Allumination Filmworks // 2006 // 115 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // May 5th, 2008
An epic tale of love and loyalty.
In 1947, Britain withdrew their rule of the Indian Subcontinent, splitting the land into the independent nations of India and Pakistan in a division based in large part on religious heritage. At that point, millions of Muslims moved west into Pakistan and millions of Hindus and Sikhs moved east into India. These newly formed nations were totally unequipped to handle the massive population exchanges and, when the militias formed, much blood was shed. In the end, some have estimated the death toll to be as high as a million and the deep-seeded hatred that caused this brutality continued to fester on both sides. Based loosely on true events, Partition uses this background to tell a story of love conquering prejudice.
During this mass exodus of Muslims from India into Pakistan, a group of Sikh militants attacks a poor traveling family. Naseem (Kristen Kreuk, TV's Smallville) flees while the remaining family continues to their new home, and Naseem is left to fend for herself in a suddenly unfriendly land. Soon, she is discovered by Gian (Jimi Mistry, Blood Diamond), a former soldier in the Sikh army. Instead of turning her over to authorities, he takes her in to protect her, which causes an uproar in the town. In spite of the townsfolk's protestations, the two fall in love and begin a family, but Naseem still has unanswered questions about her family's whereabouts. The answers to her questions threaten to tear their hard-fought family apart.
Somewhere inside the history of the partitioning of India and Pakistan lies a meaty romance full of passion and politics. Partition is not this movie. It hints at some of the issues -- the bigotry between the groups and the bureaucratic jungle during the transition -- that could have had some impact, but it handles them so shallowly that the story falls flat. The romance itself could have taken place anywhere at any time. If it truly is based on real events, as Indian-born writer/director/cinematographer Vic Sarin (Left Behind) claims, then it must be from a number of different stories culled together piecemeal. There is no focus and, often, no clear sign that the story is progressing at all.
The romance moves along a very standard track. It works fine but is very predictable, and too much of their action together comes from montages to take seriously. Nearly all the subplots revolve around Gian, but none of them really connect to each other. Gian and a friend of his were servants of a young British officer, went to war with him, and Gian promises the man's sister (Neve Campbell, The Craft) that he would protect her brother with his life. The officer's death builds a cool, but caring, relationship between the two. This gives us some backstory and a reason why she might help Gian but, as the only connection with the former British government and so Naseem's only hope to find her family, it should have had a more important role in the story. Instead, it's an afterthought that creeps around once in a while to give Campbell some screen time. Similarly, the relationship between Gian and his friend could have represented the division among the Sikhs in general about the continued slaughter. Gian is through fighting; he wants to move on and live in peace. His friend can't understand, with the Muslims continuing to kill Sikhs, how Gian wouldn't want to protect his people. This conflict has a lot of dramatic potential, but it's only a device for the two men to glower at each other and for the screenwriter to fill out the "conflict" section of his screenplay template.
The film's treatment of Muslims, however, really sinks it. It is fair to depict both groups as complicit in the violence. The film is from the perspective of Sikh and the director is Indian, so it's natural to expect some bias, but it goes overboard. We are shown some evidence of Sikh violence against Muslims, but this is mostly toward Naseem and her family. The Muslims, on the other hand, kill an entire train's worth of Sikhs, including small children (a pet peeve of mine; showing dead and dying babies is the worst kind of emotional manipulation in film and very rarely, if ever, is it necessary). When the Sikhs get to know Naseem, no matter their prejudices at first, they come around to love her. The Muslims, however, are willing to imprison their own children rather than have them cavorting with Sikhs. I'm not asking for complete political balance between the groups, but the one-sidedness is overwhelming.
They could have at least cast someone who looked the part for Naseem. Kristen Kreuk appears to have been chosen for her considerable beauty alone but in no way does she look Pakistani. All the other Muslim and Hindu characters are properly cast, why not Naseem? On the one hand, I'm sure they felt like she looked really good in the costumes they'd chosen (she does). However, it seems in part that the filmmakers decided to help build sympathy for this one Muslim character alone by making her as light-skinned as possible, while still casting somebody with a slightly exotic look. While this may have been common practice half a century ago, it is insulting today. There are fairly large Indian and Pakistani populations in Canada, where Partition was produced; I have a hard time believing they couldn't find an actress more fitting.
The anamorphic transfer and surround sound are both much better than the film. The picture shows strong detail in the beautiful landscapes and there are no defects in the image at all. The colors are strong with very deep black levels. It looks very nice for a fairly small-scale film. The sound is equally good. The numerous crowd scenes are well represented in the surround channels and the dialogue comes through very strongly in the front. The only extra, a making-of featurette, is pretty informative about the production but leaves the backstory alone. It spends a surprising amount of time on the composition of the score, by far the best technical aspect of the film.
Much of the film is blandly constructed, with nothing more than the most basic storytelling and direction and using an inordinate number of montages to move things along. Vic Sarin's cinematography is pretty good, and is definitely the most powerful weapon in his arsenal. The landscapes, both the countryside and the urban areas, are colorful and beautifully shot. Though I may disagree with the practice of highlighting dying babies, these scenes of slaughter have a good documentary feel that do their job in turning the audience's sympathies.
Fans of Kristen Kreuk will be happy to see her talents highlighted outside of television, and those looking for nice landscape photography may enjoy Partition, but all others may want to steer clear.
Guilty of bad casting and bland storytelling.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Allumination Filmworks
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* "The Making of Partition: A Journey of the Heart"