"Take movies, music, poetry out of life & its gone!"

TAMAS (1987) - The most authentic cinematic portrayal of the terrifying Indian partition. (Movies To See Before You Die (TV) - Historical / Drama)

20 Aug, 2013 | Movies To See Before You Die / Historical / BTC Exclusive

After more than six decades of Indian Cinema since independence, if one tries to make a list of the most significant and worth watching attempts on the cruel subject of PARTITION in films as well as television, then there are just two projects which would always be there at top of all the lists compiled, unconditionally.
And these two creative masterpieces are M. S. Sathyu’s GARAM HAWA and Govind Nihalani’s TAMAS (a TV Series aired in 1987). Now without going into the irrelevant discussion of which should be placed at first or the second I would only like to say that, if you haven’t seen these two cinematic triumphs of Indian Cinema yet then probably you are just pursuing the passion of watching movies on the periphery only and still haven’t taken a deep dive into the actual mesmerizing, blue ocean of the ‘Real Indian Cinema”. Giving you an indicative one line description of these immortal classics, where GARAM HAWA is a very quiet, suggestive, subtle yet extremely thoughtful depiction of that terrible era. TAMAS is the most descriptive, explicit, verbal, brutal and shockingly authentic portrayal of those tough times ever filmed by an Indian film-maker till date.
Honestly, writing about the research, direction, performances, sets, costumes, background score and music of TAMAS (including brilliant devotional renditions by Singh Bandhu) actually deserves a pretty long note of praises going into several pages, which you can or might have already read in several other articles in many similar sites and publications. So here I would like to applaud the legendary achievement by the entire team lead by Govind Nihalani in a different way, by sharing few real life experiences of those months when this serial used to be aired on Doordarshan at nights after 9pm (in the following points).
And reading these surprisingly unbelievable kind of real life instances, you would probably realize that what was the impact made by TAMAS on every single person of especially North India at that time and how important and useful can be this epic re-creation of our bleeding, avoidable history for the present young generation to contemplate upon.
1. Based on the award winning book (with the same title) by Bhisham Sahni, who himself came to India from Pakistan during the partition, TAMAS ("Darkness" in English) was shot on 35mm as a mega project and presented as a Television series on Partitiion. Govind Nihalani wished to make it as a film, but realised that the project would not be viable or rather tricky for a theatrical release with a length of approximate 300 minutes. Hence it was conceptualised as a mini-TV series after talking to the Doordarshan..
2. Contrary to the general belief, TAMAS didn’t take sides of either Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs and presented a very truthful, realistic and the most frightening portrayal of the tensed bloodshed of 1947 involving all the three sects in different regions. But despite its impartial viewpoint of the era, there were several agitations made against the serial, just after the first episode was aired and a case was also reportedly filed against the director to stop its transmission. However as the court didn’t find the objections justified, the telecast was resumed in time and all its remaining episodes were aired as scheduled.
Tamas - A Must See Classic3. The epic also got huge support from the students and all the educated social groups in the major cities and did raise a very informative as well as an enlightening positive debate in the whole nation on the subject of partition and its after effects on both the sides.
4. Towards the end of 80s, there were two serials which were held responsible for a deliberate market closure (or late openings), deserted roads and a curfew like situation in the locality in the most literal sense and I myself have experienced that unexplainable euphoria caused by RAMAYAN in the mornings and TAMAS in the evenings still fresh in mind as ever (because that has never been repeated again in the next 3 decades till date).
In those weeks, once it was the day of TAMAS and we were anxiously waiting for the clock to strike 9 pm which was the relay time of the serial as I can recall. Those were the days of my late teens and I had my elder cousins (living in the same area) studying in college who were quite active in all the local festival celebrations and club activities in our region. As the clock was going to strike 9, our door bell rang and I quickly got up to open the door in order to get over with the duty at the earliest.
As I reached there, my cousin was standing outside and he hurriedly said, “Open it fast as we don’t have much time to reach our homes, so wish to see TAMAS in here only…..So just unlock it fast”. Hearing this I quickly opened the door and my cousin entered the house immediately. But surprisingly he was not alone, as there were not 1, 2 or 3 but more than 10 boys in the queue, getting into the house one by one and then taking whatever space available in the room, on the sofas, chairs, bed and even floor in order to see that week’s episode of TAMAS so eagerly. So that evening, we were about 16-17 people jam packed in a small room of 10 by 15 watching TAMAS like maniacs (on a black & white TV set) and I could never get that scene out of my mind ever.
5. In those days, a cricket match between INDIA & PAKISTAN was like a Festival day, where in people used to plan an off or half-day, weeks before in order to watch the game at home or with friends. But the match was also considered to be highly sensitive in security matters, particularly in some specific regions of Delhi city and there were extra arrangements made to tackle a probable tense situation in those areas during the match and its end.
Now recalling that time once again, I still remember that once the first 2-3 episodes of TAMAS were aired on television, the specific day of the serial’s telecast in the week was exactly treated like an INDIA-PAKISTAN match for the next few months by the authorities and the security arrangements were all tightened up during its telecast, since it was considered to be so authentic in its depiction which could actually create some serious trouble in these areas.
Tamas - A Must See Classic6. After about 5-6 years post its transmission when I was in College, then there were few friends in our group from Delhi and Meerut city (U.P.), who told me that in their areas the moment TAMAS was supposed to begin, suddenly a suspicious load shedding used to be there and the services exactly resumed after the episode was over. Now they were pretty sure that it was being done deliberately to avoid the possibility of some tense clashes in the sensitive localities caused due to the series. And these were the times when once you missed it, there was no chance to catch that particular episode again as the serials were not released on any home video VHS immediately and CDs were still a product of the unknown future in the late 80s.
    Concluding the distinctive description of this legendary creation, I would like to add that director Govind Nihalani is known as one of the most gifted & visionary directors of Indian Cinema with films such as AAKROSH, VIJETA, ARDH SATYA, PARTY, DRISHTI, DROH KAAL, HAZAAR CHAURASI KI MAA, DEHAM, DEV & many more to his credit. But when it comes to his contribution made to the Indian Cinema then TAMAS has to be included as the foremost name unquestionably, since it still enjoys an unparalleled majestic status of the most authentic movie made on the subject of partition till date and you got to see it at the earliest like a necessary medication required for your human soul.
In fact, if you haven’t seen TAMAS yet and have just heard or read many good things about it in few sites or books then you are actually missing one of the most valuable and crucial chapters of 100 years of Indian cinema and haven’t really witnessed or experienced what our Indian visionary directors are actually capable of.
However, another serious point to be considered here is that TAMAS is just not another fast paced entertaining, historical thriller to be seen with the dinner being served side by side and the internet running at the laptops lying at the other corner. TAMAS needs to be seen with your full devotion and it deserves RESPECT a lot more than just interest or curiosity from the younger generation. It has the content to teach you life and the way to live it harmoniously with love and reverence towards every fellow human being and his individual religion.
Hence if possible try watching this gigantic 5 hour long epic (available in DVD and YouTube) at a stretch with very few breaks and see what shameful things we collectively did with each other in the name of religion and independence in the year 1947.
Bobby Sing
(Note : Reportedly it later also had a limited release in theaters as a four-hour long film. Hope we get to see the complete uncut version of TAMAS in the theater once again, probably in the Director’s Cut series just as they showed the two part GOW together at one go. Frankly that will indeed be a dream come true treat for many cine lovers like myself.)
Directed by Govind Nihalani
Written by Bhisham Sahni
Music : Vanraj Bhatia
Starring : Amrish Puri, Om Puri, Pankaj Kapoor, Saeed Jaafery, Virender Saxena, Manohar Singh, A. K. Hangal, Deepa Sahi, Bhisham Sahni, Dina Pathak and more.

