Taqseem (2016) – By Paul Busetti

 

Saadat Hasasn Manto was one of the most influential and contentious writers in Pakistani history. Born in British ruled India, he wrote extensively and critically about the partition of India in 1947 and was tried six times for obscenity. Pakistani filmmaker Seraj us Salikin draws on one of Manto’s stories for his short film “Taqseem” (Divide).

“Taqseem” is essentially a chamber piece between two men (Danish Ahmed & Haris Khan) who have committed a robbery and together have carried a heavy trunk, which they assume is full of riches, to a secluded space. It doesn’t take long for their greed and mutual distrust to lead to accusations and a physical altercation. The confrontation boils over into a gruesome and shocking conclusion. Salikim’s film takes place in 1947 when the partition of India occurred and is a parable for the division of the country and the fallout it had on the people.

The film is extremely well shot, staged, and acted. The two leads are compelling in their desperation. Unfortunately, the version I watched had confusing, clunky, and misspelled subtitles. This is a minor problem, but hopefully one which will be corrected before the film plays in any English speaking festivals. Also, the six minute run time proves too brief as the tension is not given adequate room to build.

Salikim’s decision to adapt Manto’s story is a bold and interesting one. He shows real maturity as a filmmaker. His technical skills and the crew he has surrounded himself with have produced an very polished film. It was eye opening to a Westerner who knew little about the source material or the history of the region.