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 Earth...it 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