Chhinnamul was the first film on the Partition, and to date, is still one of the best made for various reasons.
A quiet village in East Bengal (Bangladesh) lives in peace and harmony. However, the winds of Partition sweep across this peaceful land and it is rumoured that Hindus have to migrate to West Bengal.
One man, Srikanta, who wields enough power over the people to stop the exodus, is put into prison as part of an elaborate conspiracy by the village aristocracy to grab the land left by those migrating.
The villagers, which include Srikanta's wife, migrate to Kolkata and scrape through with their daily existence. When Srikanta is released he comes looking for his villagers and wife into a strange new city, Calcutta, and a now different country, India.
In a violent ending, that is both tragic and hopeful, Srikanta's wife dies delivering a child as clashes rage all around her. Strikanta holds his son, and looks ahead at the future.
The film is substantial for various reasons. The film's 'official' claim to fame is of being the first true 'Neo-realistic' film of India. Which is a surprising tag because director Nemai Ghosh hadn't seen a single neo-realistic film till then, though the movement was a few years old in Italy.
His treatment in the film is purely based on what he deemed fit for the story.
Another little known but important trivia is that the film nurtured two men, who would later become giants of world cinema: Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak.
Satyajit Ray, a friend of Nemai Ghosh was involved in the scripting and intimate discussion of the screenplay (in 1948-49) and had himself not yet seen De Sica's Bicycle Thieves that would influence him later in his life.
To Ghosh, the critiques and praises of a man like Ray was much more valuable than that of the industry who neither understood the idea of the film, nor his style of shooting. Ray's first film Pather Panchali would also be neo-realistic.
Ritwik Ghatak, was more intimately involved in the film, as first assistant director as well as actor. He plays the goldsmith in the film, "and he traipsed all over the film, carrying an enormous trunk, and acting in a pronounced theatrical manner".
Ghatak, who himself was a refugee from East Bengal, would later go on to make some landmark films, his anguish over the Partition being the most common thread in all.
Nemai Ghosh would write later, "In 1948-49 we filmed Chhinnamul. I said 'we' because I have never claimed that this film was my work, I don't do so even today.
"Chhinnamul was the result of hard and sincere effort of a modern, progressive creative group. I was lucky to get a chance to create and lead such a group of young cinema artists as their director."
Image: A Russian poster of the first film on partition, Chhinnamul