When Yash Chopra directed his first film Dharmputra in 1961 little did he know what he was getting himself into.
The film about Hindu-Muslim relations, touched on the raw history pertaining to the happenings which were just 12 years old. The re-construction in Dharamputra of the carnage during the post-Partition riots opened up raw wounds in the audience, and sparked off riot-like situations at theatres screening the film.
Yash Chopra vowed never to go into the thorny communal issue again. Today Govind Nihalani has stepped into the same territory far more bluntly and insouciantly. In Dev he recreates recent history – the Muslim genocide in Gujarat following the incident in Godhra where a train full of Hindu devotees were set on fire – with chilling authenticity.
As a fictional retaliation to Godhra he sees a communal Hindu cop (Om Puri) stand mute accomplice as Hindu rioters burn a whole building full of Muslims.
It’s a frightening topicality dwelling on issues that pierce the faĆ§ade of normalcy which we like to uphold for the sake of a peaceful and ‘civilized’ existence.
Between Dharamputra in 1962 and Dev in 2004, very few filmmakers have attempted to look at the truth about the deteriorating relations between the two communities with any amount of eqanimity, let alone insight.
Mani Ratnam’s Bombay in 1995 was a kitschy though mordant and vivid recreation of the Mumbai blasts in 1992 that rocked the city. The film showed the repercussions of the horrific event on the lives of a Hindu-Muslim couple, played by Arvind Swamy and Manisha Koirala and their twin children.
In Mahesh Bhatt’s Zakham, communal riots (from an unspecified time) take the life of Muslim woman married to a Hindu man. The poignancy of the gruesome tragedy was beautifully evinced as the brutally burnt woman lay dying in hospital.
Deepa Mehta’s elegiac 1947: Earth, Chandraprakash Diwedi’s Pinjar and Anil Sharma’s Gadar aimed to create the spinechilling scenario of Hindu-Muslim riots as India was separated into two nations, rendering the nation into a political turmoil from which it has never really emerged.
The importance of bringing the communal question to the surface lies in the very nature of the problem...if cinema which at some level must mirror social reality, doesn’t remind us of the pitfalls that await the victims of an unjust social order, then we will keep making the same mistakes again.
And as Nihalani rightly says, "Feel-good films will always be there. They serve a very important function in our society. But one feel-bad film every five years which reminds us of the mistakes that we make, isn’t a bad idea."
But the question is, why would any filmmaker attempt a film on this sensitive issue if members of both the communities take umbrage?