MISAFF ’16: Our Review of ‘Toba Tek Singh’

Posted in Festival Coverage, Movies by - August 02, 2016
MISAFF ’16: Our Review of ‘Toba Tek Singh’

Toba Tek Singh, based on the 1955 Indian short story of the same name, follows the residents of a mental hospital in Lahore, India as they experience the upheaval following India’s independence and the subsequent separation of India and Pakistan.  Facing an uncertain future, the group is forced to explore questions of freedom, identity, religion and nationalism, questions that still resonate strongly today.

In fact, Toba Tek Singh was made as a part of the Zeel for Unity project, an initiative that allows Indian and Pakistani filmmakers to collaborate, in an effort to facilitate harmony between the two nations.  While the content of the film is quiet serious, it suffers a bit in its tone.  At times it feels almost like a comedy, portraying the residents as eccentric and silly; at others they are shown as pitiful and even threatening.  But if the film has one real fault it’s that it is too short.  Clocking in at just over an hour, it would have benefited from more time to flesh out the characters and allow for smoother transitions between the lighthearted and more serious plot points.

Nonetheless, Toba Tek Singh is fascinating in its portrayal of mental health care in 1940s India and informative about the history of India and Pakistan.  While it is decidedly uneven, it certainly lands an emotional punch or two and one cannot help but feel for its characters.

Toba Tek Singh, directed by Ketan Mehta, is making its North American debut at the National Bank Mosaic South Asian Film Festival.

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