IMDB says... During the turmoil and violence of Partition, a Sikh ex-soldier, haunted by war, offers shelter to a young Muslim woman who has been separated from her family.
The 73rd Virgin says... I came to this expecting a somewhat organic, or to use a more patronizing term, native, exploration of the social upheaval and war in India and Pakistan as the exhausted postwar British were pulling out. What I got was basically a Lifetime Network romance with a couple of scenes of slaughter thrown in for context.
The back story is needlessly convoluted and appears to serve only the purpose of getting two Anglo actors involved, so that one of them may show up later when trouble starts, and so that they may make big unfulfilled goo-goo eyes at each other every 30 minutes or so. Notably enough, Neve Campbell of Wild Things and Scream fame is Miss Stillwell, a female version of that charming archetype, the old India hand. Stay with me here. Her brother Andrew is off to serve the Queen in 1941, I guess in India and Burma, and his two Sikh assistants are charged with keeping him alive.
A man could do a lot worse than two Sikhs as bodyguards in the Asian theater of war, but Andrew will suffer the same ridiculous fate as hundreds of TV victims before him, that is, his legs pinned under collapsed beams. All this appears to happen in a World War I trench that is mysteriously filling with water from a World War II rain storm.
Anywhooo, Sikh number one, Gian, is guilt ridden, and after the war returns to his village to look worried and sad. Sikh number two, Avtar, assumes a command position in the village militia and sets about attacking bands of helpless Muslims who are forced to emigrate from India into the newly formed Pakistan.
Muslims return the favor by sending an entire trainload of blood-soaked Sikh and Hindu corpses back to India. These two scenes presumably summarize the years of violence that killed roughly a million people.
But finally to the story. In the forest Gian discovers the youngish Muslim, Naseem, who has survived the slaughter. Weary and seeking redemption for all his years of soldiering, he sneaks her into his walled residence and protects her from prying eyes and ultimately from his more rigorously murderous friend Avtar, not to mention his own mother.
This is all engaging enough. Kristina Kruek does a fine panic-stricken refugee bit, and is certainly attractive. Jimi Mistry as Gian is less convincing and too dreamy and emo. Naseem and Gian will do a slow tango of increasing regard for each other and finally some very chaste scenes of courtship and marriage.
And I’m all for that. But if I had to hear Brian Tyler’s score swell up and moan and groan and saw and swoon with endless kettle drum flourishes and cymbal splashes one more time, I was prepared to go full Sikh on the flat screen, or at least the sound system.
Campbell and John Light as Walter will pop up from time to time for some will-they-or-won’t-they significant glances, but after a couple more semi-lyrical interludes Naseem and Gian have a little boy. More significantly, through Miss Stillwell’s efforts Naseem learns that most of her family has survived the slaughter and is living not far over the border in Pakistan. It is possible that Gian may have misled Miss Stillwell about “the girl”. No surprise that Campbell is very good, although her British accent occasionally mutates to something more like Katherine Hepburn.
Naturally Naseem wants to go visit her family and with great perseverance is allowed to cross the border. This sets up about another hour of endless final conflicts. Gian will look worriedly at sunsets for a few months and then finally go to get her.
The ending, while larded with TV quality symbolism, has a twist I must admit, but also an abrupt voice over. The larger pleasing message of religious tolerance, or downright flexibility, brought on by love or survival, is a bit lost in the swoons.
So why don’t I like it more? As I watched the script make predictable chess moves in order to keep the story moving, and as I noticed the television-ish production values more and more, I began to feel a little bit played, and the story wore out its welcome. There are several scenes where supporting characters appear out of nowhere just to resolve a crisis, including one in which Miss Stillwell agrees to watch their son and then suddenly shows up sans son, just in time. And the score and the pacing are very repetitive and seem to be aimed strictly at female fans of a particular kind of romance novel. And this from a reviewer who takes his period romances pretty seriously.
Only as the credits rolled did I realize I was watching a Canadian made for television movie and all became clear. Pretty disappointing.