Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

There are films out there which, by dedicating themselves to simple human themes and exploring them in the context of history, inadvertently achieve epic status. Unfortunately there are also films which, by aiming to be epics from the outset, bite off more than they can chew.

Partition is a tremendously big subject for any film. It's certainly a curious choice for a production team based in Canada, working with a Canadian teen star (Kristin Kreuk, best known for her work in Smallville). Director Vic Sarin approaches it through the medium of a transgressive relationship, also split along religious lines, but his simplistic love story is ultimately too limited in scope to tell us much about the depth and complexity of the larger theme.

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A curiously slow opening vignette introduces Gian (Jimi Mistry), a Sikh soldier swiftly growing tired of war. By the time of Partition he wants no part in the revenge attacks which his brother and fellow villagers are committing against Muslims en route to Pakistan (blaming them for the deaths of Sikhs attempting to flee southward). When he finds Naseem, a Muslim girl who has escaped such an attack and hidden in the woods, he brings her into his own home and sets about trying to locate her family, all the while struggling to keep her safe from his family and neighbours. Inevitably (at least in the context of the movies) the two fall in love, but can Gian's family ever accept this unusual union - and what, if they are ever found, will Naseem's family think?

Whilst the plot is familiar and Kreuk, though pretty, is hopelessly bland, the film is elevated by a superb turn from Mistry, recalling the promise he showed years ago in East Is East. It's a judiciously understated performance in a film which lays the sentiment on thick, and it gives the story a solid core. Gian is somebody one can really feel for. There's also some great work in the supporting roles, notably from the ever-reliable Irrfan Khan and Madhur Jaffrey as Gian's relatives, and Jaden Rain proves an impressive young child actor. It's a shame they're hampered by a leaden script which spools out lines like "Go and help Rani. She's your best friend" and "You will be back in exactly one month" as if the circumstances of the story are completely new to the characters within it.

Also curious is the presence of Neve Campbell (remember her?) as the Englishwoman whose brother fought at Gian's side in the war, and who agrees to help him. Something interesting might have been made of the parallels between these characters - the English and the Sikhs, both caught up in a conflict centred on the struggle between Muslims and Hindus - but the opportunity is wasted. Campbell is adequate but shallow in a role which might easily have been intriguing, balanced as it is opposite an enigmatic turn by John Light (much more capable) as her journalist friend.

Partition benefits from some beautiful cinematography, though perhaps not as much is made of this as could be. It's not too hot on realism, featuring a number of passionate public embraces which would have caused scandal at the time, but if all you're looking for is a nicely shot romance, you won't be disappointed here. The real disappointment is that, with a better script and stronger editing, this could have been something much more special.

Reviewed on: 06 Sep 2008
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During the chaos following Partition, a Sikh man and a Muslim woman meet and fall in love, but the course of history is against them.
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Director: Vic Sarin

Writer: Patricia Finn, Vic Sarin

Starring: Jimi Mistry, Kristin Kreuk, Neve Campbell, John Light, Irfan Khan, Madhur Jaffrey, Aarya Babbar, Lushin Dubey, Jaden Rain

Year: 2007

Runtime: 116 minutes

Country: Canada, South Africa, UK


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