Screen Time: 70%
Role: Lenny Sethna
Age: 9 years old
Directed: Deepa Mehta
Language: Hindi, English, Parsee
Genre: Drama, Historical
A tragedy set against the ethnic violence of India's independence in 1947, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Parsees alike buzz like bees around the lovely flower Shanta (Nandita Das), the Hindu nanny of sheltered 8-year-old Parsee girl Lenny-baby. This sunny Eden of racial harmony plunges into darkness when independence brings the partition of the empire and sets ethnic groups against one another in civil war.
As seen through the naive eyes of little Lenny-baby, "Earth" is more tragic melodrama than social history, but what Mehta's adaptation of Bapsi Sidhwa's autobiographical novel "Cracking India" lacks in insight, it makes up for in fiery imagery, emotional passion, and a heavy-hearted longing for the paradise lost.
Movie ReviewsEight-year-old Lenny-baby (Maia Sethna), daughter of a wealthy Parsee couple in Lahore deliberately drops a plate to watch it smash to the floor. When her mother comes running to see what all the fuss is about, the child turns to her to enquire: ‘Mummy, can one break a country?’
Writer and director Deepa Mehta’s follow-up to the passionate Fire is a brilliant and painfully evocative recreation of the 1947 partition of India and the barbarism it unleashed between Sikh, Hindu and Muslim. Based on Bapsi Sidhwa’s autobiographical Cracking India (Sidhwa’s narration bookends the film), the dreadful ramifications of international and national political decisions on the lives of ordinary people are captured by focusing on the small group of individuals with whom ‘Lenny-Baby’ shares her life. Her beautiful ayah Shanta (Fire’s luminous Nandita Das) is the glowing hub of a multi-faith gaggle of young men who playfully vie for her attention. But the holocaust which grips the splintered subcontinent is tragically mirrored in this once loving network of friends.
The vibrant scarlets, oranges and yellows of twirling kites and the dusty golden glow of sunlight streaming throughout Lenny’s household later blend into a citywide wash of earth browns and clays as hatred, fear and the desire for revenge grip people’s souls. It is personified in Lenny’s hero the ‘Ice Candy Man’, a Muslim charmer called Dil Navez whose heart freezes when his sisters are butchered.
Earth does not shy from depicting the obscenities carried out in the name of religion: early episodes of Bollywood frothiness – there are two romantic duets – rightly jar with the violence to come. The entrance of the steam train from Gurdaspur into Lahore railway station, 12 hours late, amid rumours of a massacre is reminiscent of other trains making similar grisly journeys across Europe only a few years earlier. That this train is, of course, a feat of British engineering filled with the slain is a pertinent comment on colonial policy.
Mehta’s perspective from Canada, where she now lives, seems to enable her to express an all-encompassing compassion for everyone caught up in the fury. Any ire she might have is reserved for the bureaucrats and politicians ‘playing God under the ceiling fans of Lahore Hotel, distributing Indian cities like packs of cards’ while the nation goes to war with itself. Over a million people were killed. Seven million Muslims and five million Hindus and Sikhs were uprooted from their homes.
It is only when individuals such as the gentle Muslim Hasan (Rahul Khama) recognize a love greater than religious differences – he hides a Sikh family in his home, and is prepared to convert to Hinduism for the love of Shanta – that we see any sign of hope.
This film is a real tour de force: political, emotional and utterly gripping.