Revolution #115, January 13, 2008

Check it Out


We received the following correspondence from a reader:

Earth, directed by Deepa Mehta, is a beautiful and tragic movie. Based on the book Cracking India by Bhapsi Sidhwa, Earth is the third part of a trilogy—the other two films are Fire and Water (see Revolution #49, June 4, 2006 at for a review of Water). The story is set in Lahore in 1947 as the British Empire is granting formal independence to India after 250 years of colonial rule. This included an imperialist-brokered partitioning of India, creating the country of Pakistan. These events are seen through the eyes of Lenny or Lenny-Baby, a pampered eight-year-old with a crippled leg whose parents live in a lovely house with a handful of servants.

The film opens with Lenny purposely dropping a china plate on the floor, trying to understand how a country can be broken. The British are drawing a map, carving up India and “partitioning” it into Muslim and Hindu dominated areas: Pakistan and India. Everyone is trying to understand what this will mean. In the beginning of the film, Lenny’s parents hold a dinner party. The atmosphere is festive and even the hosts are having fun at the expense of the British. Suddenly an argument erupts between two guests: an Indian and a British colonialist. The Indian, a Sikh, is clearly sick of the British and wants independence for India: one can almost taste his anticipation of India being free after 250 years of colonialism; he thinks that “finally we will have self-rule.” The British guy lashes back: “Do you think you’re up to it, old boy?” and ominously predicts, “You will fall on each other’s throats.... Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims will jockey for power, just wait and see.”

Lenny-Baby is hiding under the table taking it all in, and as the film continues we see everything she sees. She and her parents are Parsis (a small religious group originally from Persia). The British have kept intact the caste system and have utilized the different religious divides to support their long colonial domination. Now they are consciously exacerbating these differences to form an “independent” Indian subcontinent that they can still have a hand in dominating.

There is a group of young friends who form a social group centered around Lenny-Baby’s young caretaker, Shanta, a Hindu. The young men, who are friends of Shanta, are Sikhs and Muslims and Hindus and they hang out in a park where they eat, play, and discuss politics together, even joking about religion. They warmly include Lenny-Baby in their group. English, Urdu, Hindi languages are spoken, and the colors of Lahore and the surrounding country are saturated oranges and greens. A.R. Rahman’s wonderful score gives a cultural and emotional subtext throughout the film. There is something beautiful and healthy in this diversity of sounds and sights. But as the partitioning ensues, millions of people are forced to migrate from the places they called home to areas where people of their religion are being concentrated by British decree. Violence, revenge, rape, murder, and dismemberment become commonplace. Shanta and her friends perceive the changes and try to keep their group together. But as increasing violence and tragedies affect them, they become drawn into the vortex, becoming victims of the violence, or perpetrators, or both. And they, like India, are brutally divided: their love for each other destroyed as they betray one another and themselves.

One million people were killed during the partitioning. Twelve million more were forcibly displaced. The partitioning of the Indian subcontinent, the unleashing of fundamentalist religion, the continuation of extreme class, caste and women’s oppression continues to shape that area of the world up to today. Earth is a story about the history of imperialism in this part of the world, and its effects on the people in its thrall. What will be the story of this area’s future?

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