Looking At Partition Through Bollywood Lens

Let us recollect a few movies on partition in the context of our 75th year of Independence.

The joy of getting freedom from the Britishers was soon eclipsed by the horrors of partition. Many horrific things happened during that time as people turned inhuman and attacked fellow human beings. There were riots on huge scale based on religion. Apart from the violence partition is also remembered for the mass migration of people. People started moving from Pakistan to India and India to Pakistan in crores; one of the biggest forced migrations that the world has ever seen.

This write up is mainly about four films which explored different sides to partition like love, hatred and hope.

1. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag – The core of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag film is the partition scenes where young Milkha runs from his riot torn village in Pakistan to a refugee camp in India. The scenes where he is waiting for his elder sister and hoping that she is alive are heartbreaking to say the least. Even as an adult the memories of his childhood continue to haunt him. The partition scenes are important for two reasons. One is they make audience understand the journey of Milkha from stealing coal for a living to eventually becoming the person that he is. The other reason is – it shows that running was part of Milkha’s life from childhood and continued to be his forte which ultimately shaped his athletic career. Farhan’s fantastic performance added to the overall experience.

Bhaag Milka Bhaag
Bhaag Milka Bhaag

2. 1947: Earth – 1947 Earth was a love triangle set in the backdrop of partition. The story of 1947 Earth is based on a novel ‘Cracking India’ written by Bapsi Sidhwa. In this film Nandita Das plays a beautiful Hindu woman working as a nanny in a rich Parsi family who is caught between the affections of two Muslim men. One of the men is played by Aamir Khan. Alongside the love triangle you also have the devastating consequences of partition. Through this film director Deepa Mehta shows how hatred can make any person behave like a beast. Aamir Khan’s character isn’t a negative one to begin with but he changes when the surroundings around him are filled with religious hatred. The character transformation is complete when he betrays the woman that he loves and hands her over to rioters.

1947 Earth

3. Begum Jaan – A remake of a Bengali film ‘Rajkahani’ Begum Jaan directed by Srijit Mukherji is the story of a Kota owner played by Vidya Balan. Her Kota runs along the Radcliffe line (Indo-Pak border). She along with the inmates of kota are asked to vacate the haveli and go away. Vidya’s character is desperate to save her haveli and declining business amidst the changing political scenario of the partition. On one side of the coin you have Begum Jaan’s efforts to save her Kota, on the other side there is the track of two officers, one Hindu and other a Muslim. They were friends till recently but now they are separated working for two different countries. The two officers use the character of Chunky Pandey, a local goon to put pressure and fear in the women to leave the haveli forever. In her desperation she along with other women fights and dies a heroic death.

This story is an example of how an artificial boundary can create havoc in the lives of ordinary people who have nothing to do with political developments.

Begum Jaan

4. Pinjar – Pinjar is a story based on Amrita Pritam’s novel ‘Pinjar’. It tells the story of a young woman of Hindu background Puro played by Urmila Matondkar. She is living a happy and comfortable life with her family. When she goes for an outing with her younger sister she is followed by a mysterious man called Rashid. Rashid’s family has an ancestral dispute with Puro’s family. Puro’s family had made Rashid’s family homeless by taking over their property. The task of taking revenge falls on Rashid as his family tells him to kidnap Puro. Rashid does accordingly but he couldn’t be cruel to Puro. He marries her.  

While all this happening partition is going on in the background. In a way Rashid marries her to save her from being killed by Muslim rioters. Ultimately he wins her over with his love and affection. They form a strong relationship. Rashid also helps her in the search of her brother and eventually brother and sister meet. Director Chandra Prakash Dwivedi narrates how love can rise above hate. The brother character played by Sanjay Suri asks her to leave Rashid and return home. But Puro doesn’t agree as she is deeply in love with Rashid. While the film is emotional throughout the climax deserves particular mention.

While the above films are set during the partition there are other fictional films too which show post partition stories. These films include love stories, cross border brotherhood etc. Some examples of post partition films are Garam Hawa, Gadar Ek Prem Katha, Veer Zaara, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Filimistaan etc. The Pakistani film industry has also made movies on partition like Kartar Singh in 1999 and Khamosh Pani in 2003.

Out of these Garam Hawa is a more serious and much acclaimed film. It is about a Muslim Family who is struggling to deal with the changes in post partition India and is undecided whether to stay in India or go to Pakistan. Nitin Kakkar’s Filmistaan is about an assistant director who is mistakenly kidnapped by a Pakistan terrorist group. This film uses Bollywood as a tool to talk about the cultural similarities between people on both sides of the border.

Anil Sharma’s Gadar Ek Prem Katha is a fictional love story between a Sikh truck driver and a Pakistani Muslim Girl. In contrast to the jingoistic tone of this film you have Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan.


Bajrangi story is about a young Pakistani girl Shahida played by Harshali Malhotra. Shahida is a speech impaired girl who loses her way in India. Here she comes across a devout Hanuman bhakt Pawan played by Salman Khan. Pawan comes to know that Shahida belongs to Pakistan and the eventual responsibility of taking her back to her family falls on the shoulders of Pawan.

Kabir Khan makes many points in this film. For example he talks about how hatred sells more easily than love through Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s character. The film also explores the deep rooted religious prejudices which include Pawan’s as well.

Briefly this is how the theme of Partition reflected in Bollywood movies in all these years. The list, of course, is nowhere complete and would never be but this is an attempt from my side to recollect those tragic moments.