Directed by N.S. Ponkumar, August 16 1947 is the story of the brutality of the British Raj inflicted on the Indian population, especially in the remote areas, where the workers were exploited to death just so the British Empire could extract maximum profit out of the land. The plot of August 16 1947 revolves around the remote village of Sengad, where people have been slogging their way to manufacture cotton under the cruel British Officer Robert. He runs the place like a brutal dictator with the help of the local Zamindar. A unique love story starts brewing between the Zamindar’s daughter Dipali and the village boy Param, but as India’s Independence approaches, death starts to loom over the village when Justin, Robert’s evil son, ends up getting killed.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘August 16 1947’?
India is to gain its independence soon. The British rule is going to be over soon, but the cunning British officials are busy finding a way to reap profit for another 30 years. The Indian sympathizers of the British Raj in India want the best for the empire, which is why just four days before Independence, one such sympathizer informs a British official about the cotton yield being produced in the remote village of Sengad. Robert, one of the most brutal figures associated with the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, handles the operations in Sengad. He makes the workers toil hard for 16 hours, which is why the yield has given unimagined profits. Legend has it that he once hanged a few villagers on iron rods for days because they protested against the inhuman working conditions.
The village was managed by a local Zamindar named Thakur and the area’s police officer. They were to ensure that when Robert left the village, the yield would remain as it was. This meant that the people of Sengad were not to get much respite even after independence. They weren’t even aware of the news that India was getting her freedom, let alone the exact date. Who could blame them? They were totally cut off from the world’s affairs. The nearest village with a proper communication channel was Phoolgarh. The Indian official arrives in Phoolgarh and asks the sepoys to deliver the message of the meeting with Governor General Mountbatten to Robert. In the meeting, the plan for reaping the profit for an extended period of time was to be discussed. The sepoys, traversing the dangerous mountains on their way to Sengad, are killed in an encounter with a wild animal, unable to give the letter to Robert.
They would have brought the good news of India’s Independence to relieve the villagers, who were in a place worse than hell. Robert was wreaking havoc on their lives, making them work unbearable hours. More than Robert, it was his son Justin that the villagers feared more. He was a man who personified evil. The men killed their own daughters, fearing the fate they would suffer at Justin’s hand. The elders had to make the young girls in the village feign smallpox, which was the only thing that deterred Justin from randomly picking a girl and having his way with her. This inhuman treatment has gone on for the last fifteen years. Robert’s reign of terror had a chilling effect on the villagers. They were likely to kill one of their own rather than rise in revolt against the barbaric treatment. Only one man, Param, was different from all the others. He seemed to be guided by love rather than fear.
Why Was Param Different From The Other Villagers?
Param’s mother had passed away while he was very young. The whole village gave away her location to a British official who wanted to have his way with her. It left her with no option but to kill herself. Young Param was left with no one. Nobody from the village helped him except Thakur’s daughter, Dipali. Her sudden death from cholera left him grief-stricken. After Thakur’s wife saw him incessantly sobbing at Dipali’s grave, she kept him under her care, which meant he didn’t have to toil in the cotton field or fear Robert’s whip. As he started to grow up, he began working for Thakur. Although he resented the villagers for not standing up to the British and letting his mother die, he knew a secret that filled him with love and made him forget about the hardships of life.
Param was the only one who didn’t leave Dipali’s grave and wept profusely for days in front of the Thakur’s house. Seeing the genuine care and affection he had for Dipali melted her mother’s heart, and she told him the forbidden secret. The secret was that Dipali was still alive. Thakur had just faked her death. Dipali’s mother makes him promise to neither let the villager’s know about this secret nor let Thakur and his sons see him with Dipali. Param keeps the promise, harboring the desire to one day marry her.
Why Did Thakur Stage Dipali’s Death?
Justin waited for the girls of the village to come of age, which is when he took them away with him and had his way with them. Thakur planned ahead for that day when Dipali too would fall victim to Justin’s lustful gaze. So he spread the rumor of his daughter dying of cholera and made a fake grave before dawn. From that day on, Dipali was essentially jailed within the four walls of her room. Her only company apart from her family was Param. He was her only friend with whom she could spill her heart’s secrets. Thakur wanted to secretly marry her off without ever letting even the villagers know about this secret. The villagers were of lower caste, and their lives did not hold much meaning for him. He didn’t hesitate to torture them as Robert’s bootlickers. He knew that if the villagers knew that Dipali was alive, they would not hesitate to kill her to avenge the deaths of so many daughters who had died because Thakur and his sons had themselves snatched them away and provided them to Justin in order to be in his good books.
Dipali wasn’t aware of her father’s reprehensible behavior. All she wished for was freedom. She didn’t even know that Param loved her. One day, she tells him that she is thrilled to be told by her family that she is soon going to be married. This breaks Param’s heart. He leaves, unaware that Justin is soon going to find her.
What Is Thakur’s Reaction When Justin Finds Dipali, And Why?
