Earth, the second of Deepha Mehta's trilogy, Fire, Earth, Water, will undoubtedly intensify her reputation as a provocative and insightful filmmaker. Adapted from Bapsi Sidhwa's semi-autobiographical work, Cracking the Earth, Earth examines the societal upheaval and mass violence that marked India's independence and subsequent partition.
Set in Lahore, the film's importance is derived from examining the impact of partition amongst various Indian castes and religions. Until Earth, cinema set during partition, such as Jewel in the Crown and Gandhi, has been presented through the "Ivory Merchant lens", concentrating on British colonists and politically influential Indians. Earth, however, presents Partition from the point of view of a young Parsi girl, her upper class family, her lower class Hindu nanny, her Muslim suitors, and her religiously diverse circle of friends. Mehta fuses political themes with personal experiences, producing a work that is epic in scope but also intimate and moving.
Earth explores the personal turmoil and tragedy resulting from Partition. The plot charts the dissolution of loyalty, friendship, and humanity among Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims that ensues after ethnic and religious balkanization. As Nehru brings India into the post-colonial era with his Tryst of Destiny speech, a train arrives carrying chopped corpses of Muslims killed while fleeing Northern India.
While documenting the particulars of partition, Earth successfully examines partition in an effort to understand the terror, irrationality, and lunacy that emerge from political decisions that encourage and rely upon sectarian nationalism. Such patterns of events, for example, are present today: from the disintegration of Yugoslavia to strife in Northern Ireland.
As Nehru brings India into the post-colonial era with his Trust of Destiny speech, a train arrives carrying chopped corpses of Muslims killed while fleeing Northern India.
Supplementing the script, Earth's visual representation of the intense emotions of the time is excellent. Mehta produces frames vibrant and rich in colour and details. Subtle and elegant cinematography and A.R. Rahman's stirring score complement the entire production. Mehta succeeds in terrifying viewers by recreating the epidemic fear, harrowing violence, and chaos of partition.
The success of the film also stems from the strong performance of the ensemble cast. The film features Indian film star Aamir Khan (Ghulam, Hum Main Rahi Pyar Ke), Nandita Das (Fire) and noteworthy newcomers Rahul Khanna and Maia Sethna (who portrays the small girl who narrates the film).
Das, is stunning in Earth as the centre of a love triangle that ends in tragedy. The female lead displays an independence and originality characteristic of heroines in Mehta's films.
Earth treats the subject of partition in a just and balanced manner as no group is condemned or glorified. The film will likely generate controversy within segments of the South Asian community, reflective of the divisions created by Partition but it also provokes long over due dialogue on the subject.
After the screening of Earth at Toronto's Film Festival, the filmmaker acknowledged that the first two films of her trilogy reflect her belief and experience that "matters do not resolve themselves".