Thursday, March 12, 2009

The year I was born

A few weeks ago, Professor Dipankar Gupta from JNU (Jawaharlal National University), New Delhi came to Ahmedabad. He addressed a gathering of people, mostly students, and spoke about his research. Currently he is working with victims of the 2002 riots in Ahmedabad and looking at what he calls "memories of carnage."

His words reminded me of a long buried 'field study' I had done during the course of my studies, as a young student of 19.

I was born in New Delhi in the year 1984, a few months prior to Indira Gandhi's assassination and the Sikh riots that followed in the city. Growing up, I had occasionally heard about the events of those times but only in a hazy manner. Upon posing questions, I was always given the same response; it was a long time ago, why should we talk about it now? This was a response I faced even while I subsequently made my student documentary film on the poet Wali Gujarati.

A certain kind of politics and politicizing in India, especially in film-making, is looked at askance. Why are you bringing up these questions and courting trouble? What do you hope to gain? These are the questions your potential audience asks you. And on the other side your work can be hijaked by the media and other organisations, and presented as something it is not. Others feel free to criticise your vision as a director because they think you were scared of telling 'the truth'. What is the truth? Is film-making truth?

In both my documentary film : "Words in Stone" and this audio documentary "1984" (below), I have tried to look at the idea of change and memory. My films do not deny certain events took place, but instead of getting caught up in oft repeated arguments and finger pointing, they look at real people and how they were shaped by these events. In collating and presenting these personal narratives, both these films present a truth that cannot be denied. To date as I watch and listen to both of these works, though many problems within them strike me in terms of their form and their structuring as films, I am satisfied with the questions I set out to find answers to and the reasons behind my search.

These works will always remind me of those unheard stories that lie waiting around the corner of our homes.

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