Don’t lie, you read that headline and went “Aha! She is leaving the purity of the real Independence movies for the random India-themed films! Lazy!” But no! You are not remembering! All of Purab Aur Paschim takes place in the shadow of the Quit India movement. And also Hare Krishnas. But mostly Quit India. (if you want a real meaningful hardcore Independence Day post, check out yesterday’s on Rang De Basanti)
Have I mentioned before that I lived down the block from the Society for Krishna Consciousness in Chicago for about 5 years? It was odd, because they are close to but just outside of the Indian area of the city. Which is also what they seem to be in general. Close to being an Indian ethnic organization, but not really. Same religion, different culture. A lot of overlap, but not quite there. And that’s what this film is about. The Indian culture which is like India, but not quite. And all of this is related to the Quit India movement. (and if you want, I have LOTS of Hare Krishna stories that I am happy to share in the comments!)
Purab aur Paschim opens in the midst of the independence movement. And also in black and white. The sins and virtues from that era carry through the present day colorized time periods. That’s what causes the titular east and west divide, the Independence movement and what side people chose decides what side they are still on 20 years later.
Which also ties the independence movement aaaaaalllllllll the way forward to know. This film was SO influential. Most recently referenced in Happy New Year in the “Indiawaale” song. It set the standard for the “Indian abroad” conflicts and personas. The “good” Indian who went overseas and helped people regain their connections and roots and traditions. And the “bad” Indian who had lost touch with his home. And of course the female representation of India, our young heroine, who straddles the east and west before ultimately finding her place in the east.
(the spinning restaurant? the emphatic song about Indian identity sung towards an evil grey haired guy? It’s the same thing!)
Essentially, if you haven’t seen this film, Saira Banu=Kareena Kapoor in K3G, Manoj Kumar=Hrithik Roshan in K3G, Pran=???. Huh. No Pran. I guess that’s what happens as we get farther away from Independence, the idea of Indian collaborators drifts farther and farther into the past and suddenly all Indians are good, even overseas.
Even without the interesting post-Independence dynamics, this would still be a solid film. I mean, Saira Banu’s introduction alone (smoke trailing from a cigarette, revealing her heavily made up eyes and massive blonde bouffant wig) makes the whole film worth it. Plus we have the spinning restaurant, the Hare Krishnas, the Prem Chopra, the hot young Vinod Khanna, the puppet show, there’s just so much! And it’s so pretty and colorful and wonderful in how all of it is shown.
(and now she is the respected senior of the film industry, devoted wife of Dilip Kumar)
But that’s not what we are talking about this week, we are talking about Independence! And thus, SPOILERS!
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We open in black and white and in the past. Manoj Kumar’s father is a rebel in hiding. Pran turns him in, takes the reward money and moves to England. The original sin that leads to the founding of the NRI community, is collaborating with the British. Something that has been a wee bit lost in the later films.
Lost in a literal way but not on a deeper level, because this film set the template for sooooooooo many films that came after. After this opening, we leap forward to Manoj Kumar, raised in India, pure and perfect and noble in every way. With his best friend Vinod and a local girl with a crush on him. But, he has to leave. Not for good, but a voluntary banishment to improve himself so he can come back to India better and wiser and able to serve the country.
But then he goes to England and stays with Madan Puri, a “good” Indian abroad. He remains deeply tied to his roots. But the rest of the family, not so much. The daughter has been fully corrupted, drinking and smoking and being blonde. While the son, Rajendra Nath, is searching for meaning and has rediscovered his Indian roots, turning into a kind of hippy/priest type.
(did I mention the puppets already?)
This is the options for the Indian abroad. Longing for home and trying to make a little Indian in England, or giving up their Indian identity entirely. Which has a lot more resonance if we open with Independence. Now, this decision is put entirely in terms of the diaspora. But back then, that’s what Gandhi was going on about. Better to cling to the Indian identity than be corrupted by the outside British influences in our country. And now this film is showing that the same argument is happening among the overseas people, whether you should cling to your Indian identity or give in to the influences around you.
That tie between the two, that the most westernized evil man in England (Pran), is also the one who was the worst collaborator during Independence. And our most good man in England, Manoj Kumar, is the one whose father sacrificed his life for Independence.