Partition Stories, a feature-length documentary, has been shot in three different countries, on two continents.
Professor Vazira Zamindar calls the Partition the “wound within, the mother of many millions of individual identity crisis that seem never to go away.” She is among those affected by the Partition. Mara Ahmed with her roots in Gurgaon in India whose family migrated to Pakistan after Partition, currently in Rochester, New York and Surbhi Sharma, with her roots in Lyalpur (now in Pakistan) whose family migrated to Delhi in 1947 met in 2008 at a film screening in Rochester, New York. As children of parents and families deeply affected by the Partition, they decided to make a film on Partition narratives. The result is a feature-length documentary called Partition Stories.
Dozens of documentaries and feature films have been made on the impact of the greatest and most violent population exchange in world history totalling up a shocking total of about 14.5 million people, who crossed the borders when two new states were formed in 1947. Since both censuses were held about 3.6 years after the Partition, the enumeration included net population increase after the mass migration.
What makes Partition Stories different from other films on Partition? There are several reasons. Mara, the producer, writer, director and editor along with Surbhi, her co-director, are direct descendants of the victims of Partition.
Partition Stories has been shot in three different countries, on two continents.
“We have captured beautiful footage in Lahore and Delhi that will give the audience a sense of place and culture. The film also has stunning painterly animation by Moscow-based artist and animator Gayane Bagdasaryan, the powerful poetry of British poet John Siddique and Pakistani writer Uzma Aslam Khan. Add to this the original musical score by Brooklyn-based folk musician Sunny Zaman and piano performances by Ruth Demaree Peck and you have a full-fledged global film of historical, social, political and personal relevance,” says Mara.
Mara’s mother’s story forms the core of the film because the older woman has vivid memories of the Partition though she was only five years old in 1947. She is neither bitter nor angry but feels naturally drawn to people from India because she feels closer to them emotionally. Mara and Surbhi felt they needed to reconnect with something that was lost.
“I wanted to explore this seeming discrepancy. Surbhi interviewed her aunts and grandparents in Delhi. For her, the film is a repository of their childhood memories of a land which they will never see again, a land which would have been their own had it not been for the Partition,” says Mara.
Both Mara and Surbhi believe that this film is important because India is presented as an excellent example for understanding conflicts around the world in terms of (a) imperial domination, (b) nationalistic ideas of homogeneity, (c) dehumanisation of minorities, (d) hate crimes, (e) ethnic cleansing and (f) civil war. It will also include the minutely detailed and vivid paintings of Pakistani artist and humanitarian Jimmy Engineer, famous for his almost Homeric Partition Series. The team is both diverse and intercontinental, which underscores their belief in the universality of this film and the themes of coexistence which it highlights. Instead of using a profusion of archival footage and black and white photographs, the film chooses artwork, poetry, animation and music to re-create a bygone era in the lush colors of the present.
“Since we are interested in memory, dreamlike visual sequences and stream of consciousness explorations of the past are important stylistic elements of the film,” sums up Mara.
“For people closer to the wound of the Partition, or other experiences of violence and dislocation, this film will not only archive first-hand accounts of that event but also stitch together memories of pre-Partition India in order to contextualise how and why things changed in 1947. There has been no truth and reconciliation, no official acknowledgement of what happened and where we need to go from there. There is no general consensus on what reconciliation should even mean. This is our contribution to that important discussion,” Mara elaborates.
The shooting is complete but the directors are hit by a funds crunch and are reaching out for crowd-funding for their film through websites and blogs to invite people to participate.
“If you want to know what made us strike on this particular film, we wish to point out strongly that cultural diversity is not a liability, it is an asset and we hope this film will bring this across. Through individual narratives from different people like my mother, we have tried to find answers to questions like why was the Partition necessary. Was Partition a straightforward tragedy that should never have happened or was it a protective measure for a minority that would have been oppressed inside united India? Was the entire concept of partition problematic or just its incompetent execution? We felt that we were meant to make a film together, a film that would be able to contain all these contradictions, a film shot on both sides of the border,” sums up Mara.