are, do not depress me. Don't know how, or why, but there you go.

I love the music from this film though, I think it's one of AR Rahman's finest soundtracks. Give the songs a listen (I don't remember noticing them particularly during the movie, I think because it's so intense) but I listen to them all the time now.

bollyviewer December 12, 2008 at 10:29 PM  

This was based on a novel? Wasnt aware of that.

I love your review, especially as it conveys the films message way better than the film itself. For me, the movie's message gets lost in the profusion of unusually gory, overly graphic and some plain nasty visuals. But I am perhaps being picky as I have watched quite a few films and TV series touching on the events of Partition and their effect on peoples' lives, which were way better made than this. I agree with your assessment of the performances - Aamir's was definitely the one that stood out. I liked the soundtrack too - especially Banno rani.

The Bollywood Lover December 13, 2008 at 12:05 AM  

I am another Aamir fan. And I've not watched this one. Do you recommend this?

P.S. This new blog template looks so cool!

Joss,  December 15, 2008 at 3:28 AM  

Another great review, Nida. I definitely want to watch this film again. I think I might appreciate it more this time. For two reasons: one, I didn't appreciate when I first saw it that not all Hindi films are this good; and two, I had never heard of Aamir Khan back then! Way back in 2007, when I was only just starting out on this exciting journey through Bollywood! I'm sure I will see it all with different eyes now.

Nida December 15, 2008 at 6:39 PM  

Ajnabi--Please watch this one! I don't like downers, either, but Deepa Mehta has a way of making her films rewatchable because of the characters and performances...and tight storylines. I'd love to read your take on it!

Nicki--It was so good! As I was taking the screencaps, I felt like watching it again...It's one of those films that sticks with you. I'm still in awe of it.

Bollywood Fan--As I said in the review, I am fascinated with the events of 1947---I find them both tragic and interesting. Perhaps I'll write my own fiction piece someday set in this unforgettable moment in history(its one of my long term goals to write a fiction novel someday).
I knew you would be able to shed some light on the Aamir thing. I know exactly what you mean--and you are so right. You know, I noticed that about Aamir in those two movies as well--and respect it about him. He doesn't have to be the only "hero" of the film (And he really did step back in Taare Zameen Par and the results were stellar--I need to write the review for that one but wanted to watch it again first!).
I've been wanting to see 'Ramchand Pakistani' since hearing about it on your blog, but will have to order it online--the Indian store I frequent doesn't carry it. Haven't heard of 'Firaaq' but will have to check it out too.
Yes, I agree, the two countries haven't yet buried the hatchet. Ahh, its so sad, especially when you consider all the lives that have been lost (And unfortunately are still being lost). I've said this before on your blog, but I really mean it--From my perspective (one who knew little about her own culture and is discovering her roots and heritage) its disheartening because the two countries are still closer than they would like to think or even admit. Yet there is so much hate. Oh well, I could go on forever, but in regards to the film, I thought it was absolutely haunting...have still been thinking about it.
A-ha! I knew that was Shabana Azmi!

Memsaab--I'll have to try listening to them out of context. Its funny the way that works--some songs are better with their picturizations, and others work better on my Ipod! I think you're right--the situation was so intense that the songs took a backseat in the film. The background song was perfect, though I didn't really appreciate it fully until I went back to take screencaps.

Bollyviewer--Thank you for the compliment! I'm glad you liked the review--I really enjoyed the film but can see how it may be unsettling for some. It was certainly an unsettling event, and many tragic things took place. Glad you stopped by--I've tried adding you to my blogroll but for some reason it didn't take? Maybe I forgot to hit save, but I will now try again...

Bollywood Lover--I definitely recommend this. It was a fantastic film with outstanding performances. Aamir's in particular left the greatest impact on me. I can't shake some of his scenes in the film. Let me know what you think!

Joss--Thank you, and glad you enjoyed the review! I think if I'd have seen this a while ago, I may not have appreciated it as much, either. Bollyblogging has changed my film watching experiences so much--I no longer reach for only the commercial fare. I notice other things in the film--performances, scenes that touch my soul, soundtracks, picturizations, characterizations, etc. I think if I had not heard of Aamir Khan, I may have had a different reaction to him in the film as well. In his first scenes, I may not have warmed to him so much (That's what made the ending so unforgettable for me--I really liked Aamir's character).

Anonymous,  January 31, 2009 at 1:50 PM  

Yes, it's an amazing film and a good introduction to some of the human tragedy of Partition. Watch Attenborough's Ghandhi for some of the political context, and more depiction of the incidents.
The book is very good - I read it as a Penguin paperback titled "The Ice Candy Man". The movie had this title on videotape, but I presume it was later re-titled in line with the Elements trilogy.

Anonymous,  November 6, 2010 at 12:33 PM  

The music by A.R.Rahman is excellent.Listen to the wrods of the songs carefully next time you watch this movie....esp "Raat Ki Dal Dal" and "Dheemi Dheemi"

The lyrics are beautiful.I know a lot of people from India who still listen to the songs from this movie.

Wonderful detailed review but don;t agree that the music was forgettable.

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ash March 24, 2012 at 6:06 AM  

1947 Earth honestly surprised was really different and i'd say there was a Hollywood touch in it..the kind rarely made in Bollywood..I personally and honestly think that this was a great film no matter how depressing it was (i'm a realist so depression doesn't bother me much if the message is deep)...i agree, less Aamir Khan made me frown, but anyway, it's still great...gossh, i'm sad to hear this film wasn't a hit but anyway, it's one of the unique and deep content Bollywood film i've watched...Luv from the Philippines^___^...Aamir Khan movies always gives me a different side of Bollywood...

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