The Difference in the Characterisation of Ayah, Maasseur and Ice-Candy Man in Bapsi Sidhwa's Novel Ice Candy Man and Deepa Mehta's Film Earth

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The difference in the characterisation of Ayah, Masseur and Ice-candy man in Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel Ice Candy Man and Deepa Mehta’s film Earth.

Deepa Mehta’s movie Earth is known to be the cinematic adaptation of Bapsi Sidhwa’s magnum opus Ice Candy Man, a novel that brilliantly deals with the theme of partition of India and Pakistan. There are certainly many intended differences in the film adaptation of the novel that makes the film unique and lends it the status of a text in itself.

One such difference is that of the characterisation of almost every character. It will be the intention of this paper to critically analyse the difference in the characterisation of Ayah, Masseur and Ice-candy man in the both texts.

A very significant difference in the novel and movie is the name by which the characters are frequently recognised by. While the novel predominantly uses the professions of these characters as their names, Ayah, Masseur and Ice-candy man, the movie more dominantly uses the real names of these character, Shanta, Hassan and Dilnawaz respectively.

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The primary reason for this difference is the difference in the narrators of the two texts. The novel, barring a few chapters, is solely narrated through the perspective of Lenny who calls the characters by the names of their professions because that is where their significance primarily lies for Lenny. In the movie, even though Lenny begins as the narrative voice, soon she becomes a part of the narrative itself and acts more like the camera to the audience than the narrative voice.

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The character of Ayah is dealt with implicit differences in the two texts. The characterisation of Ayah in the novel highlights her victimisation more intensely than the movie. While the movie’s catastrophic climax shows the forceful abduction of Ayah by a muslim mob facilitated by Ice-candy man, the book traces her fate after the abduction as well. Ayah is shown to be taken to Hira Mandi, the red-light district and forced into becoming a dance girl and prostitute, pimped by Ice-candy man itself. This difference suggests various implications on the narratorial and thematic stance of the two texts. The novel, with its prolonged narrative is involved in dealing with various underlying themes pertaining to partition unlike the movie which uses its inevitably clipped narrative to focus on some major themes only.

Ayah’s character is almost like a metaphor for the unified society before partition since all her suitors came from different religions, all of which turn against each other rather violently with the advent of partition. The movie perhaps majorly intends to deal with how a tight- knit community falls apart tragically in the name of nationalism and communal loyalty during the partition, and Ayah’s abduction and subsequent loss is the symbol of this tragedy.

The novel on the other hand, while also using Ayah as a metaphor for the same reasons as suggested for the movie, deals with her victimisation more intensely so as to signify various other themes. It has also to do with Ice-candy man’s characterisation as well which will be discussed later.

The very Ayah who is shown to be very sexually aware and assertive about the intimacy boundaries between her and her suitors ends up being potentially sexually exploited by them all after she is forced into prostitution. There is complete breakdown of her character both in terms of the fact that she loses her identity from a Hindu woman to a married Muslim woman, from Shanta to Mumtaz, and also in terms of her personality that is rendered bereft of the charm that she had before. This certainly signifies the atrocities that befell women during the time of chaos. Her downfall and then attempted recovery by Lenny’s mother and Godmother is a single story encompassing the similar tragic fates of many women during partition. Furthermore, while the character of Masseur, Hassan, is not used very significantly as compared to that of Shanta and Dilnawaz, his character is very significant as well. An important difference that emerges out of his characterisation in the two texts is his relationship with Shanta. While Hassan asks Shanta to marry him in both the novel and the movie, he is shown to emphasise his willingness to convert into a Hindu for the sake of his relationship with Shanta in the movie. This emphasis on conversion of religion is absent in the book.

Perhaps the intention behind this difference is grounded in the thematic intentions of the two texts. While the novel aims at dealing with multiple themes, the movie intends to sell itself to its audience as a love-story in the time of partition and there is certainly a larger emphasis on the plot of love and relationships in the movie than there is in the novel. Thus, this idea of conversion in the movie is used to glorify the love between Hassan and Shanta and his consequent death and her abduction prove to be the tragic end to their love story as well. Hassan’s death and the motive behind it is also very significant in terms of Ice-candy man’s characterisation which will be discussed later as well.

Ice-candy man is perhaps the most significant character in the novel considering the very title of the book refers to him. His character could also be placed to be the most significant in the movie since the he is played by the most important film star of the movie, Aamir Khan. Perhaps the very fact that the Ice-candy man is played by a film star who was and is popularly associated with roles of the Hero and cannot be explicitly presented as a villain has many implications on the characterisation of Ice-candy man in the movie. The book traces the character’s mental breakdown at length as the Ice-candy turns from a spirited playful man to a highly possessive and villainous man who exploits his love Shanta and ends up becoming almost like a forlorn poet figure who recites verses of love and tries to win back his lover with continual unfruitful efforts. The affects of Partition on Dilnawaz’s psyche is more intensely presented in the novel than in the movie.

The movie traces Dilnawaz’s descent into the villainy through immediate cause and effect scenarios. His enjoyment in the scene of the burning of Shalmi and the destruction of the Hindu community is placed immediately after the Gurudaspur train scene wherein he witnesses the dead bodies of his sisters and the entire muslim community on the train killed by Hindus. This is further emphasised by Lenny’s instigative enquiry of Dilnawaz during the Shalmi scene regarding his sister’s death. This is entirely different in the novel. The Shalmi scene precedes the the train scene and there is no mention of Dilnawaz’s sisters, only relatives. His delight during the Shalmi scene in the novel is shown to emerge out of his acquired hatred for the Hindu community as a Muslim man during Partition and not necessarily out of a personal experience.

Similarly, Hassan’s death in the movie succeeds the scene wherein Dilnawaz witnesses Shanta and Hassan in the process of sexual intercourse. There is suggestiveness of Dilnawaz’s hand behind Hassan’s murder but its not explicitly stated. Even this suggestiveness is attempted to be justified by Dilnawaz’s immediate experience of watching Hassan and Shanta together. This is again presented differently in the novel. The episode of Dilnawaz witnessing the sexual intercourse between Shanta and Hassan is completely missing from the novel. Hassan’s death in the novel also underlies the suggestion that Dilnawaz was behind it yet the reason behind is not a result of immediate jealousy but an accumulation of the jealousy since the book’s story traces Dilnawaz’s jealous action and reactions towards Hassan very early on.

Finally, the fact that Dilnawaz facilitates the abduction of Shanta by the muslim mob is explicitly presented as his reaction emerging out of both his jealousy and his hatred for the Hindus after they killed his sisters in the movie. This is again problematised in the novel since the novel shows the victimisation of Shanta by Dilnawaz even more intensely as discussed earlier. The movie continually attempts to simplify his character and tries to justify his wrong actions, the novel problematises his character through the presentation of his villainous side more explicitly and thus signifying the affect of partition more acutely on his psyche.

Hence, the differences in the movie and the book arise not just out of the difference in the art forms but also their narratorial and thematic intentions. Both Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel Ice Candy Man and Deepa Mehta’s movie Earth are applauded for their brilliance in their respective fields and are certainly seminal works in the field of Partition.


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The Difference in the Characterisation of Ayah, Maasseur and Ice-Candy Man in Bapsi Sidhwa's Novel Ice Candy Man and Deepa Mehta's Film Earth. (2022, Apr 12). Retrieved from

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