Documentary, Features

Director’s Note: Crossing The Line

I was born in Independent India. For me, everything that happened at the time of Partition of India in 1947 was either in the history books or in the shared memory of my parents. My father remembering Hussain to whom he handed over the keys of his house in Dadu with a hope to return there soon; my mother’s choked voice recalling Rehmat, her gold jewellery left in the box; Shakila rescuing her from violent mob; her tears and sobs even after 30-40 years of that happening.

No matter what the topic was, the conversation of my parents often started with a prefix ‘Before Partition’. My mother’s fear of loud sounds triggers her sense of insecurity in a crowded place… my father’s fear of losing his home once again when he was growing old… Their various recollections would tell me the stories of not only loss, enmity, violence but also of friendship, hope and love. I wondered how without waging a war, millions died, abducted or got uprooted. It puzzled me that religion, which gives us security and inner peace, could become the reason for border and boundaries, bloodshed and insecurity. And, thus the Partition of India became a subject with a curious sense of attachment for me. It would take me into their inner world filled with images of haunting flashbacks of that dark happening.

When I migrated to Sydney in 1989, I wanted to find out what happens to those who were once uprooted from their roots and faced a communal rift and who now find themselves in each other’s company away from those geographical boundaries elsewhere. I wanted to explore how they feel now. Can they be friendly? Are those scars of separation still fresh?

My quest continued for many years. And then, an art organization of Sydney, Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE) initiated a project called ‘Originate’ for artists and I was one part of the project. Supported by the Australian Council of Arts and Ministry of Arts, ICE not only provided financial support for this film, but also the much-needed knowledge and tools to work with communities.

This film had the usual initial hiccups. The budget was very limited, just about enough to cover the cost of filming. Everything else like the camera person’s fee, the editor’s fee, music etc had to come as goodwill from the crew who were to work on film. But we knew we had to make it.

The community was sceptical about the idea. Almost everyone who I approached first asked, “Why do you want to make a film on Partition?” “Why bring up old stories?” “What if someone says unpleasant things?” I knew that this was a sensitive subject. It was to deal with the time when their secured world turned upside down; when they heard the noises of the silence and when they witnessed their own beliefs being shattered in that chaotic, mad rush. Fortunately, after their initial concerns and hesitation, everyone who participated in the film not only fully supported it but even prayed for its success. In fact, there developed a relationship, between me and the people I interviewed. I became their daughter and they all had love, affection and blessings for me. They opened out their heart to me and the film. They knew that Partition was a political situation. There was no animosity towards each other (Indian and Pakistani) now. As per a quote from the film, “Everyone is good at heart. It was just that time when even some good people became bad.”

 Making this film was not only an inspiring experience but also one of great learning as I embarked on a journey of discovery. This film in a way has given me a special sense of belonging and a sense of closeness too. It was like a journey with various stopovers. Each story revealed how one has arranged the present within specific boundaries of the past. Every tale spoke of a quest, a longing for one’s roots. And for the first time, I fully understood my parent’s silent longing and their frequent use of words – ‘Before Partition’.

In this film, I have used my late father’s personal collection of historical photographs and a few sketches. I remember, he gave me his collection sometime in 1985. He then passed away in early 1989 and three months later, I migrated to Sydney. I wonder if my father had foresighted that one day I would need those historical facts. Indeed, it was a blessing and a divine help. For illustrations in the film, I have used film clippings from the Hindi films, Sardar and Pinjar. I am thankful to the Sardar Patel Trust, India, Shemaroo Video and Eros Australia for extending their full support. Our senior citizens often experience exclusion or live in a kind of margin-oriented space. So, I can say that apart from providing an archive for the younger generation to know their grandparents’ history, this film is also an attempt to provide our seniors a platform to express their needs, their desires and to value their life experiences.

What do we say to these unseen victims of Partition? To those who wake up in the night, trapped once more in some nightmare from the past. How is it possible to banish the memory of a horror like that? Though many had managed to repress the memories and got on with their lives, there are many at this junction of their age when memories of past have resurfaced again and again. Their health has been ruined by the crippling effects of trauma. No words can do justice to what men, women and children went through in the heat of Partition and in the many, many years to follow. This film is a tribute to all displaced citizens of that ‘line’. This film is about feeling. It is about not only accepting the truth about what happened at the time, but recognizing that the aftermath of Partition has meant continuing anguish for so many. It also realizes that despite the tragedy which people had gone through, they did not lose faith and got on with life.

I would say that Crossing The Line (2007) is finally a film about the tragedy of a new boundary about the stories of massacres, abduction, betrayal, friendship, love and hope; about the notion of homeland and identity. In 1947, when India attained freedom from British Empire, a line was drawn on the map of India on the basis of religious majority. A new country, Pakistan, came into existence. Millions crossed the borders amidst massive violence and slaughter on both sides of the border. Without waging a war, millions died and even more were uprooted from their homes. The senior citizens of two communities, Indian and Pakistani, now living in harmony in Sydney, who crossed the border in the wake of the partition of India in 1947, share their memories of that traumatic time.

This film is dedicated to my late parents, who left Dadu (Pakistan) in November 1947 for India and their desire to visit & meet the friends on the other side of the line remained unfulfilled…

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