Train to Pakistan (1998)




Director:    Pamela Rooks.

Starring:    Nirmal Pandey (Juggut Singh), Mohan Agashe (British official Hukum Chand), Rajit Kapoor (Iqbal), Smriti Mishra (Nooran), Divya Dutta (Haseena), Mangal Dhillon (Indian police inspector), Paritosh Sand (Malli), M.S. Sathyu (Imam Baksh), Kamal Tiwari (Lambadar), Suresh Jindal (Bhai Meet Singh), Amardeep Jha (Jugga's Mother), Sharda Desoares (Haseena's grandmother), Amit Kharbanda (head constable), Ajaybir Singh, Vijay Kapoor.

ethnic violence between Hindus, Muslims & Sikhs in Punjab after British left in 1947


Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.

A man is hanged. His son watches from a roof top and cries "Father!"

The narrator, district magistrate Hukum Chand, says that bandit Jagga was born bad. The narrator worked in the Land Record Office in the government of King George. The King sentenced Adham Singh to death for murder.

The narrator became a Second Class Magistrate. By then, Jagat Singh himself had been recognized for his notoriety in fighting for the leadership of his father’s group. Jagga meets and embraces another bandit leader Malli.  Malli stabs Jagga. The followers of Jagga run for their lives, while Malli's forces fire at them. There were a few dacoit (bandit) corpses, says Hukum Chand, but everyone benefited from the affair. The police inspector claimed that his soldiers had shot them down and Hukum Chand himself got a certificate and cash reward from the Punjab government.  He says he got along with all the people regardless of religion and they liked him too.

Jagga visits Nooran and kisses her.  (Nooran and her father the weaver are Muslim, while Jagga is Sikh.)

Some men break down the door of a house. They ask the women for Baba. They don’t say anything so the men grab a frightened child as hostage. The women then tell the men where Baba is. The men rush up stairs and demand the keys to the safe from Baba. He replies that he does not have them. So the men first badly beat him and then shoot him to death.

A young Muslim girl, sixteen years of age Haseena, is chosen by the district magistrate, Hukum Chand, to be with him.  (His wife and daughter are dead..)  The magistrate chases everyone away except for Haseena.

A group of killers of Baba go by the house of Jagga's mother and shout insults about Jaggia the queen of the dacoits. They then throw bracelets over the wall surrounding the house.

The inspector arrives at the magistrate's house. A group of men have brought the skulls of Muslims of Behar who were killed by the Hindus. The magistrate tells the inspector to handcuff the men and throw them onto the Pakistani side of the border with India.

A man young named Iqbal arrives in Manumajra. He’s a social worker who has been sent to unite the farmers and to quell the many killings in Punjab. He asks around about the tensions between religious groups and comes to the conclusion that there is no antagonism between Sikhs and Muslims.  He later reports this to his superiors.  He is a member of the Peoples' Revolutionary Communist Party of United India. 

A woman screams: "They killed my Lala (Baba)."  Going to Jagga’s house, the police ask his mother where is Jagga but she says that she does not know where her son is. Iqbal gets lodging in a Gurudwara. Hukum Chand chases Haseena's grandmother away when she asks for her fee for the girl. 

Jagga and Nooran have a rendezvous in an agricultural field.  She tells Jagga that she likes him very much but her father is a Muslim. 

Iqbal talks with the Muslims.  He says he cannot understand why the British want to divide India.  The Muslims tell him that all the feudal lords in the village are Sikhs, but Sikhs and Muslims have co-existed peacefully. 

In town the police grab Iqbal. They also arrest Jagga. The social worker is a Sikh. He says that Avatar Singh is the hero of the Congress and he is the social worker’s uncle. The police claim that the social worker is a spy for the Muslim League.  The inspector is upset at the arrest of Iqbal because he believes him to be guilty of no crime.   The inspector tries to find out what religion Iqbal has.  The guards make Iqbal show the inspector his penis. 

