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    A childhood in wartime

    "Earth" follows a young Indian girl during wartime and looks for the source of a 50-year hatred.


    Eight-year-old Lenny (adults all call her "Lenny-baby") needn't worry about the horrifying Indian civil war around her, her mother reassures her, because she is not Hindu nor Muslim nor Sikh, but one of the neutral Parsees.

    Written and directed by: Deepa Mehta.
    Adapted from the novel "Cracking India" by: Bapsi Sidhwa.
    Cast: Nandita Das, Kitu Gidwani, Aamir Khan, Rahul Khanna, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Eric Peterson, Maaia Sethna, Raghubir Yadav, Arif Zakaria.
    In English and Hindi with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    Being an upper-class, British-loving Parsee family allows them to stay above the conflict because the Parsees are like sugar in milk — they blend in and still retain their sweetness, mom explains.

    Lenny-baby thinks she understands: "We are not bum-lickers, we are invisible."

    Lenny and her friends can't stay invisible forever in "Earth," Deepa Mehta's followup to 1996's "Fire." First her parents' friends begin bickering about religious politics. Soon, the rifts also begin to rupture what might be called the girl's second family — her nanny Shanta (played by the captivating Nandita Das, who starred in "Fire") and the group of friends and handsome suitors around her, whom Lenny-baby knows charmingly as "Ice Candy Man," "Massage Man," "Zoo Man," and so on.

    Up to this point, you might think the movie is going to be two hours of cardboard characters telling each other: "We have lived together for hundreds of years; why must we have so much trouble now?" But this is not a term paper or a private letter to those with a special interest in 1947 Indian social problems. It ultimately becomes a stunning exploration of the blackness of the human heart, and one of the most gripping movies of the year.

    "Earth" is also more than a standard coming-of-age movie because it is about the loss of innocence not just of one little girl but of a whole generation. Shanta's circle of friends begins as a carefree bunch, kidding, singing, dancing, composing clever couplets for every occasion, inventing fanciful stories about elixirs to cure every ill. But the mob brutality that besets their city on what is now the Pakistan-India border forces each one of them to cower or join the mob.

      You might think the movie is going to be two hours of cardboard characters but it ultimately becomes a stunning exploration of the blackness of the human heart.
    The movie captures this moment in history on three levels. The leaders on the national level (think "Gandhi") are heard from only as disembodied voices on the radio. Within the city, lawlessness takes over — the police themselves being among the perpetrators — and we begin to understand the kind of turning point that let the region descend into a fiery hell.

    And in the movie's characters, as panic, outrage and monstrosity overwhelm their decency, we begin to understand how people become cowards or monsters. We begin to find answers to that seemingly repetitive question: Why can't these people who have lived together for hundreds of years get along now? It is a question we could ask about many places and times, but one that has special relevance today for two nations that are now openly, mindlessly, pointing nuclear weapons at each other.

    OCTOBER 6, 1999

    Reader comments on Earth:

  • Commentary on Earth   from Dilip Kapasi, Aug 11, 2003
  • Re: Commentary on Earth   from Laila Refaat, Apr 4, 2005
  • commentry on earth   from Jenny Butler, Sep 14, 2003
  • Re: commentry on earth   from sam bain, Apr 18, 2004
  • Re: commentry on earth   from tasha, May 17, 2004

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