Tuesday, January 12, 2010

1947 Earth

Earth without doubt establishes the power of Deepa Mehta as a director. She has the amazing talent of making her viewers turn in their seats in extreme discomfort and agony. She is the director of anxiety. Earth takes a view of the few months leading to partition in the city of Lahore which has a sizable Muslim population while at the same sees the flourishing of Hindus in trade. "Ham sab haraamzade hain" Amir Khan says, in a state of a tormented mind. A train from Punjab has arrived to Lahore filled with dead bodies. One whole compartment is filled with body parts of women. He has waited twelve hours expecting to find his sisters in this train. His extreme grief anger and pain have touched his innermost core. "We are like the animal in a cage," he says, "waiting to be let loose- and once the cage is opened- only god can help." This film raises intensely uncomfortable questions about civilization, about humanity, about virtue and about fate. Violence seems to live in the human heart like a pathogen, latent, waiting for a stimulus. Dil proposes to Shanta, seeing her as the only way he can to contain the violence that has suddenly been unleashed by the gory sight of corpses in the train. But Shanta refuses him as she is already promised to Haasan. Dil spies on them as they make love and is consumed by a jealousy that writhes inside him in the very way that his cigarette smoke curls up over his head. The next morning, Haasan is brutally murdered and left on the road side, crouching in a gunny bag. The Parsi home is stormed by Muslims looking for any Hindu in the house. Dil tricks even Leni, the polio inflicted child, as he exposes Shanta to the ruthless crowd. The film only reminds of the last words of Curtz in The Heart of Darkness: "The horror... the horror."

Goodness seems like an afterthought, a corrected impulse. I cannot imagine living at a time when the mob rules; when individuals are at the mercy of the crowd, when heart breaking cries of victims are drowned by the roar of a thousand voices filled with hatred. Where does hate gain such an intensity? Why is that pain moves us more than joy? Human beings can fall back from a million years of evolution in a fraction of a second and be more beastly than any animal. To trick, to want to possess, to inflict pain, to be so callous- to be blind! Hatred is blindness- and yet what drives it. It is the undoing of all civilization- the devastation that man wrecks upon man who is left with nothing to possess and nothing to lose. Hatred and violence have emerged so often in the history of mankind that they stand testimony to the bitter fact of our innate bestiality, in spite of all our progress and technological evolution. It seems to me, we become subtler in our means for violence as we evolve, if we are evolving at all. But we do not ever rid ourselves of that nefarious death instinct which constantly runs against the strain of our very existences. It is easy to say that man needs to conquer and tame his own heart before sending rockets to the moon. But to turn enemies to our own selves, to betray and turn one friend against another in the name of religion, race and caste...to invest words, veils, a hundred year old customs with so much importance that we are left with nothing but skeletons and corpses! Life has no meaning without an aim, without faith and without beliefs.. but what is the use of that aim, that faith and those beliefs that seek to obliterate life itself?

It is spine chilling to consider even with the slightest premonition that violence is the natural disposition of man, the largest and the most dominant part of himself. We are drawn to it like "moths to a flame." It shall consume us even as it shall consume everything else. We evolve it would seem, to turn back upon ourselves and swallow our own kin, to feed in vain that gigantic hunger that will forever remain insatiable.

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