‘Partition Stories’ is a documentary co‐produced by filmmakers Mara Ahmed and Surbhi Dewan. Both are descendants of families torn apart by the Partition ‐ one ended up in India, the other in Pakistan.
This feature length documentary is about memory, truth and the possibility of reconciliation. It focuses on a unique event, but derives lessons that remain urgently relevant today. It has been shot in three different countries, on two continents with some beautiful footage in Lahore and Delhi to give audiences a sense of place and culture. This documentary will be filled with art: stunning painterly animation by Moscow‐based artist and animator Gayane Bagdasaryan, the powerful words of British poet John Siddique and Pakistani writer Uzma Aslam Khan, original music by Brooklyn‐based folk musician Sunny Zaman and piano performances by Ruth Demaree Peck. Mara Ahmed says, “Our team is diverse and intercontinental, a fact which underscores our belief in the universality of this film and the themes of coexistence, which it highlights.”
Mara has lived and been educated in Belgium, Pakistan and the United States. Her first film, The Muslims I Know premiered at the Dryden Theatre in 2008. It was meant to start a dialogue between American Muslims and non‐Muslims. Her second film, Pakistan One On One, opened at the Little Theatre in 2011. Shot entirely in Lahore, it is a broad survey of public opinion in Pakistan, about issues of interest to Americans. Both films have been broadcast on PBS; shown at film festivals around the country and internationally; and they’ve also been screened on countless college and university campuses.
Producer Surbhi Dewan, an independent film professional, is based in Delhi. She headed research, scriptwriting, and production for Born to Run: The Story of Milkha Singh. Her short documentary Time Will Tell has received great appreciation from a variety of audiences in the US, Europe and India. Surbhi graduated with an MFA in film from Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY, and received her BA degree in Political Science from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University (India).
Mara and Surbhi are currently financial participation from sponsors or contributors to finish the film this year. More at www.indiegogo.com.
Interview with Surbhi Dewan:
How did you and Mara get together, across a troubled border?
Mara and I met at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York back in 2008. I was a graduate film student there, while Mara was editing her first film in a documentary workshop. As soon as we identified ourselves as South Asian, we began to talk about the partition of India. My mother’s family belongs to Lyallpur while my father’s family is from Multan (now in Pakistan). My grandparents from both sides had to leave their homes and everything they called their own to cross the newly formed border in 1947. They finally came to settle in New Delhi, India. Mara’s mother’s family is from Gurgaon (India) and they immigrated to Pakistan after partition. Both Mara and I grew up with the same legacy of loss and displacement yet our perspectives were slightly different. 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 of 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.
Partition happened a long time ago, are there still lucid and impartial witnesses to the event?
We began to shoot the film in 2008. I interviewed my family in New Delhi while Mara visited Lahore in 2009 and interviewed her family and friends in Lahore. At that time our interviewees were certainly lucid and could recount in great detail not only what they had witnessed but also what they felt and thought during that chaotic time. I redid some interviews in 2013, in order to investigate some of the stories in greater detail, and there was a tangible change in how much my interviewees could recall. One of Mara’s uncles, who spoke articulately for two hours in 2009, about the history of the Indian partition and his own experiences, passed away yesterday in Lahore. He will never see the film. It gives our project a sense of immense urgency. It is so important to preserve personal narratives now, when that generation of witnesses is still alive.
It’s such an emotional issue on both sides, telling the truth may not please anyone!
Our film is a personal and not a macro-level study of history. When one focuses on individual stories, one finds commonalities more than differences. People’s memories of their lost homes, their longing for a time of co-existence, the pain of loss and dislocation, the need to start all over again – we believe that we’re tapping into something universal rather than divisive.
What happened in India can be used to understand conflict zones around the world. It reminds us that struggles for equal access to resources and political power are often portrayed as intractable religio-cultural conflicts or a “clash of civilizations.” With the advent of globalization and the increase in hyperconnectivity, it’s more important than ever to explore seemingly antithetical political movements and develop a more profound understanding of what they’re rooted in. We want to emphasize the necessity of intercultural communication and the ability to co-exist over divisive narratives of national homogeneity.
For people closer to the wound of the Indian 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 contextualize 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. The film ‘Partition Stories’ is our contribution to that important discussion.