‘At the stroke of midnight, while the world sleeps. India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.’
So said India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru approaching midnight on August 14th, 1947. That paragraph was part of Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny speech. India’s Independence, was created by the English quitting India after 250 years and at the same time. the country of Pakistan was created. This breaking up of India was called The Partition, and is the backdrop of Deepa Mehta‘s first film of her Elemental Trilogy. This one is called Earth, and the other two were called Fire, and Water (which I’ve already reviewed).
It is 1947 and we are set up in Lahore. At the time of start of the film, Lahore was a city in India. Partition was announced two days before Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny speech, and with the announcement, Lahore became the capital of Pakistan. Eleven million people were displaced. Hindus, a minority living in Pakistan, wanted to go back to India and be among the majority. Muslims living India wanted to head back to the newly created Pakistan.
The migration of 11 million did not go smoothly. Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims, all of whom found a way to live together before Partition, now found that no one could be trusted. Lifelong friends now wanted to slaughter each other. More than 1 million people were killed in the communal violence.
In Mehta’s Earth, the story begins with a small microcosm of people. The story unfolds through the eyes of a handicapped eight year old girl called Lenny-baby. She was under the care of her ayah or baby-sitter called Shanta (Nandita Das). Shanta was employed by an upper middle class Parsee family. Parsees were a distinct minority religion in India and as such they practiced relative neutrality – meaning they didn’t side with the Hindus, the Sikhs, or the Muslims.
Shanta was a beautiful single girl who didn’t lack for admirers. Among the admirers were a Sikh, a Muslim, and a Hindu boy. This group met regularly and were all friends. Only the Partition was causing cracks in their personal friendship foundations. Not only could we see it, but for those involved it was evident as well. Just as it was across the city of Lahore, and the rest of the country.