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‘Pinjar’, produced by Lucky Star’s Entertainment Ltd. and directed by Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi, is a movie set in the Indian subcontinent where the fight for freedom from the British colonialists is at its climax. The film is based on Amrita Pritam’s novel of the same name and is a winning attempt at recreating history.
‘Pinjar’ (meaning ‘cage’ or ‘skeleton’) revolves around the story of Puro, a young girl from a Hindu family living in Amritsar. In search of a suitable bridegroom for their daughter, the family journeys to their village of Chattovani where they settle the marriage of Puro with Ramchand, who is from the village of Rattovall. As per tradition, an exchange must take place and so, Puro’s brother is engaged to Ramchand’s sister, Lajjo.
All is bliss for Puro until an unfortunate incident changes her life forever, when she is tragically kidnapped by Rashid, a Muslim man who carries her away on his horse while she is on a trip to the fields. Puro, hysterical and frantic, begs Rashid to return her to her distraught family. Rashid explains that Puro’s abduction was a result of an ancestral family dispute. Puro’s ancestors had rendered the Muslim family homeless over a loan default and kidnapped a woman from their house to dishonor them. Rashid was made to swear upon the Holy Quran by his uncle and cousins to avenge their kin and regain their honor. He tells Puro that her family will refuse to accept her now and henceforth, she will always remain an outcast. He confesses that he is remorseful but helpless, and that he has loved Puro since the first moment he laid eyes on her. Puro refuses to believe him and escapes back to her house one night where her hopes are shattered. It is an extremely emotional sight as her own parents tell her it is best if she returns else the Muslims would reside to slaughtering their whole family. Furthermore, she has spent the night in another man’s house. Nothing can change the fact that she is now a stain on their honor. Hence, Puro returns to Rashid.
Back in Rattovall, Ramchand is offered Rajjo’s (Puro’s sister) hand in marriage but he refuses on ethical grounds and so Rajjo is married to Ramchand’s cousin. Puro’s brother Trilok marries Lajjo as promised. Meanwhile Rashid marries Puro and takes her away to live in Sakkadali. There, she miscarries Rashid’s child and leads a miserable life. Her arm is forcefully tattooed with the Muslim name ‘Hamida’. She continues to dream of her fiancé Ramchand and even tearfully encounters him in the fields on a trip back to the village. With time she also learns that deep down Rashid is a good man and that his repentance is genuine. At this point politics takes a turn as the partition is announced and riots break out all over. Ramchand’s village falls in Pakistan and he and his family, excluding a misplaced father, are forced to join a refugee group journeying to India. On the way however, the migrants are attacked by a gang of thugs and Lajjo, Ramchand’s sister is tragically kidnapped. The group proceeds to settle for a night near Sakkadali. Puro visits the camp and meets Ramchand who is distressed and asks for her to look for Lajjo. Puro promises not to let him down.
Puro travels from house to house in Rattovall, pretending to be a salesgirl. Finally she manages to find Lajjo, held captive in her own house by Muslims. With the help of Rashid she manages to rescue her and the climax of the movie approaches as Ramchand and Trilok both await at the Wagah border to take Lajjo with them to Hindustan. There is a tearful reunion of two pairs of brother and sister. Trilok embraces Puro and presents her with the choice of returning with him to her relatives, since Ramchand is ready to accept her. It is here that Puro, withstanding the opportunity of a reunion with her family, chooses to remain with Rashid and bids her brother farewell forever.
The movie underlines a large number of issues in a non biased way, using the partition theme in its entirety. It depicts the turmoil resulting from the partition, where millions of families were displaced and innumerable women were kidnapped and raped. Hindu-Muslim relations around the tentative period circling 1947 are a chief subject of the film. The large difference of opinion regarding the partition is largely depicted. ‘Pinjar’ shows that many Hindus and Muslims genuinely believed that they were a stronger force together and that the partition was an attempt to disunite the Indians. Considering the period in which the movie has been set, one also realizes that the communal hatred was largely a manifestation of the patriarchy and had roots too deep in the minds of both Hindu and Muslim men. The enmity was ancestral and was a matter of honor, more for the male community. It was the men of Rashid’s family who considered it a matter of utmost importance to avenge their ancestors and it was Puro’s brother who set fire to Rashid’s crop.
