Pinjar — A review by Ashwini Falnikar

1 09 2008

The only reason why mainstream press recommended the film ‘Pinjar’ as a ‘must see’ was perhaps because it is based on a novel written by an author of the caliber of Amrita Pritam. But the press clearly lied when it praised Urmila Matondkar for ‘best performance’ and ‘great’ cinematography by Santhosh Thundiyil.I see only one reason behind all this lying – to divert the attention from the Hindutva propaganda. The film itself does not pretend to be not promoting Hindutva ideology; in fact it clearly names the main protagonist, Sanjay Suri as ‘Ramchand’. He is a musician, he is working on a project of translating Ramayana into Urdu (so he is a secular Hindu) he also has a good command over Sanskrit. He is a broadminded young, soft-spoken Hindu, rich man as opposed to ‘Rashid’, who is a backward Muslim – since he wears all the markers of being a Muslim, his only wealth is his farmland (and not knowledge/ education) and initially appears indecent since he kidnaps Puro, who is to marry Ramchand. Is it a coincidence that the storyline is parallel to that of Ramayana, where Rama’s wife Sita is kidnapped by Ravana?

The film consciously takes a political stand when it has a Muslim character play Ravan. To take this argument a little further, the film shows only Hindu women being kidnapped by Muslims on the backdrop of partition, (Ramchand’s sister also gets kidnapped by a Muslim man) completely ignoring the fact that the violence during partition occurred from both the sides. I think through this representation, the film wants to compare all Hindu women to tolerant ‘Sita’s – who have eternal love for their ‘Rama’s, (after unwillingly accepting Rashid as her husband, Puro accompanies her Mother-in-law’s sister to Ramchand’s village with the sole hope of seeing Ramchand once again) while all Muslim men to ‘Ravana’s.

Puro then meets the same fate as Sita who is denied to come back since she has been with another man, even though Rashid has not taken advantage of Puro just as Ravana. Only, in the film, Ramchand is a progressive young man and is ready to accept Puro once she returns. Later just as Hanuman burnt Ravana’s Lanka, Puro’s brother burns Rashid’s farm. Rashid once again expresses his deep rooted guilt of having kidnapped Puro and considers this punishment of burning his farm as ‘well deserved’ for his mistake.

Though Puro is shown to be fighting for herself and fighting to rescue her sister-in-law after marriage, I wouldn’t say the film is progressive enough on the gender front either. Out of a number of female characters in the film, not a single one seems to be interested in educating herself or working and earning for herself. Puro (before being kidnapped), and her sister, prefer to stay home, help in daily chores, hang out with other girls who are equally disinterested in studying and spend time singing and dancing while their brother goes to college. Puro’s sister, and Ramchand’s sister do not seem to have any say over their own marriages and easily agree to marry the grooms chosen by the men. Puro’s sister and mother do not have any say over Puro’s kidnapping and agree with Puro’s father to not find her. It takes Puro’s brother, the other man in the house, to decide to find Puro. Puro’s sister comes into picture once again only when she is pregnant and returns to her parent’s house (the only significant achievement to be back in the narrative?). She grieves for Puro’s fate but she is too busy in her post- marriage life to find her sister.

Rashid changes Puro’s name to Hameeda and Puro doesn’t protest as ‘Hameeda’ is being tattooed on her arm, though she visibly dislikes it. For the only fact that Puro finally gets to choose her life-partner, I would rather forgive the narrative for its representation of women but not for its overt communal bias.

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One response

6 09 2008
Subuhi

Ashwini,

I found your comparison of Pinjar’s narrative to that of the Ramayana revealing. Somehow, I just hadn’t thought of it in those terms.

It has been some time since I saw the film but I wanted to respond to some of your statements. You say, “Out of a number of female characters in the film, not a single one seems to be interested in educating herself or working and earning for herself.” And this, you point out as a particularly regressive aspect of the film. Do you suppose that if these women had been shown, say, working in the fields, if they had been shown as not being complicit in enforcing patriarchial norms on other women, that the film could somehow have been rescued, at least as far as gender representation is concerned?

Are you/we analysing it from y/our own contemporary standpoints without trying to understand that women at that time in our history, way before the women’s movement of the 70s began, may not have had the kinds of freedoms that we do today? Of course, some women did fight for their rights — to education, to chose their own life partners — much before the Partition. (Pandita Ramabai, for instance.) But were these women exceptions, rarities of sorts?

To expect women to do then what we do today with as much ease, and to use that to gauge whether the film is progressive or not, reflects a bias of the present time, I think.

I found another review on-line by Philip Lutgendor, Professor in the South Asian Studies department at the University of Iowa, which also compares the film to the Ramayana. http://www.uiowa.edu/~incinema/Pinjar.html. He even describes Rashid as Hanuman. “The film thus underscores conventional and malicious stereotypes of Muslims as culturally “backward,” religiously fanatic, temperamentally violent, and sexually predatory… The one exception (that, alas, proves the rule) is the tormented Rashid, who properly suffers for his Ravana-like lust for one “Sita,” and is ultimately redeemed following his Hanuman-like rescue of another and his final tearful embrace by (who else?) a forgiving “Ramchand.” Tellingly, this one (relatively) “good” Muslim character appears through much of the film with bowed head and contrite demeanor—a sight that might gladden the hearts of Hindutva-vadis, but that prevents this ambitious film from delivering the promised sanjivani herb of true inter-communal healing.”

Something to think about.

Subuhi

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