The political truncation of 1947 led to a social cataclysm in which about a million perished and some twelve million became homeless. Combining film studies, trauma theory and South Asian cultural history, Bhaskar Sarkar follows the shifting traces of this event in Indian cinema of the next six decades. He argues that Partition remains a wound in the collective psyche of South Asia, and its screen representations foster an affective historical consciousness that supplements standard history-writing.
Tracking cinema’s reluctance to deal with the Partition in the 1950s and 1960s, and the eventual ‘return of the repressed’ from the mid-1980s, Sarkar draws attention to a gradual and complex process of cultural mourning. Even the initial ‘silence’ was never complete, not only because of atypical Partition films such as Lahore, Apna Desh and Ritwik Ghatak’s trilogy, but also because the trauma frequently surfaced in indirect, allegorical forms. He points to the split families, mutilated bodies, amnesiac protagonists, and foundlings of Adalat, Waqt, and Deedar; the melancholic sensibility and style of Aag or Amar; and the obsessive search for happiness in the romantic films starring Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen. Sarkar relates the recent proliferation of films about Partition and its aftermath—including Tamas, Gadar, Border and Naseem—to a rising disillusionment with the postcolonial state, the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, economic liberalisation and the emergence of a Hindu-chauvinist nationalism.
Introduction: National Cinema’s Hermeneutic of Mourning
Part I. A Resonant Silence
Part II. The Return of the Repressed
4. Dispersed Nodes of Articulation
5. Ghatak, Melodrama, and the Restitution of Experience
6. Tamas and the Limits of Representation
7. Mourning (Un)limited
Coda: The Critical Enchantment of Mourning