Hindi cinema seems to flourish artistically (most of the time) when it comes to making films about the 1947 partition or films set in the 1940´s period. "Pinjar" is no exception. However, it offers something slightly different by focusing on what women and young girls had to go through during that traumatic period. They went through changes that deeply affected their whole lives. Anil Sharma´s "Gadar" did have the potential to tackle an issue like that but it totally ignored it in order to showcase the male character´s super-heroism. So, if you found that film frustrating then you might be relieved by watching "Pinjar".
The film is an adaptation of Amrita Pritam´s novel. In the mid-1940´s just before the creation of Pakistan, a family is getting geared up for the wedding of Puro (Urmila Matondkar) who is engaged to Ramchand (Sanjay Suri). A surprise arrangement is also made for Puro´s brother, Trilok (Priyanshu Chatterjee) to be married to Laajo (Sandali Sinha). Puro´s parents (Lillette Dubey, Kulbushan Kharbanda) and Ramchand´s parents (Farida Jalal, Alok Nath) could not be happier with the way things are going. Rashid (Manoj Bajpai) meets Puro in the fields one fine day and after that chance encounter, he cannot take his mind off her. So obsessed with her is he, that he decides to kidnap her and force her to be his life companion. After Rashid´s plan comes to fruition, it has a devastating impact on Puro´s family.
Puro´s parents are worried about her but once it has been a short while, they give up on her. The reason? They assume that her honour has already been tainted and no matter what, nobody will agree to marry her if she came back home. Trilok is outraged at this attitude and insists that he cares more about his sister than any honour code. Puro does eventually return home but is encouraged to return back to Rashid by her parents who feel that her coming back will do more harm than good. Trilok has no knowledge about this and files a report at the police much to his father´s annoyance. While Puro is forced to turn Muslim and marry her captor, the wedding celebrations in her family continues as Trilok marries Laajo and his other sister, Rajjo (Ishaa Koppikar) marries Ramchand´s cousin. Trilok longs for his sister and neglects his new wife. The flaring up of the partition riots adds to the confusion as the families are forced to desert their homes and Laajo is forcefully taken away by hate-filled men (echoing the same fate as Puro). The rest of the film concentrates on the meeting of Puro and Laajo and the path that Puro decides to choose. Will she leave her captor and start a new life with Ramchand? Or has she accepted her life with Rashid?
The story has echoes of "Umrao Jaan" in that a girl is taken away in the midst of her happy days and forced to live a life that she does not want. While both the films (and novels) tackle similar themes of honour and societal hypocrisy, "Pinjar" has the extra element of a conflict between Muslims and Hindus and the film portrays this with the required sensitivity. Naturally, the depiction is not always ´sensitive´ and rightfully so as humanity was absent in the horrific months when people of all religions in India were slaughtering each other. If one murder was committed, another person would kill ten people to avenge that murder. The grieving relatives would then go onto kill twenty people randomly to wreak their own sense of perverted justice onto the world. Rashid is the embodiment of this as he kidnaps Puro to avenge the injustices that have been thrown at him. Puro, to her horror, is rubbed out by her family and the world (except her brother) who refuse to come to her aid. The fact that Rashid forces her to change her name to Hamida drives this home to her. She panics in the realisation that she has become one of those nameless and invisible women. Puro desperately tries to regain her old sense of identity by attempting to get rid of the tattooed name of Hamida on her wrist. It refuses to go, in a way insisting that Puro is now a woman who belongs to a completely different world. Ironically, it is this same tattoo that has the potential to save Puro´s life in the later part of the film.
Out of all the others, Laajo is the most vocal about her insistence that her husband must accept that his sister is gone and that he should move on with his life. This insensitivity is also shown by other members of the family who carry on acting as if nothing has happened. If women won´t help those unfortunate sisters who are unfairly judged by a male-dominated society and culture then what hope is there for them? Laajo´s eventual kidnap makes her see that nobody is exempt from being a society outcast. It is assumed that Puro must have somehow encouraged the kind of life she is leading and she only has herself to blame for. But Laajo is made to go through such an ordeal herself making her see just how it is like to be one of those forgotten women, those who are easily forgotten by a society ashamed to acknowledge the pitiful treatment meted out to unfortunate girls.
Urmila Matondkar is a revelation! It is nice to see a film where she does not pout. Jokes aside, this film continues the standard set by her performance in "Bhoot". She looks stunning in the traditional clothes such as shalwar kameez and with her especially made 1940´s look, she comes across as an ethereal beauty. Occasionally, her crying scenes need a little fine-tuning. The emotions that she portrays at the end of the story seem forced. "Pinjar" would be perfect if it cut out a little of that excessive grim melodrama. I don´t think crying (the breaking down kind) is one of Urmila´s strong acting points so having her cry a little less would have a much bigger impact and improve the film. Manoj Bajpai, too, offers a remarkable performance. Priyanshu Chatterjee is dynamic and when his character begins to go against his father, you cannot help but root for him. Priyanshu brings across the confusion of a loyal son, brother and husband torn between his relations. Sanjay Suri shows a level of commitment to his role that makes you realise how underrated he is as an actor. Sandali Sinha as Laajo is hit-and-miss, she is good in the first half but the climax shows her inexperience when it comes to portraying emotions on film. Ishaa Koppikar has nothing much to do as the story mainly belongs to the aforementioned actors. Kulbushan Kharbanda is good in the stern patriarchal role while Lillette Dubey, Alok Nath and Farida Jalal offer decent support. Seema Biswas has a very tiny role and does not leave any impact.
The two things that jump out at you while viewing the film are the cinematography and the attention to period detail. The cinematography by Santosh Thunidiyil is sumptuous and it intoxicates you with its rich layers. Muneesh Sappel´s art direction and costume design is excellent and effective enough to make you feel as if you have been transported to another era. Uttam Singh´s songs are a healthy and melodious mix of Punjabi dance songs and moving and heartbreaking prayers to country, earth and humanity. Editing is not really one of the strong points of this film. Ballu Saluja could have tried to persuade the director to snip off some of the scenes especially the pre-interval wedding sequences. The first half ends up being longer than the second half due to the set-up of the wedding celebration scenes (a typical aspect of modern Hindi cinema). Dr. Chandra Prakash Dwivedi´s direction is solid and for a debut, this film is a damn good one. It is not easy to hold together a film that depends on almost every aspect to make it work and hats off to Dwivedi for pulling off such a feat. His direction is unpretentious and straightforward and he wisely lets the story develop to move the film forward.
"Pinjar" may have a few tiny flaws but that does not stop it from being a must-see.