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Revisiting wounded souls in Pinjar

Film Review – Pinjar (The Skeleton) – 2003

Director: Chandra Prakash Dwivedi

Cast: Urmila Matondkar (Puro/Hamida), Manoj Bajpai (Rashid), Sanjay Suri (Ramchand), Kulbhushan Kharbanda (Mohanlal), Lillete Dubey (Mrs. Mohanlal), Sandali Sinha (Lajjo), Isha Koppikar (Rajjo), Priyanshu Chatterjee (Trilok)

Based on Amrita Pritam’s Punjabi novel “PINJAR”
Violent bloodbath, massacres of scores of human beings and refugee exodus were the most powerful symbols of the partition of the Indian sub-continent. Chandra Prakash Dwivedi’s film Pinjar represents the pain of the partition which engulfed three communities of India – the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. The film is also the story of a family, essentially the journey of the daughter of the family – Puro (Urmila Matondkar in a major role) and her transformation to Hamida, her loss of identity and her agony. Pinjar is set in 1946 which marked the pre-partition era. Even before the country was divided into two parts, communal rage had spread all over and violence was taking place in the name of religion. Pinjar tells the tale of a woman caught between two lands and coping with a dual identity. It is an effective portrayal of the suffering that women of the sub-continent had to undergo because of the decision to divide the country on the basis of religion. The partition was a painful experience for women and this is what the film tries to depict. The partition was a time when the state was immensely powerful to alter the lives of individuals because the decision of partition was taken by those who were at the helm of state affairs and the individual became absolutely powerless in the circumstance of displacement and identity loss because he/she had no control over their own lives.
Puro’s family (father Kulbhushan Kharbanda, mother Lillete Dubey and sister Isha Koppikar) move to Chattowani from Amritsar to search for a perfect match for Puro. The major part of the film’s first half is dominated by the scenes of a happy family who dote on both their daughters. Here, Puro is an obedient and ideal daughter, the darling of her parents. She unquestioningly accepts what her parents decide for her marriage and is shown busy dreaming about the future that she is going to spend with Ramchand, her prospective suitor. Puro’s parents are extremely worried about the marriage of their daughters. All they seem concerned with is finding a good match so that they can get rid of the ‘burden’ of daughters. This is a telling statement on the status of women during that era. The pain and agony experienced by a mother is deftly conveyed in the song “Charkha Chalati Maa”. Daughters were liabilities for parents especially during the partition where abductions and rape of women of both communities had become common occurrences. Puro’s father associates the idea of family honour with women of the family. The honour which young women like Puro carried on their shoulders turned out to be a burden for them.
The partition as an important event in history shaped the ideas of honour and thereby the destinies of thousands of women both from India and Pakistan. Pinjar is told from Puro’s perspective. It is Puro’s voice that lingers in the narrative throughout the film. Partition changes her from a docile young lady to a strong individual as a result of the displacement and abandonment that she experiences.
The turning point in the first half arrives when Puro is kidnapped by Rashid (Manoj Bajpai) who is seeking revenge from Puro’s family owing to settle a family score that goes back two generations. On managing to escape from Rashid’s house, when Puro goes back to her family, they refuse to accept and take her back home because she has lived with a stranger for many days which is detrimental to family ‘izzat’ and prospects for her sister’s marriage. Even when her brother Trilok tries to go against the father’s wishes and search for Puro, he is reprimanded and instructed to forget Puro’s existence and halt efforts for her search. Puro on the other hand is devastated and returns to Rashid to lead a life which is akin to that of a Skeleton (Pinjar).
Puro’s identity undergoes a drastic change. Rashid forces marriage on her and from Puro she is now Hamida. She now has a new identity which she resists as she longs for her family and marriage to Ramchand. She tries hard to erase this new identity but cannot and thus resigns to fate. Meanwhile, after committing the crime of abducting Puro, Rashid is repentant and seeks redemption. He tries to care and provide for her, but Puro is unrelenting as the wounds inflicted by Rashid are unforgivable. These events take place at a time when the country is on the boil but Partition has yet not taken place. Even before the partition, relations between Hindus and Muslims have soured as each community tries to gain brownie points over the other. Through many scenes, the film exemplifies the division between the two communities even before the partition took place. For eg: when Puro (now Hamida) raises an abandoned Hindu infant, the Panchayat warns Rashid to return the child or face dire consequences. The fight is thus not over the child but over supremacy of religion. As a result, Puro loses the child and laments, “Ek Ek karke mera sab chin gaya … mera parivar, mera desh, mera bachcha!” Thus, the film is also about loss … not only the loss of one’s homeland and near and dear ones, the irreparable loss of identity.
