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Film revisits Sikh massacre, Gujarat riots

By Hindol Sengupta, IANS

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With empathy and sweeping camera flow, a new film has used the national ghosts of the 1984 massacre of Sikhs to reflect on the Gujarat riots of two years ago.

Called "Kaya Taran" (Chrysalis), the film is an adaptation of a Malayalam short story by N.S. Madhavan "When Big Trees Fall" and was screened at the capital's Siri Fort Auditorium Thursday night.

Shifting through past and present, the tale follows the lives of Preet (Angad Bedi), a Delhi reporter working on a story on religious conversions, and the head nun of a Meerut convent (Seema Biswas).

As Preet unravels the layers of his story, he enters the murky world of memory -- of the widespread murder of Sikhs after the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1984.

Director Sashi Kumar, a veteran journalist and documentary filmmaker, uses memory as a tool to weave together a tale of subtle dialogue between communities even as the angry flames of hate burn the street tar, lives and homes.

In places, Preet's own Sikh identity comes into play as he digs out remembrances of tears as images of bloodthirsty mobs with swords and burning tyres racing down the streets keep cropping up in his interviews.

Using the tale of nuns and breaking cinematic traditions of continuity, Kumar makes vital comments on secular belief in India and relations between communities.

It's a tale that resonates as the young boy in the film (played by Neelambari Bhattacharya, the great-grandchild of E.M.S. Namboodiripad) talks of the murder of his father and brother before flashing cameras.

With each flash, and bloody revelation, the boy's face lights up, as if with terrifying enlightenment.

The story, Kumar believes, is particularly pertinent even as tales of the Gujarat riots continue to create headlines and debate. Through his film, Kumar tries to build correlations between the separate acts of hatred, separated by almost two decades and yet so similar in vitriol.

The audience, with many Sikhs, watched silently through the 110 minutes of the Hindi film, then many walked out solemnly.

"It can never stop bothering me," said Charanjit Singh, a Sikh who had come with his wife and eight-year-old son. "My own brother was killed, set ablaze with a burning tyre around his neck. You can never forget these things."

Singh said he had come to show his son a glimpse of the "sad history". "He should also know," Singh told IANS after the show. "It's good to know the pains of your parents."

His son Sohan looked a little bewildered. "It's frightening," he said. "My parents were crying during the show."

This is the sort of reaction Kumar wants to evoke, as does the rights group Sahmat that sponsored the show. "Under our layer of secularism lies racial and religious intolerance that often causes havoc," said Kumar.

"My film is about that vulnerability. We must join hands to fight intolerance and promote brotherhood."


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