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Last Updated: Friday, 11 June, 2004, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Cinema's taboo on partition
By Mehboob Khan
BBC Hindi Online

For nearly two decades after the bloody and traumatic partition of India in 1947, the momentous event failed to find mention in the works of the subcontinent's filmmakers.

Cover of South Asian Cinema magazine
The magazine's editor says cinema lagged behind other art forms

This is one of the issues raised in a special issue on partition of South Asian Cinema (SAC), a UK-based film magazine.

Hundreds of thousands of people died in widespread communal violence and millions were made homeless after the Muslim state of East and West Pakistan was created out of partition of India at the end of British rule.

South Asian Cinema has devoted its latest issue to the films and television serials dealing with the issue of partition and the relationship between Hindus and Muslims in the two neighbouring countries.

'Popular cinema was aloof'

It includes poems written by renowned Indian writer-filmmaker Gulzar and interviews with leading directors like Shyam Benegal.

Garm Hava
Garm Hava - One of the first films to raise the issue of partition

The articles reveal the fact that the sensitive issue of partition was virtually ignored in films for nearly two decades after the division, though it found an echo in Indian literature.

"Historical and literary writings on the trauma of partition gradually emerged, but popular cinema by and large, stood aloof," Lalit Mohan Joshi, editor of South Asian Cinema, told BBC Hindi Online.

Others, like Shyam Benegal, say it took time for people in India and Pakistan took time to rationally analyse the horrors of partition.

Benegal says that people in India and Pakistan began to look back objectively on partition, and the wounds between the two countries began healing only after the third war between the two neighbours in 1971.

"Similarly all the work in the cinema actually begins at that time," he says.

The partition also affected the Indian film industry by destabilising two major film centres of undivided India - Bombay (now Mumbai) and Lahore.

Scene from Tamas
The film highlighted the human suffering of partition

Legendary film personalities like Noor Jahaan, Zia Sarhadi and Ghulam Mohammed left for Pakistan.

Many prominent Indian filmmakers such as Gulzar and Govind Nihalani moved out of what became Pakistan.

Well-known writer Bhisham Sahni, whose famous Hindi novel Tamas is based on partition, was also from Rawalpindi in Pakistan and moved to Indian Punjab.

"Partition was like dividing a human being, like dividing an organism losing two of its limbs, a human being losing two limbs," Benegal tells the magazine in an interview.

"It was not just the land that was divided, there were peoples that were being divided, their families that were being divided.."

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