Tamas (film)

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Directed by Govind Nihalani
Produced by
  • Lalit M. Bijlani
  • Govind Nihalani
  • Freni Variava
Screenplay by Govind Nihalani
Based on Tamas 
by Bhisham Sahni
Music by Vanraj Bhatia
Cinematography V. K. Murthy
Govind Nihalani
Edited by Sutanu Gupta
Distributed by Blaze Entertainment Pvt Ltd
Release dates
Running time
274 minutes
Country India
Language Hindi

Tamas (lit. Darkness) is a 1988 period television film written and directed by Govind Nihalani. It is based on the Hindi novel of the same name by Bhisham Sahni (1974), which won the author the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1975. Set in the backdrop of riot-stricken Pakistan at the time of Partition of India in 1947, the film deals with the plight of emigrant Sikh and Hindu families to India as a consequence of the partition. It was first shown on India's national broadcaster Doordarshan as a mini-series and later as a one-off four-hour-long feature film. At the 35th National Film Awards, it won three awards including the Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration. In August 2013, it was shown on History TV18 as a series.


Nathu's newly bought pig is found dead on the steps of a local mosque in Pakistan. The incident propels communal riots between the Hindus and Muslims in the region. When the situation becomes worse, Nathu and his wife plan to migrate to India in order to safeguard themselves. An elderly Sikh couple, who too are in the process of escaping, are sheltered by two Muslim women despite their husbands' disapproval. Later, Nathu along with his wife and the Sikh couple move to a Gurudwara. When the riots continue to grow further, the two men go out to thwart the attack. Their wives decide to end their lives by jumping into a well as their husbands don't return. The following day, a commission is set up to reinstate peace in the region. At the relief camp, Nathu's wife after finding the corpse of her husband collapses and is taken to a mental asylum.



The film was based on the namesake Hindi novel by Bhisham Sahni, who himself was an immigrant from Pakistan. The novel was published in 1974 and won the Sahitya Akademi Award the following year. While working as a second-unit director in Richard Attenborough's biographical film Gandhi, Nihalani came across the book while visiting a book store in Delhi.[1] He was drawn towards it by the title "Tamas" (lit. Darkness). After going through a few pages, he came to know that it was about the partition. Being a refugee himself who had come to India after the partition, he claimed that he desperately wanted to make a film based on the event. Though he had read books that focus on the event like Jhootha Sach, which he felt was "huge" and "intimidating", it was not until he read Tamas he had the courage to make a film based on the event. Sahni who had seen Nihalani's Aakrosh was confident that the latter could make a film based on his novel.[2]

Casting and filming[edit]

Balraj Sahni, Bhisham Sahni's elder brother, was selected to give an introduction to the film in addition to being cast in a pivotal role opposite Dina Pathak.[2] Subsequently, Nihalani hand-picked Amrish Puri, A. K. Hangal, Om Puri, Pankaj Kapur stating that almost all of these were young at the time of partition and had known very well about the event. Deepa Sahi, Surekha Sikri and Barry John were signed up for other important roles.[2] Om Puri who was cast in the lead role, was asked to lose weight and grow a beard for his character. There was a scene in the film where he had to kill a pig.[3]

Nihalani originally wanted to shoot the film in Punjab, Pakistan, but owing to terrorist attacks the film was shot in Mumbai.[3] Nihalani stated that he had a tough time to find the producers until he met Lalit Bijlani of Blaze Films, who immediately agreed upon to produce the film despite Nihalani warning him of the controversies that the story had.[2]


The film was aired as a six-part television series through Doordarshan.[4][5] Upon release, the film stirred a lot of controversies as it was set in the backdrop of religious violence. The Hyderabad office of Doordarshan was attacked.[3] Nihalani received threats from unknown people and was placed under police protection for a period of eight weeks.[2] On 21 January 1988, the Bombay High Court issued a stay to prevent further screening of the series after hearing a petition from the city-based businessman Javed Siddiqui who in his plea stated that the serial "would poison the minds of the people".[5] Two days later, however, the court overruled the stay in favour of the series stating that it treated the "fundamentalists" in both communities equally. The juries further added "The message is loud and clear [...] directed as it is against the sickness of communalism, the extremists stand exposed when realisation dawns on both communities who ultimately unite as brothers."[5] The series was later released in theatres as a one-off four-hour-long feature film. In August 2013, the film was re-telecast as an eight-part series by History TV18 as apart of the Independence Day celebrations.[6]


Award Ceremony Category Nominee Outcome
National Film Awards 1988 Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration Govind Nihalani Won[7]
Best Supporting Actress Surekha Sikri Won[8]
Best Music Direction Vanraj Bhatia Won[9]


  1. ^ "He was the finest writer in Hindi". Rediff.com. 12 July 2003. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Directing 'Tamas' was an act of faith: Govind Nihalani". Mid Day. 13 August 2013. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c Unnikrishnan, Chaya (15 August 2013). "Tamas did not take any sides". Daily News and Analysis. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  4. ^ Mini Anthikad Chhibber (16 August 2013). "A saga of separation". The Hindu. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c "Fresh target". India Today. 15 February 1988. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  6. ^ "‘Tamas’ is back". The Hindu. 17 August 2013. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  7. ^ "35th National Film Festival – 1988". Directorate of Film Festivals. p. 18. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  8. ^ "35th National Film Festival – 1988". Directorate of Film Festivals. p. 32. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  9. ^ "35th National Film Festival – 1988". Directorate of Film Festivals. p. 52. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 

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