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PINJAR. Director: Chandraprakash Dwivedi. Players: Urmila Matondkar, Manoj Bajpai, Sanjay Suri, Priyanshu Chatterjee, Kulbhushan Kharbanda. Music: Uttam Singh. DVD (EROS).

No film category receives as much attention in India as the “Partition film,” that nebulously-defined genre that has attempted to chronicle the heart and soul of Partition’s many violently cataclysmic events. Where lesser films have unwisely attempted to cover too many events in too short a time, Pinjar comes out remarkably offbeat and unusual. Based on lauded writer Amrita Pritam’s huge bestseller of the same name, Pinjar bypasses the broad canvas and instead settles on exploring just a handful of characters forced by Partition to alter their individual trysts with destiny.

Set amidst the remote green farm fields somewhere between Amritsar and Lahore in 1946, three very different households get entangled in a familial quagmire. The wedding arrangements to hook up Puro (Matondkar), the darling of a landowning family, to Ramchand (Suri), he from a wealthy enclave of aesthetes, are violently disrupted when Puro is suddenly kidnapped by Rashid (Bajpai), he from a landless clan that holds an ancient grudge against Puro’s ascendants.

What is clear from the onset is that Partition-related violence does not drive the film. Instead, director Dwivedi zooms in on only the motivations that lead Rashid to the kidnapping just as the worst bloodshed sweeps the land. The kidnapping, in turn, is also not directly tied to Partition-related events.

What hold the film together are Matondkar and Bajpai. Matondkar’s transformation from bride-to-be to imprisoned chattel in Rashid’s household is brilliant. In a noteworthy career-enhancing role, Matondkar simply chews up the scenery by making sure that Puro remains at the vortex of this huge mess. Bajpai, meanwhile, walks a fine tightrope by having Rashid placating both his inner demons (agreeing to kidnap based on his family’s orders) and a genuine affection for his beautiful new charge. A Muslim man kidnapping and indirectly destroying two Hindu households would ordinarily push communal buttons and stir up sectarian mobs to protest the screening of the film. Director Dwivedi’s sensitive handling of the subject, however, makes it abundantly clear that the root of this evil is not excessive religiosity or even fundamentalism. What we have is a case of a violent squabble between clans, where the opponents happen to be Hindu and Muslim.

The EROS DVD transfer is nothing if not pristine. The DVD extras include extended footage, a booklet with a startlingly stark map of the area under Partition fires, and excellent English subtitles. The luminescent wedding scenes lose almost no luster in their transfer from the big screen while the nighttime glossies remain true to every shade of gray in the dark alleys where many events unfold.

Singh’s finely-tuned musical score wonderfully underlines Punjabi folk tunes with hyped-up big-screen musical offerings. The music only adds icing to this cake. Narrated by Gulzar (who also penned the song lyrics), and scripted by Pritam herself, Pinjar easily gets elevated to the best of the best that Hindi filmdom has to offer this season.

Aniruddh C.

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.