When the British ended over 300 years of rule in India, India was split in two to create a country for the Moslems - Pakistan. Huge populations of people moved either to Pakistan or away from that land and to India. During the migration, people's frustrations often boiled over and took shape as religious violence. Partition takes place during that period.
Our hero is a simple, single Sikh farmer, Gian, played by Jimi Mistry, most recently seen as Nabil in Blood Diamond. He's stoic, honorable and loyal. While in the forest, he chances upon a young woman in hiding, Naseem. She was part of a caravan of Moslems who were ambushed and slaughtered by a group of Sikhs. He tries to hide her in his compound, but soon the villagers find out and they become desperate to spill her blood, in revenge for the train load of massacred Sikhs that just arrived.
Jimi Mistry was excellent and very convincing as a humble and morally strong Sikh. His character was a professional soldier, but as a farmer, he was not about to succumb to blinding religious rage and recklessly kill others for revenge. Looking into his contemplative eyes, one could see a quiet intelligence, but as we later learned, he was also trying to hide deep personal emotional wounds from the war. There was a certain depth to his performance that makes me hope we see more of him in film.
Kristin Kreuk may be half Dutch, half Indonesian Chinese, but like fellow Canadian actress Lisa Ray, who is half Indian and half Polish and who starred in the Oscar nominated film Water (as well as the bomb Bollywood/ Hollywood), Kreuk didn't seem miscast to me at all. There are fair skinned Indians and during the film, I never wondered for a second just how much, if any, Indian blood Kreuk had in her. I have never seen her in anything else, despite the popularity of shows like Edgemont and Smallville.
Had they cast Nicole Kidman, then I might say that she doesn't look Indian and that was a distraction. In some scenes, her complexion did make her stand out, but for me it wasn't a negative. I can see how someone could make an issue of her being miscast based on her oriental features but that just wasn't an issue for me.
The film seemed to lack something to make it truly exceptional. I can't quite put into words what separates a good film like this one from a truly exception one. It felt more like a made for television movie than something comparable to the 1982 film Gandhi.
The production values were all right, but little things like the indoor sound miking was bush league. I couldn't clearly make out some of the Neve Campbell's lines indoors. I wouldn't have used Campbell as a Brit, for starters. I can't say she's really impressed me in her film career. Given that this was a Canadian co-production, I'm not surpised to see her and thank goodness they didn't use Sarah Polley, but you'd think they could have found someone with a better accent.
All the Indian actors were excellent, although, since their characters were not developed much, many of them came across as mere stereotypes. Dhirendra, known for starring in the Canadian television Jinnah crime movies, shows up as Sharma while Chenier Hundal, who co-starred in another Vic Sarin film, 2005's Murder Unveiled, plays one of Naseem's brothers. Vinay Pathak, one of the best Indian actors, plays the rotund village businessman in Partition, and he played the corrupt police inspector in Murder Unveiled as well as the transvestite in Water.
Overall, this film is ultimately about two people who saved each other and the struggles the faced to stay together, in the face of strong religious intolerance. Not a feel-good film but a rather sad one and a decent but not superb, drama.