The inspector tells the magistrate that Iqbal is Sikh.  The magistrate doesn't care.  He tells the inspector to make his name a Muslim name by adding Mohammed.  He is a spy for the Muslim league.  In addition, the inspector is to tell the press that the murderers of Lala Ram have not been found as yet. The inspector does not believe that Jagga had a part in the crime, but the police torture Jagga to get the names of those involved in Lala Ram's murder.  

Haseena sings to the magistrate. He takes her to his bedroom, but notices that the girl is around the age of his deceased daughter.  He becomes very sad and cries.  Haseena comforts him.  The military arrive to tell the magistrate that they are sealing off his railway station.  The military spokesman says that they will need wood and oil.  His men will do the difficult job.  (He is speaking of a train load of dead Sikh and Hindu bodies.) 

In jail Jagga and Iqbal kid around with each other and become friendly. 

A trains pulls into the station. Noora’s blind father hears it arrive. The magistrate and soldiers come to the station. They look inside the train from Pakistan to find it filled with dead men, women and children.

The military tells the villagers that they must collect firewood and bring it to the military trucks. The villagers are very worried about what this all means, but the military and village leadership will provide no answers.  Nooran’s father tells her that they are going to do something bad. The military uses the wood and gasoline to burn the corpses. A group of frightened Muslims start walking in the direction of Pakistan. The villagers approach the military and the military spokesperson tells the magistrate to push the civilians back.  He does not want conflict between the army and the villagers.  The villager want to know what is happening.  Nooran’s dad wants to help the refugees, but this desire outrages the military spokesperson. The military offficer says the civilians must leave by the third shot or he will be compelled to order his men to open fire.  After the first shot the civilians start running away as fast as they can. 

The magistrate says that in Manumajra, the refugees were coming.  "Behind them the ones who would ignite fires would come in the passion of religion and religious duty.  They will cut each and every Muslim."  The magistrate calls for his car and driver to take Haseena and the old woman back home.  Haseena comes in to the magistrate's bedrom and lays down at his request. 

The Sikhs start coming into the town as refugees.  In the jail, Malli is brought in and Jagga denounces him as the murderer.  Jagga has an alibi for the crime since he was with the daughter of the weaver.  The inspectors speaks with the magistrate.  The magistrates tells him that since Malli is a Sikh, he didn't commit the crime.  The inspector is to release Malli and his men and apologize publicly.  In addition, he is to spread the rumor that Sultana and his Muslim friends have been spotted in the village.  The inspector objects that Sultana went to Pakistan.  The magistrate adds:  "After killing Ramlal and Iqbal."   The inspectors has a telegraph message from Iqbal's superior, Dr. Rai, telling him not to support any division of India.  The magistrate throws it away and dictates a new, false message.  The message says that the Pakistani army will soon come and capture the village.  All Muslims are to be armed. 

The magistrates sees Haseena again.  He tells her that the Muslims of her area, Chandan Nagar, are being moved.  She asks the magistrate if he wants her to go to Pakistan.  She does not have much understanding of the political situation to say the least.

In jail Malli and his men are released.  Malli stops by Jagga and Iqbal's cell to taunt Jagga.  Jagga becomes so angry that he grabs Malli thrrough the bars of the cell and repeatedly smashes his face into the bars.  The jailors can't get Jagga to release Malli until one guard places a pistol to Jagga's head.  The police release Malli and start talking negatively about Iqbal.  The landlord of the Gundwara defends Iqbal saying that he is not Muslim but Sikh. 

The Sikhs sit around talking about what to do about Iqbal and the Muslims.  The weaver and other Muslims come to the meeting to ask what has been decided about them.  The Sikhs advise all Muslims to go to a safe place.  The weaver tells his daughter Nooran that they will have to go to the camp in the morning.  With this bad news Nooran goes to the house of Jagga's mother to see Jagga.  Jagga is not there and the mother is actively hostile to Nooran.  Nooran tells the mother that Jagga promised to marry her.  Jagga's mother tells her to go away:  "You go and die in Pakistan."  Nooran explains that she is with Jagga's child.  This softens the heart of Jagga's mother and she agrees to tell Jagga what she has been told. 

