Love consists in this, that two solititudes protect and touch and greet each other.
-- Rainer Maria Rilke
We are approaching the end of Deol Dhamaka, and if I've gone a little silent here on the blog, it's because I've spent the last week trying to figure out how a film that contains what is probably one of my favorite scenes of all time can also be a film that makes me so profoundly sad that I almost cannot bear to watch it again.
Let me start with what makes my heart go ping. Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (dir. Anil Sharma, 2001), is, on one level, the love story of Tara Singh and Sakina, he Sikh, she Muslim. Their initial meeting is told in flashback, after Tara rescues Sakina on a railway platform after she has become separated from her family during an attack on Muslims trying to flee to Pakistan at the time of Partition. What Sakina does not know is that Tara Singh is in love with her, as, of course, he never told her at the time they first met, and they obviously have not seen each other since she left the school he used to deliver goods to.
Tara arranges to take Sakina to Lahore where she can find an uncle; as she prepares for the journey, she stumbles across Tara's journal, with an entry about how he loves her marked with a dried flower, one she gave him at their final meeting at the school, and which he has pressed between the pages.
She is suprised, and profoundly touched by this (and oh, what a wonderful performance by Amisha Patel, I am so glad that I discovered how good she could be in Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd., and how lovely she is in this film), and when Tara Singh needs his turban tied so they can get on the road to Lahore:
Sakina offers to tie it for him:
And next, as I said, likely my favorite scene in all of cinema. The two gradually gather up the ends of the turban cloth, and come closer and closer, gazing into each others eyes until they awkwardly meet in the middle:
As she ties Tara's turban, Sakina talks to him, asking him why he's never been married, presumably trying to draw him out on what she already knows. He tells her what sounds like the usual story he has handy for anyone who wonders, that he's a truck driver, he's often away from home, his wife would have to be alone and do all the work, yadda yadda. But remember that dialogue, because in a lovely bit of continuity, Sakina will use it just a little bit later in the film, on the route to Lahore.
Finally, she's done, and Tara goes to look at it in the mirror:
At this point, I was practically screaming at the screen, "Oh, he's going to take it off and tell her it's too wonderful to wear, oh he is!" And of course, he does:
Of course, now I have to reconcile this, this fact that Gadar: Ek Prem Katha contains one of the most beautiful love stories ever, with the fact that it is, frankly, extremely jingoistic and expresses a kind of nationalism that finds its expression in belittling the "other", in creating Pakistani/Muslim characters that are so caricatural and so one-dimensional that it makes me want to weep.
The thing is: the more reading I do about this film -- about how popular it was, about how it was a product of a particular time in Indian history (it was created and released in an atmosphere in the late 1990s/early 2000s which saw an increasingly strained and hostile relationship between India and Pakistan, strain between the Hindu and Muslim communities within India, and an increase in Indian Patriotism, as Bhaskar Sarkar points out in the book Mourning the Nation: Indian Cinema in the Wake of Partition), about how it reflected a certain way that Indian history had been written (Gyanendra Pandey has written about views of Partition as a kind of "mistake", with Indians as the victims of actions and decisions for which "others" were responsible) -- the more I read, the more I feel I need to read, and the more I feel I need to think about this film.
Gadar: Ek Prem Katha is not an "avoid yaar" film, no matter how unpalatable the views it expresses seem at times, at least to me. And, in fact, it contains what may be amongst my favorite performances ever by both Sunny Deol and Amisha Patel (at least, in the first half of the film). But it is a difficult film, it is a challenging film, and it is a film that deserves to be examined in the light of events surrounding its creation and release, in the re-examination of how Partition is treated by historians, by writers, by filmmakers.
I've decided that I don't want to rush what I've been working on -- that I'd rather take my time and read through the little stack of things I've already accumulated, to search out more -- to learn more, before I deal with the film here on the blog. It's a film that troubles me greatly, but it's a film that moves me greatly, too, and I think I really want to explore that in more depth than I can by just trying to throw a post together in a week.
I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.
-- Rainer Maria Rilke