Justin barges into Thakur’s house one day, looking at a goddess idol that he’d taken during a ceremony. Thakur’s son had brought it back, which is why Justin was fuming. Looking for the idol, he discovered Dipali hiding in a trunk. Thakur is forced to beg Robert to make Justin let her go. Robert doesn’t budge, and Thakur asks him for one day before he can groom her. Robert agrees, but Thakur had made up his mind to kill her own daughter before Justin could lay his hands on her. It was to be an honor killing that would preserve Thakur’s chance of ruling over the land when the British left. Justin taking Dipali away would tarnish his image in front of the villagers, after which he would never be able to take over the rule from the British as the villagers would not accept his legitimacy. He couldn’t muster the strength to kill her himself, so he decided to bury her alive. Dipali waits in her grave, ready to suffocate. Param digs a tunnel to reach the grave from the other side of Thakur’s house, rescuing Dipali and taking her to Justin’s bungalow. Param knew that Thakur’s sons were looking for Dipali in the village. Apart from that, the villagers may kill Dipali if they find she is alive, trying to take revenge against Thakur. The only place where Dipali was to be safe for the course of the night was Justin’s place because Justin had gone off to hunt and he never returned before morning. Param’s luck seems to have run out when Justin gets attacked by a tiger and is brought back in the night. Param fears for Dipali’s life and runs towards Justin’s bungalow, while Robert receives the news of India’s independence and his consequent meeting with Mountbatten.
Why Does Robert Keep The News Of The Impending Independence From The People?
Robert was as cunning as they come. He loved Justin more than anybody in the world. Justin’s wish was to lay with Thakur’s daughter, and he feared that if Thakur knew about the end of the British Raj, he would grow disobedient. The news is heard by an eavesdropping villager, but Robert chops off his tongue lest he tell the others about their freedom. Param knew that Dipali’s life was in danger. Justin finds her hiding in the closet, and when she tries to resist him, he grows beastly, trying to strangle her. Param reaches just in time to kill Justin.
He couldn’t take Dipali back to Thakur’s house, so he plans to take her to Phoolgarh. He knows that if he told the villagers that Justin had been killed by him, they might kill him in order to lessen Robert’s wrath. They knew Robert could wipe out the young people of the village just to avenge Justin’s death. Robert had gone to the meeting and returned to find Justin’s corpse in the jungle. Even though he had been strictly advised that he had no right over the Indian population anymore, he promised to take revenge on the villagers.
‘August 16 1947’ Ending Explained: How Did The Villagers Revolt Against Robert?
When Dipali is seen by the villagers being taken away by Param, he makes up the story that she was a poor girl from Phoolgarh who had been running away from a Britisher. They take Dipali away into the village, not entrusting Param with the responsibility of leaving her in Phoolgarh during the night. An elder reveals that Param is an odd boy who wanted to marry Dipali, not realizing that the girl sitting in front of her was Dipali herself. Before their love story can bloom again, they hear the news of Robert arriving with his cavalry to avenge Justin’s death.
The villagers, instead of fighting Robert, first converge on killing Param himself. When Param bravely asks them to go ahead and kill him, they realize their cowardice. They realize they can’t wait for someone to come and help them from outside. They had to revolt against Robert themselves. When Robert reaches the village and asks them to be shot like the protestors of the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy, they stand firm, which does not sit well with Robert. He was used to seeing them afraid and unable to speak in front of him. To terrorize them, he then directs his wrath on the young ones of the village, which means that the village will be wiped clean from the annals of history. Param attacks Robert but gets no support from the villagers and is tied to a pole. The people would rather kill their young ones themselves, but they would not let Robert kill another soul. They were not aware that India had already gained its independence from the British. The symbolic shift of power had not happened in their minds yet, which is why they hesitated to kill Robert. The man whose tongue Robert chopped off helps Param escape, and he captures Robert, after which the villagers finally attack the British officials. Robert tries to bargain for his life by revealing to the villagers that they didn’t have to kill him as he would leave on his own because India had gained Independence. The villagers don’t take pity on him and kill him on the spot, avenging the years of terror and inhuman atrocities at the hands of Robert.
The sense of freedom fills them with a power they had not felt before, which is why they are able to fearlessly bring Robert’s evil reign to an end. The story of Sengad reminds us of the mindset of people during independence across remote areas. They were completely cut off from the world, which meant they felt helpless against British rule, but once they realized that India had won her freedom, they started to gain back their rights that had been snatched away. The people, instead of turning against one another, seemed reunited for a brief moment.
August 16 1947, captures the raw spirit of freedom and asks us to always remember the sacrifices made by so many unknown figures who were not necessarily on the forefront of freedom movements but fought their own battles and sacrificed a lot to win back India’s freedom. It throws in a love story to make the story enjoyable but emphasizes the main fact that the chapters dedicated to the struggles of the people shown in the film will seldom decorate the pages of our history books, but we must honor their memories nonetheless.