Pinjar is a story based on Amrita Pritam’s novel of the same name. The scene is set in Punjab which consisted of a significant Hindu and Muslim population. Since, the novel has been written by a female writer, it brings the women’s perspective to partition. Puro’s ultimate fate is decided by the act of partition which is a male dominated which is a male dominant decision in which the stakes of women are insignificant. As Puro, there were millions of women both from India and Pakistan who suffered the same sorry fate. The worst consequences of partition were faced by women. They became powerless in front of the authority of the state to draw artificial borders and divide people on religious grounds. Puro’s dilemma is repeated in the film when Lajjo (Puro’s sister-in-law) is abducted by Muslims and kept in capture in her own house. When Puro learns of Lajjo’s fate, she along with Rashid decides to help her reach safely to her family in India. She depicts immense strength in the hour of crisis to help Lajjo escape from the clutches of her abductors.
The first half hour of the film is not very convincing because all you watch is a happy family singing and dancing together, rejoicing on the prospects of a daughter’s marriage. The film picks pace only as Rashid enters the scene and Puro’s world turns upside down. We see a reflection of Punjabi culture in the scenes and songs of the film. For eg: the desire for a son in the family, parents deciding their daughter’s fate, male dominance in the family and silence of female characters. The character of Rashid enters the story as a villain but ends up gaining both Puro’s and the audience’s sympathy. This has not been explained well. Why does Rashid undergo a change of heart? Why does he not take the initiative to send Puro back to her family? Manoj Bajpai’s excellent portrayal of Rashid is exemplified in his Muslim mannerisms, style and acting. He emotes very well especially when he is ridden with guilt and tries to woo Puro. In the climax, it is Rashid who helps Puro in the plan to bring Lajjo back. Whether or not he achieves redemption is left to the audience’s imagination.
Pinjar is also about revenge … a revenge that a man seeks because of a family feud, a brother who seeks revenge for his missing sister … revenge that two communities seek on each other thereby destroying the secular fabric of the nation. The question of gender roles and identities has been successfully evoked in the film. Questions of social relevance like the marriage of girls, their education, their submerged desires are all seen in the light of the gendered views of contemporary society. There are many scenes and dialogues in the film which talk about women’s position in society.
Eg: Is yug mein ladki ka janm lena hi paap hai
[It is a sin for a girl to be born in this age]
Song: Beton ko deti hai mehal atariya, beti ko deti pardesari
[To the boy, the mother gives all comforts, and to the girl … a stranger’s house]
It is not only the partition and the nation’s division that is the central focus of the film. The questions and complexities of gender have also been explored by the director. Puro is the narrator and the main protagonist of the story. The story is thus a reflection of her views not only on the partition but also on gender roles and gender socialization (Bharat, 2008).
The songs of the film exhibit the pain of partition (Watna Ve O meraya Watna Ve) as also the pain of women who were being displaced from their homeland. In the climax, when Puro and Rashid are able to reunite Lajjo with her husband, Puro’s brother wants her to return to India. Here, she decides to stay back with Rashid because she does not want to be uprooted once again. Even though she faces a dilemma between her dreams of marrying Ramchand and the reality that she is now Rashid’s wife … Puro chooses to reconcile with the fact that the country has been divided and she is now on the other side of the border leaving all her near and dear ones far away. The film has been criticised for its climax in which Puro chooses to be with Rashid without offering any substantial explanation. My contention is that this aspect of the film should not be viewed from a gender lens but from a human lens. Her decision is important not as a woman but as a human being who chooses not be experience displacement again and in this sense, Puro’s decision is justified. This is also the only point in the film where she has been given a choice to take a decision and she does that. By the end, she emerges as a strong character who accepts her fate willingly and decides to carry on with life.
There are still so many ‘Puros’ in Pakistan as well as India … having to deal daily with grief and trauma of leaving their land forcefully. The film is a wonderful tale weaved with many characters who portray the experiences of a part of the population which was neglected during the partition – women. In the same way as many Hindu women were forcefully made to leave India and live in Pakistan, the same fate was met by Muslim women. The woman’s body continues to be the object of male gaze and the custodian of family honour both at the same time and this is indeed ironical. We cannot label the film as a feminist film because the director has tried to examine many other issues even though women remain central to the film with partition as the backdrop. The larger question that the director is trying to ask is where women stand when it comes to the partition in cinema. Many films have been crafted on the sensitive issue of the partition but only few have addressed the fate of women in the event. Reflections on the partition have been examined through the male perspective of the state, of war and conflict, of power and not from the views of women who went through it.
Whether it was Puro or Hamida, women became the ‘other’ during the partition. That ‘other’ whose lives did not matter, whose voices were silenced, whose identities were subjugated and who remained at the periphery of power struggle and power equations and who still continue to be marginalized and displaced at the cost of the ‘self’, the ‘state’ and the ‘man’. Pinjar thus gives a voice to this ‘other’ and their concerns of displacement, marginalization, dual identity and powerlessness in the face of state power.
Bharat, M. (2008). Partition Literature and Films: Pinjar and Earth. In N. Kumar, & M. Bharat, Filming the Line of Control: The Indo-Pak relationship through the cinematic lens (pp. 63-67). New Delhi: Routledge.
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