Retrograde. Bamboozlement! More Bamboozlement!

Revisiting Tamas: Om Puri and that first scene

video link

Non-linear story telling, gripping cinematography by Govind Nihalani and by legend V.K Murthy, some great acting by Om Puri, animal fear and implicit violence. The atmosphere and tone for the television film Tamas was set by this brilliant opening scene and the award winning haunting theme, that sounded like death laments, created by Vanraj Bhatia .
Om Puri in Tamas

Govind Nihalani's television film Tamas (1987), based on a Hindi novel of the same name and two other short stories ('Chief ki dawat' and 'Amritsar aa gaya hai'?) by acclaimed Hindi writer Bhisham Sahni (1974), told the story of Partition of India from the perspective of common men.

In 1986, the film ran into trouble at the time of its telecast on the only available channel of the time, national broadcaster - Doordarshan. The film was shown at time when Hindu nationalism was just sprouting in India.
 Shiv Sena leader Pramod Nawalkar alleged that Tamas showed Muslims in favorable light. And BJP president L.K. Advani, complained that Tamas was "a distortion of history" because it depicted RSS and Arya Samaj as "beastly fanatics" while Muslim League members were dismissed as "mere ruffians" and Congresss men as "anaemic nincompoops." He claimed that while he was not pushing for a ban, he objected to government media being used to propagate "this kind of view of the Partition holocaust."
writes Purnima Mankekar in her book Screening Culture, Viewing Politics (1999) in a chapter, titled Popular Narrative, Location and Memory, dealings with Tamas controversy and Anti-Sikh rioting in Delhi of 1984.

Tamas was deemed dangerous because,at the core, it questioned violence and the communal politics that generates it. The controversy was at its peak during the first few episodes and then the curiosity of television viewers, gripped by the drama, took over and it all subsided.

The film was later released on video. In this video Bhisham Sahni introduced the film and talked about the message of the film and it's relevance. The film had a U certificate that deemed it fit for all.


In an interview to Gentleman magazine in year 2000, Om Puri said, "When I realised i was not getting too may Ardh Satya, Drohkaals or Tamas' I started accepting offers of other kinds of films. I am not filthy rich so I had to do other films. But, fortunately, I have never had to go out and seek work."

In year 1999, Govind Nihalani made a film called Thakshak which can at best be called Nihalani's hard learning experience in making commercial bollywood cinema.


Hogs are not easy to capture. When I was a kid, somewhere in the 4th year of my family's migration from Kashmir, I witnessed a sikh corner a big dirty pig in the dead end gully next to the place where we were putting up at that time. The Pig, brown because of its habit of living in muck, put up an unbelievably tough fight, it grunted, shrieked and generally ran helter-skelter. Sardarji, in his late 20s, determined, ended up rolling on the road a couple of times while trying to get his hands on the beast. I watched it all from the roof. I couldn't understand why he wanted to capture it. I learned much later.


Watch Tamas Online

A big thanks to Arvind Gupta,who uploaded the entire movie at Google videos.[found via: a fine blog named a Reader's words]

Link to part 1 of  5

Link to part 2
Link to Part 3
Link to part 4
Link to part 5


  1. In around 1988, people who wanted to have it banned even went to the court - Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court. But the courts rejected the plea. According to the verdict, the film "takes us to a historic past - unpleasant times, when a human tragedy of great dimension took place in the subcontinent. [] naked truth in all times will not be beneficial but truth in its proper light indicating the evils and the consequences of those evils is constructive and that message is there in Tamas.'
    - found it in the book Legacy of a Divided Nation: India's Muslims Since Independence By Mushirul Hasan

  2. Much of the controversy was based on the character of Thekedar played out by Pankaj Kapur. The eventual tragic events of the film are triggered by the initial provocation planned by Thekedar, the agent provocateur of British. In the Novel, Thekedar is a muslim having the name Murad Ali, but in the film this character was given no name and hence no would have meant more trouble from more quarters.


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