All feuds and disputes, it seems, are created and propagated by men. It is here that women become a tool of honor and dishonor and the principle target of all patriarchal games. One such victim is the kidnapped Puro. In a particular moving scene, she asks Rashid how she could possibly be held responsible for a crime her grand-uncle committed. Amidst the partition chaos, Lajjo was prey to similar tragedy, as were hundreds of other girls.
Particularly appalling is the scene where Puro is rejected by her family when she returns. The intolerant thinking of the society is all too apparent as the girl is asked to return to her kidnapper. Nothing is above family honor and image. The decisions fate makes are accepted without question. In a certain dialogue, Puro, after hearing the story of a gang raped girl, goes as far as saying that to be born a woman is nothing less than a curse. The society is blindly cruel to those with whom fate is unfair. This attitude changes only when the violence becomes large scale and affects all. When Lajjo says that she cannot return home out of shame, Puro tells her not to worry, since the partition atrocities have opened everyone’s eyes. People are accepting their kidnapped girls with open arms.
It is also apparent that a change of general thinking was also underway at this point in time, especially among the young, as is seen in Trilok, who is an ardent participant of politics and is sometimes even scorned by his father for overly supporting the Congress. Had he been present in the house when Puro had returned, he would surely have not let her go back. He kept the search for his sister alive till the very end. Ramchand is another enlightened youth. A school teacher, he believes all religions to be one in essence, and displays high morality in his willingness to accept Puro as his wife even after her abduction.
While in Sakkadali, Puro sympathizes with a female tramp who roams the village. She has developed an understanding for societal outcasts. Eventually the tramp dies during childbirth as she conceives form rape. Puro adopts and raises the helpless baby but later on is forced to give up the child under pressure of the males of the village council. They claim the baby since he is from a Hindu mother and ignore Puro’s pleas to keep the infant, making it a matter of religious honor.
Certain scenes of the movie show that Hindu – Muslim accord was not as unattainable as has generally been perceived. In a depicted anti-partition demonstration, the speaker tells the audience that Hindus and Muslims have been living in one country for decades and there is no reason why they cannot continue to do so.
Another interesting character is that of the Muslim Rashid. After the unforgiveable sin he commits, his character unfolds as one of an essentially just and ethical man who is deeply in love with Puro. When his farm is burnt down by her brother, he refuses to take revenge understanding that the act was simply a reaction to a sin he has committed. He pleads in front of the Hindu elders to keep the child his wife has raised and agrees to save Lajjo in an attempt to gain respect in the eyes of Puro. This shows that despite the widespread communal hatred many men were troubled by their conscience and were capable of making moral decisions.
The movie depicts the trauma of young Puro with utmost accuracy, great amount of credit going to Urmila Matondkar’s excellent acting. Her character represents an ill-fated partition-era female. She plays the complete woman, being daughter, sister, wife and mother. However she never accepts her marriage or her life. She is a skeleton, a ‘Pinjar’, existing but not living.
The climax of the movie shows Puro being offered acceptance back to her family which she dramatically rejects. As to why she did so, that has been left a semi mystery for the viewer. We may assume that that Puro renders essentially feminine behavior, eventually learning to love her husband. She could not muster the courage to be disloyal to a man who had been a good husband for so long. Puro found solace in rescuing Lajjo and is probably incapable of further upheavals in life. She has a husband, a home and is content. She knows where she belongs and her life at this point is beyond repair.
On a lighter note, the movie has beautifully portrayed the bond between parent and child and amongst siblings. The right to the customs, rituals and beliefs of that particular time has been effectively illustrated. The simplicity and familial camaraderie of that eon are nothing less than charming.
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