Railways has been the ultimate mode of hope in cinema based on Partition. Karan Bhardwaj recounts some of the best human stories captured in iconic films
Like several millions of people planning to shift across borders during Partition of India, this small family from a village of Punjab comprising a couple and three kids had also packed their belongings. Given the communal tensions and widespread uncertainty, this family, like others in the region, didn’t have much time in hand to escape. The only hitch was that the lady of the family was too unwell to walk on her feet. Adding to woes, the man was very short and weak to lend support to his tall, healthy wife. However, to protect his kids’ future, the man decided to leave behind his wife and move ahead of the difficult situation. When he reached the railway station along with three children, he was joined by his in-laws who had also decided to move to Pakistan. But they were shocked by the absence of their ‘daughter’. One of them promptly decided to go back to the village to get her ailing sister. As luck would have it, the man picked up the lady in his arms and even managed to catch the train on time. Had they missed their train, they probably would have lost the opportunity to live in a volatile atmosphere.
The story sounds familiar to many plots presented in Bollywood films based on Partition where Railways automatically became an integral part of the narration. On celluloid, trains have been described as not only a medium of transport but also a beaco of hope for millions of people escaping to the other side of the border. Of course, there have been a lot of bloodshed and communal scars but the best of human stories of survival and acceptance have also originated from the railway platforms.
Ray of Hope
Like in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha, one of the biggest blockbusters ever produced in Indian cinema, Ashraf Ali, the character of Amrish Puri, and his entire family heave a sigh of relief once they board the train to Pakistan. They face turbulent times and wrath of rioters but somehow manage to claim their life once they get onto the train. However, Ali’s daughter Sakeena, played by Amisha Patel, disconnects with her family and fails to migrate. Pouncing on her religious identity, random goons attack her at the station. It was Tara Singh, played by Sunny Deol, who protects the helpless girl and eventually marries her. The film that has a lot of violence and communal rhetoric ends on a train journey, again the only mode of transport to come back to India.
Some other movies have captured loss of life during one of the most terrible exchanges of population in the history. Who can forget Train To Pakistan, a 1998 film, based on the novel of Khushwant Singh of the same name. The film captures melancholy of life at the railway station of Mano Majra, a village in Punjab. In a particular scene that evokes anguish and disguise, the train halts at the station but the only man who gets off the train is the engine driver himself. He gives a dismal look to the station master. In another shot, a police inspector receives the magistrate, who has arrived at the station for inspection. As both of them enter into a compartment, they are clearly disgusted to find a heap of butchered bodies. The scene captures gloomy peace after storm of partition. Bitter memories of the Partition can also be sensed in Yash Chopra’s narration of movie Veer-Zaara. Based on cross-border romance, the film had Veer (Shah Rukh Khan) and Zaara (Preity Zinta) seeking separation at a railway station. However, the love story is changed forever after Veer is picked up by cops immediately after the couple’s meeting. In Aamir Khan-Nandita Das starrer Earth, yet another moving saga on Partition, the otherwise peaceful story gets stirred up by a sight of a train, carrying corpses to Lahore from Gurdaspur. However, the movie sends out a clear message of peace, love and life.