Friday, August 17, 2018

CANON OF FILM: "EARTH"

EARTH (1999)

Director: Deepa Mehta
Screenplay: Deepa Mehta based on the novel “Cracking India,” by Bapsi Sidhwa



As I was watching "Earth" for the first time, I knew I was watching something powerful, but also something that seems surprisingly familiar to me, but somehow I couldn't quite put my finger on it until the very end of the movie. Is was then that I had read part of this before. Part of Bapsi Sidhwa's novel "Cracking India" was something I read in one of my first college English classes, I think I thought it was a short story, and it wasn't one of the memorable or personable favorite pieces of I read in that class, but once I saw it replayed on the big screen, I instantly went back to having read it in class, and now seemed to recall the emotional sustenance of it, even stronger than when I first read it. I never did go and find the book to read the whole and maybe I should some but, I had "Earth" and I thought that was more than enough.

Controversial filmmaker Deepa Mehta, is one of the most respected female filmmakers in the world. She's born in India and grew up in New Delhi, but actually has spent much of her professional career working and living in Canada. She's not a member of the more world-renowned Bollyhood movie system, known for musicals, and more broader popular Indian film, when she tackles the Indian side of her background Mehta tackles subjects tackles subject that go up and down the socioeconomical, the political, the religious, the emotional, and the traditional. Her most noted works is a three-part trilogy of Indian films based on the three elements “Fire,” “Earth,” and “Water.” (I've seen it called both the India Trilogy and the Element Trilogy; I'm used to calling it the India Trilogy) “Fire,” takes place in modern day and details the secret relationship between two long-suffering wives of Hindu men in Calcutta, becoming the first Indian film about lesbians, which apparently at the time of it's release in the mid'90s the concept of a gay romance that there was so no naturally Indian language that had a word for it. That film was definitely controversial although it's definitely of the trilogy.

The second one, released in India under the title "1947: Earth", is probably the least controversial of the three and arguably the best. It was India's submission for the Foreign Language Oscar and it takes in Lahore after India gains independence and now Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus battle each other along what’s going to become the India-Pakistan border. It details the population exchange between the Muslims who head off to Pakistan, and the struggle of Hindus trying to head to India, as well more importantly, the savage results of many who refused, but the main story involves Shanta (Nandita Das) a Hindu ayah (An ayah is basically a housenurse) who’s secretly in love with a Muslim Man. Actually two, there's Dil (Aamir Khan) an ice cream man and Hassan (Rahul Khanna) a masseur. Now they're all friends and apart of an eclectic group of friends and faiths. She actually takes care of Lenny (Maia Sethna) a young Polio-stricken lame girls who narrates the movie as an adult (Bapsi Sidhwa, yes the author of the original novel) and her and her parents are Parcee, one of the groups that didn't take sides during the- well, I won't go into the entire history of India, post British-rule, but they didn't have a peaceful transition into independence, to say the least.

There’s a little bit “Au Revoir, Les Enfants,” here when Lenny’s complete trust in people causes her to make a possibly fatal error at an incredibly bad time. The movie’s climax however is set up well, outlining the climate of the mood in the country at the time, showing mass migrations, and outlandish behavior done for protection, like when Lenny’s young friend Papoo (Roshan Banu) is married to a middle-aged man, (Veer Prakash Nayar), or when a Hindu man converts to Muslim, circumcision and all, so he can stay in what’s about to become Pakistan.

There's some foreshadowing with Papoo's story as the third part of the trilogy, the Oscar-nominated “Water,” (Which was Canada's Foreign Language submission, not India's like "Earth" was) is about a young girl, of about eight years old, who is sent to an island of widows to live after her young husband dies. Like “Earth,” it's a masterpiece, and it's almost the most controversial of the Trilogy by far, like, people were trying to kill her in order for her to not make the movie, controversial and after her sets kept getting burned down and lost of shooting permits, she inevitably made that one in Sri Lanka.

I haven't seen "Water" since it got released and some point I probably will to add it to this Canon , but "Earth" I keep going back to. periodically. I'm leaving out a lot of side plots and characters and events, the movie is actually more episodic in nature than people may remember The most interesting part to me is why  “Earth,” or why she chose this story to be apart of her trilogy. It could've been told separately and not related to this series. It's the only one of the trilogy that's based on an outside work. (Although Sidhwa actually wrote a novelization of "Water" after that film was made, interestingly enough) I don't think it's just the burnt orange tone of the lighting that's splashed over the movie like desert dust;  I think it’s meant to represent the battle over people having their own part of Earth and the lengths people will go in order to achieve a small piece of it. A battle for home, one might say, and too many people, fighting over the same place that they wish to call it, it seems.

There’s a scene where people await a train to arrive, only to find it filled with slaughtered bodies. This is shortly after a scene where we see a row of Hindus leaving the city of Lahore, crossing parallel paths with a row of Muslims moving in. Just one of several incidents that either caused of were effects of the war that would be fought on the streets and homes...- To paraphrase an Aaron Sorkin in the 60-years of India’s independence, there’s been about three official wars with Pakistan, and dozens of skirmishes in between. It is about religion, and yet, the majority of the film is about this rare time when the Muslims, Hindus, Sihks, Parcee and several other scant members of other religion, seemed okay to live along each other well enough in one of the last parts of the world you would expect.

That part of the world btw is Punjab, it's where both Mehta and Sidhwa spent much of their lives, but not in the same country. Mehta's from the Punjab state in India, Sidhwa is from Lahore, which is in Punjab Province in Pakistan.


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