In the morning the army calls for all Muslims going to Pakistan to come out.  The Muslims band together.  The military separate out the Sikhs from them.  They then tell the Muslim that they will go first to the refugee camp in Pakistan.  From there they will be taken to Lahore by train.  The army lies and says that their belongings left behind will be protected.  They are to take only one suitcase with them.  The Muslims get onto the backs of the military trucks and the caravan leaves. 

Haseena stays with the magistrate.  She begs him to please keep her.  But the magistrate sends Haseena back to her neighborhood.  He gives her some money before she leaves in the car and she cries.  He is also very upset and disturbed. 

After the Muslims have gone, the Sikhs and others shout:  "Burn all the houses!  Loot it all!  Don't spare any Muslims!"  Downstream of the village, the residents of another village see dead Muslim bodies floating down the river.  The army prepares to bury the bodies in a mass grave.  A militant Sikh comes to the Sikh house of worship to berate his fellow Sikhs for not wanting to kill Muslims.  He tells them that tomorrow night a train filled with Muslims will pass by the village and will be attacked.  One of the trains will be coming from Chandan Nagar where Haseena is from. 

The magistrates tells his visitors that the Muslims from Chandan Nagar will be back in the village in a week.  The inspector disagrees with the optimism in this estimate.  The magistrates then releases both Iqbal and Jagga.  Iqbal and Jagga are being driven down the road when they are forced to pull off to the side of the road to let pass a big truck full of ethnic killers.  Jagga goes to his mother's house to ask where Nooran is.  Mother tells him she is gone.  Jagga tells his mother that she should have kept Nooran in her house.  Mom answers:  "What could I do?"  She tells her son that they will attack the train to Pakistan this very night. Jagga rushes out.  The news is that from 300 to 400 killers will attack the train.  Jagga goes to pray. 

Muslims start getting on the train.  Jagga goes to see Iqbal, but he is too sedated from the sleeping pills he swallowed.  While drowning his worries with whiskey, the magistrate worries about Haseena.  The killers lay down by the side of the railroad tracks waiting for the arrival of the train.  Jagga is cutting the ropes on the bridge and is shot down by the leaders of the attack. 

The film is dedicated to the memory of the millions displaced and rendered homeless and those who died during the partition of India. 


The film is very slow at the beginning.  But it does pick up in the last half hour.  My wife and I had a hard time following the movie at the beginning.  I had to do some research on the historical background to find out what dacoit meant.  (It means bandit.)  In the small village all the religious groups lived in peaceful coexistence, until India was partitioned into India and Pakistan.  And then the mass killings started.  And what a blood bath it was!  The movie made us care a bit about the two Muslim women who later would be passengers on that unfortunate train to Pakistan, so we will feel even more sympathetic to the victims of violence.  (The film did not introduce any Sikhs that were victims of Muslim violence to the audience.)  There were no real heroes in the film.  Everyone seemed at least a little bit (or a lot) morally shady.  And the villagers in the end were way to willing to join in on the ethnic/religious killings.  I guess I'm trying to say I have mixed feelings about the movie.  But that's the way life is I figure.  (It was more of an ensemble cast of characters/actors and no one really stood out as doing a great acting job, but I did like Divya Dutta as Haseena.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:


See the other movies in this section listed on the table of contents. 

Dacoit means a "bandit", but is associated with bandits with a tinge of Robin Hood about them. The mostly mythical part of the tale is the Robin Hood part, the part about defying established power and serving the poor.

Punjab suffered from a great deal of communal violence much of it committed mostly by bandits. At the time of partition in 1947, the province was split in to East (mostly Sikh) and West Punjab (mostly Muslim). East Punjab became part of India, while West Punjab became part of Pakistan. The Punjab bore the brunt of the civil unrest following the end of the British Raj.  Many Sikhs and Hindus living in the west were forced out often of violence to East Punjab and many Muslims living in the east were violently forced to West Punjab.  The partition saw many people displaced and much intercommunal violence. Casualties are estimated in the hundreds of thousands or even higher.


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