Our rating: 3 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
My interest in this film was moderate at best but it showed up on my doorstep one morning and I am not sorry to have seen it, as much as I might wish the story had a different conclusion.
The year is 1941, and India is in upheaval. The reserves are called to action on the front lines, among them Gian (Jimi Mistry), a young man of principle who vows to keep watch over his friend Andrew (Jesse Moss). But after Andrew is killed in battle, Gian returns home disillusioned and disheartened, with no interest in life. That is when he discovers Naseem (Kristen Kreuk) concealed in the nearby jungle. One of the few survivors of a recent Sikh massacre of Muslims traveling north to Pakistan, her position in the community is dangerous and it is likely she would be killed if discovered. Having compassion for her, Gian takes her into his home but discovery is inevitable and the townspeople refuse to accept her. Writing to Andrew's sister Margaret (Neve Campbell) for legal assistance in discerning if Naseem's family is alive or not, they wait for answers from a under-staffed, overworked government.
In the intervening months, Naseem gives Gian a purpose for survival and opens his heart. Racial tensions subside in the village but ultimately she must make a choice between one family over another, one that will haunt all of them forever. Most of the film is magnificent. I might even venture to say that all of it is, except that the conclusion is rather heart wrenching. Normally I do not care for movies without some form of a happy ending and that's what made my response to Partition one of mixed enjoyment and sorrow. The blending of two different cultures and the sensitivity of addressing both, as well as underlining the prejudice and hatred in that portion of the world, and even touching on the treatment of women, is very impacting. India has always fascinated me both as a nation and a culture, and it is rare that the two dominant faiths are contrasted so sharply. It does fumble a bit in not giving us enough information about the internal conflict, but that is a minor complaint against a daring project.
The acting is truly good. It was a pleasure for me to see Kreuk escape her more stoic television appearances and show what a versatile and likable actress she really is. Some of her most poignant scenes are those of discovery and anguish, but also wonderful is the fleeting instances of happiness Naseem experiences. Mistry is also exceptional as her rescuer and later heartsick husband. The harshness of the situation and ultimately the sadness in how unfair these tensions are haunt the audience long after the closing credits. The story is loosely based on an actual event that the director's grandfather witnessed -- about a Sikh man, and a Muslim woman, who fell in love and took their lives because they could not bear to be parted. That is not how this film ends, but the poignancy of the real story (told in the special features) somehow makes this one deeper.
While Partition carries an R-rating, it is not over-abused and most of it comes from panning shots of carnage. The most horrific is a train that pulls into a station with no one alive on it. Blood literally drips from its sides as the camera lifts up to reveal bloodied corpses in corridors, windows, and atop the train. Muslims are cut down and slaughtered in the street, but most of the violence is implied rather than shown. More awful is a scene in which Naseem's enraged brother beats Gian in the face, throws him to the ground, and kicks him repeatedly. Gian watches Naseem dance in the rain wearing only a white shirt (and presumably something under it). It is rather sheer but there are no obvious details. They kiss in his bedroom but do not become intimate until after the wedding. There is a romantic scene of her letting down his hair, and them kissing, before it fades into a tasteful love scene. (Her bare back is shown as they kiss one another romantically in bed.)
The audience never witnesses Naseem practicing her religious beliefs but on several occasions we see Gian reading through his prayer book. Muslims are shown at evening worship. My thoughts on the film are varied. I loved it up until the last ten minutes. It was gorgeously shot and beautifully acted. I think if audiences go in aware that it is likely not to have a happy ending they will not be disappointed.