Tags : TAMAS (1987), Movies on Indian Partition, Indian partition, Movies To See Before You Die, Historical Drama. Govind Nihalani's masterpiece, Classics from Indian Cinema, Must See Movies List by Bobby Sing, Worth Watching movies on World History, Indian History
20 Aug 2013 / Comments ( 6 )
jithin matthew

Thanks a lot Bobby ji. This article was very interesting and aroused curiosity in me to watch it asap.

Bobby Sing

Thanks for liking the article Jithin and do watch it as soon as possible since it has really got a lot to teach in many ways. And do share your views too after watching it.


Thanks for another great article sir!!!
However I missed "Bhopal Express" in this list. Don\'t know whether you have it listed in any other category.

Bobby Sing

Thanks Avik and the pleasure is all mine.
However regarding "Bhopal Express", you have reminded me of that again after many years as got to see it long time back.
Would surely try to catch it again on your recommendation and let you know soon.

Till then keep visiting and Cheers!

Brijendra Singh Mathuria

My lessons in secularism starts with Thamas. As far as I remember, It was aired on Doordarshan as a TV Serial , and not a movie. I was, may be, in 8th or 9th Standard. After a long time, I came accross a Novel and read it at one go. 

Bobby Sing

That is right. It was shot as a film. But was released on TV as a series in the late 80s.
Thanks for visiting and writing in.

Leave A Comment
E-mail (will not be published)
Website (Optional)
Enter shown code