Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Khamosh Pani - Still water run deep

Saw Khamosh Pani today...

And responded to an ongoing debate on the Sarai Reader list. (Also now on Chowk - thanks Shivam!)
Am posting my repsonse on the blog as well.
The Blog, I notice, is becoming increasingly and truly Punjabi, what with Rabbi Shergill and everything else.
Maybe I should change the name of the blog to -
'Butter Chicken - Ludhiana/Elsewhere'

Dear Yousuf,

Sorry for getting back to this email conversation a bit late, but I
finally saw Khamosh Pani today...
Let me qualify - you mentioned being chilled, sitting surrounding by
Punjabis who wept while watching the film.
I am someone who is easily identified as a Punjabi, and find myself
increasingly easy to identify with being a Punjabi, even with all my
problems with easy labelling and simplified identities...
And yes, true to form, I wept during the film.

And I don't think I can agree with you as to the dichotomy of films
that make you think, versus films that make you weep.
This is probably a fallacious construction, but here goes -

Imagine I am ten years younger, fourteen years old... i have grown up
with an increasingly crowded media scape, which since i have been
eleven years old, has bombarded me, at least since i was eleven years
old (9/11) with images of Islam, Musilms and Pakistan which make me
think of them all as mad, bearded fundos, and burkha clad women who
are far less desirable and far less cool than, well, Jennifer Lopez...

Imagine also that I am the second or third generation since those who
moved during partition. i've probably heard stories of the barbarity
and the cruelty of the muslims, and of how everything was lost in the
violence they perpetrated. maybe i've also heard stories of how
muslims actually gave shelter and helped those who were fleeing...
(and i have heard such stories from relatives, and well, they're not
necessarily either 'secular' or particularly tolerant... )

maybe the post 9/11 media scape has reinforced what i think about
Muslims and Pakistan from the more brutal partition stories that have
come to me throgh oral, family tradition....

What happens when i bring that baggage into the movie hall? what am i
likely to leave with?

i don't know. i'm not fourteen any longer, i have studied Partition in
some detail, I have fairly liberal, 'progressive', 'secular' tolerant
ideals when it comes to matters communal, and nationalistic.

but i have the feeling that even if i was a fourteen year old,
inclined to believe the worst of Islam, Muslims and Pakistan... this
movie would have shaken me to the core, and my prejudices along with

And it works precisely becuase it is emotionally evocative, without
ever missing out on complexity of characterisation, or of historical

as filmmakers, i don't know how we can mark the dichotomy between
'thinking' films and 'sentimental' films... films aren't likely to
start thinking unless they enage you emotionally - unless you
empathize with the characters on the screen, whether 'real' or
'imaginary', and are interested in the trajectories of their lives,
and the larger histories their lives are involved in/affected by....

khamosh pani does that, even with the minor characters who give true
character to the film -
the characters of the 'mast' village barber who defies the
fundamentalists with a combination of humour and steel, the village
postman and his wife, whose daughter went missing on the Indian side
of the border, the 'hero's friend', who tries to reconcile his
friend's illicit love-life with their new found Islamic belief... If,
at age fourteen I saw this film, i would probablyfeel an empathy for
Pkaistanis as 'people like us', at the simplest, crudest level...

also, there is no evading the complexity of the history of Partition,
and the fact that women bore the violence of both their own men, and
of the Other. (If i was fourteen and saw the scenes of
Ayesha/Veero/Kirron Kher refusing to jump into the well and running -
i would ask questions of every story about Partition that I was ever
told...) my sense of perpetrator/victim, good/bad, hero/villain,
us/them would go into a major tailspin... or so can only hope...

and which brings me to the question raised in your second posting...
what if we made a film that was based on the premise, 'what if
partition never happened... '(isn't that, in a way, the question veer
zara asks, if we are to go by anupam kher's closing speech?) now, i'm
quite the fan of alternate history as a sci-fi sub genre, but the best
alternate history works with an awareness of the complexity of the
history we have inherited, and of the fraught times that we bear
witness to... the best alternative history is also, often, fairly
but as film-makers, or writers, or historians, I don't think we can
make refernece to the future without looking back at the past...

and were i to look back at the past, and Partition, and acknowledge
that the past happened, and that it was violent, but it was a violence
and a guilt that cannot be blamed on anyone group of people - i don't
think i could choose a better film than Khamosh Pani - becuase it
never evades the past, or simplifies it, but dwells on how we can live
on, even perhaps accept, the memory of the fraught past, util people
try to simplify their worldview, and their world once again...
i don't know how lucid or sensible this sounds, but I'd like to quote
Walter Benjamin, whose Theses on The Philosophy of History were
written after the Nazi takeover of Germany, German history, and
Germman memory...

'... nothing that has ever happened should be regarded as lost for
history. To be sure, only a redeemed mankind receives the fullness of
its past-which is to say, only for a redeemed mankind has its past
become citable in all its moments...'

the mark of redemption, for India and Pakistan, is perhaps when we can
cite all the horrors of Partition - without silencing voices, without
flinching from discomfort, without the urge to simplify and fit into a
more acceptable view of 'what really happened'...

I's like to think of Khamosh Pani as a citation of the past of that order...


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